Golf's return: the first day back

Castle Stuart Golf Links tells BIGGA what it's been like to get the course prepared for a lockdown return...

Golf's return: the first day back
Golf's return: the first day back

Article publihed by Castle Stuart Golf Links greenkeeper Darren Skinner in the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Asssociation (BIGGA) this week. 

When this all started, it was all a shock for us. Our general manager asked for a meeting with all the greenstaff and basically told us half way through the day that all work is to stop.

Golf's return: the first day back

At this moment we didn’t know what was going to happen with the course or even with our jobs and we were all put on furlough. The whole situation just felt surreal and even after a week it didn’t sink in that this had actually happened. 

I have a great relationship with our head greenkeeper, James Hutchison, so I was always in contact with hime and kept in the loop about what was going on. 


Our main panic was the golf course. Would it overgrow, taking weeks to get it back to where it should be? This is normally a very busy time of year after we’ve put down a feed of fertilisers on our greens, tees and fairways. As soon as we got heat and moisture, the course was going to grow at fast rates. 

After three days off I’d already had enough, with my wife giving me chores and my being stuck indoors, I was missing work. Luckily, our employers agreed to take two members of staff back to work. I was asked to come back, as was one of our younger members of staff, Ethan Ramsay. 


Golf's return: the first day back

We started back on the Monday with a task ahead of us – the maintenance of the course – that would normally take 12 members of staff to complete. 

Our weekly job was basically to cut the entire time. There was no time to do anything else. Even with a full week of cutting, we weren’t able to get around everything, so we had to prioritise what we could do. 

This lasted until recently, when phase one of lifting the lockdown was introduced. We have now taken back to work another four staff, which will give us the chance to get the course to where it needs to be. The Castle Stuart greenkeepers are renowned for their close eye to detail, so with golfing looking likely, there’s a lot out there that needs to be done.

Bunkers, paths and any weeds were left to their own devices. These are the most obvious things that will stand out to golfers, but they won’t get the attention they need until we get our full team back. 

Tee edges and paths are overgrown and bunker faces have weeds growing out of the base and sides of them. 

During the main growing season we usually have a team managing our rough system and controlling weeds so we have clean fescue. Again, this is something we can’t get to. Your everyday golfer probably won’t notice these kinds of things, but it’s us greenkeepers that do. It’s these little things that make us stand out from the rest. I’m sure golfers will just be happy getting back out there and playing golf.

Golf's return: the first day back

We opened the course for golf on Friday 29 May, but to two balls only and for locals. We offered limited tee times in an attempt to protect golfers and staff. 

At our greenkeeping sheds we have introduced some things to try and protect us all from COVID-19.

Each member of staff has their own personal bottles of sanitiser that we keep on us at all times. 

Around the sheds at different stations we have sanitiser wipes, sanitisers and anti-bacterial cleaners. 

We are never together at one time, keeping our 2m distance, and sometimes this means having lunch on the golf course on our own and at different times. This isn’t so bad when the weather is so nice, like at the moment, but most importantly it stops close contact in enclosed areas. 

We also have protective gloves and face masks for when we need to work together or if there will be any golfers in the areas where we will be working.

Golf's return: the first day back

We have assigned certain machines to individual people to stop us sharing machines and any risks, but on the occasion when we need to share or use equipment or tools, the person using it will wipe it down after use and then the person who will use it will wipe it down before use. 

On the golf course itself there are no rakes out there, so golfers will smooth off footprints with their feet. We are lucky that with the type of sand we use and open bunkers, the wind moves sand a fair amount and this covers up any footprints. But golfers should understand that with these circumstances, they may not always have the perfect lie. 

We have no bins or ball washers on the course, limiting any contact or risk to other people, so golfers are asked to take all their rubbish with them and to use the toilet before coming to the golf course. All our clubhouse facilities will remain closed for the time being. 

We have set up a one-way system at our practice facilities, with a maximum of three people using it at one time. We also have sanitising stations throughout the course, further protecting everyone.

The past eight weeks have been such a challenge for us. With the recent warm weather our growth has been fast and strong and trying to keep on top of that alone has been our biggest challenge.

Getting used to our new setup and not socialising with our team mates is something new for us. Socialising is part of what makes our team so strong. Working alone is something new for us, but it’s the way things are going and something we will need to do for quite a while. 

Golf's return: the first day back

Our main goal is to have the course looking the best it can. After all the work we have put in, we still have our greens, tees and fairway surfaces looking and playing very well, it’s just the little things we can’t get to. That will change and in good time we will be back to where we should be. 

There will be many golf courses in the same situation as it has been a difficult, stressful and challenging time. But showing that we can get through this, shows how strong the greenkeeping community is and how important it can be.

During the whole pandemic we had one or two volunteers help out, including our general manager who got out there and got his hands dirty. That showed him some of the challenges that we face and I’m sure many others had a similar situation, to the point that their club managers have a better understanding of what has to happen out on the course. There are few positives to come out of this situation, but that may be one of them.

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