'For a greenkeeper St Andrews is the ultimate'January 9, 2019 Courses and Travel
Gordon McKie is in charge of golf’s most hallowed piece of linksland – the Old Course at St Andrews. Steve Carroll asks the course manager about handling six centuries of history and 50,000 rounds every year
How does the condition of the course differ between a tournament, like the Dunhill, and every day play?
A week before the Dunhill, what we were doing that week and what we were doing the next was not very different.
The maintenance practices are just the same. You cut your greens, tees, fairways and green surrounds, you get your bunkers raked and get the holes all changed.
There will be a few extra jobs to manicure it a wee bit differently but, in general, it’s the same set up we would have on a day-to-day basis.
How do you do maintain that standard all year round in different conditions and seasons?
We’re managing moisture levels and we are keeping an eye on the heights of cuts. On a links you have the elements and the wind can make a big difference.
We’re taking firmness levels on the green – how they perform – and measuring green speed on a regular basis. When the wind picks up the greens dry out a lot quicker.
Sometimes we might not need to cut the green – because it’s that dry and windy – and one of the tools in the bag is that we might not cut.
Rolling is something we do less and less of as well. We can get the conditions without putting too much stress on that turf.
You will close the course, though, when it is frosty…
When you think about frost, it is the foot burn in the aftermath. At the time it doesn’t seem that bad but it’s when you get to the spring and the grass tries to re-grow. That’s when the damage is done and you get the root break.
Our policy is that the course is closed until the frost is naturally lifted and then we’ll open up the courses. We have a cut off point at about 12pm in the day and, when the sun starts to go the other way, if the frost hasn’t cleared there’s absolutely no chance then.
You do see the benefit of that coming into the spring.
It’s not an easy thing to communicate to golfers and they go out and see some parts of the course where the frost has disappeared.
But a course is spread over a big area. Different things can be happening in different areas.
What’s an average day on the Old Course?
We’re getting the greens all cut, all the greens and surrounds cut and all the bunkers raked.
When we were forecasted 40 miles-per-hour gusts a few weeks ago, we pre-prepared the bunkers.
We were raking the bunkers but watering them down to try and hold the sand in to try and save us some work in the days that follow.
We’re lucky we are still allowed under licence to take some sand off the sea-bed, but it’s very fine and once it dries out, and the wind hits a certain amount, it starts to disperse and blow about.
That can cause us a lot of problems in the amount of people we need to throw at that particular job.
We are trying to get the golf course set up in the best possible way we can every single day of the week.
Did you know?
Golf has been played at St Andrews for more than 600 years. The right of the people of the town to play on the links was recognised in a 1552 charter.
The fairways and surrounds on the Old Course measure 12 hectares – or 120,000 square metres.
The 1st and 18th fairway covers a total of 7.2 acres. It’s 129 yards wide at Grannie Clark’s Wynd.
More than 230,000 rounds are played on St Andrews’ seven public links each year. More than 50,000 of those on the Old Course.
The largest double green on the Old Course is the 5th and 13th. At more than 90 metres long and 39 metres wide it is almost the size of a football pitch.