A big part of our international members trips is making sure the non-golfers have side activities to partake in while the rest of the group is away playing golf. Thursday was moving day where as a group we were checking out of the hotel in St. Andrews and moving into Edinburgh for our last two nights together.
The group was playing Crail Golf Club on the way to Edinburgh. Rather than having Diana Frank and Maureen Gall wait at the golf course I contacted my friend Susie Malcolm. Her husband Jim is a longtime singer/songwriter from just up the road in Perth. Jim performed for TurfNet in January when we were in St. Andrews as part of the BIGGA/BTME trip. He would have played for us this trip but ironically he is touring the States while we are over here.
Susie picked up Maureen and Diana at the hotel and they visited Rosalyn Chapel and Stirling Castle on the way to Edinburgh. As an added treat I arranged for each of them to receive a couple of Jims CDs, including his latest with Susie.
Maureen, Susie and Diana at Roslyn Chapel, above. Looks like they enjoyed each other (below).
The same type of side trips will be part of our TurfNet Members Trip to Ireland next year (October 12 -20, 2018) and will include use of our larger tour bus.
Jim and Susie Malcolm's latest CD.
Tuesday night was a chance to explore St. Andrews in smaller groups. Wednesday saw five of us play the Old Course -- John Brauer and David Whelchel through the ballot and Tripp Trotter, Tim Pratt, and me through the waitlist.
This was the first day the Old Course required playing off mats from shots in the fairway. Given the slow/no growth until spring, this is felt to be the best way to ensure the best playing conditions through the winter and into the early spring.
This was the first day the Old Course required playing off mats from shots in the fairway...
The maintenance crew starts the painstaking process of filling upwards of 40,000 fairway divots during the month of November. Read more about the process here.
During breakfast one morning I also saw the regular morning divoting crew from the window of the Rusacks Hotel. Naturally I jumped up from the table and went outside for a closer look. Divoting takes about 2-3 hours on the Old Course and the crew is careful to stay ahead of play and out of sight.
Above, the divoting crew getting started at The Old Course. Below, two members of the divot crew.
The rest of the group made the short walk to the clubhouse for the Jubilee and New Courses. Most had played the Jubilee on Saturday or Monday so the goal was to play the New Course, which has limited walk on tee times.
Above, Jeff Hemphill, Bob Kamp, Rich Struss and Kevin Frank ready to tee off on the New Course. Below, Tim Pratt (l) and Butch Sheffield [r] at the clubhouse serving the New and Jubilee courses. Note the trolley friendly steps which may be found in many places around St. Andrews Links.
I recall my first visit to St. Andrews and tour of the facilities from Gordon Moir. When I saw the irrigation lines going from the pump station to the various courses I asked Gordon, "How old is the New Course?" "1895" was his reply... sort of puts golf in the States in its proper historical perspective.
Mainlines heading out to the various courses at St. Andrews Links.
...I asked Gordon, "How old is the New Course?" "1895" was his reply... sort of puts golf in the States in its proper historical perspective.
The weather held up and I counted rain on just three holes that day, further evidence that we had hit the weather lottery on this trip.
Before dinner Andy Campbell had the entire group to the St. Andrews Golf Club for drinks and a presentation from Steve Isaac, Director of Sustainability for the R&A. We enjoyed his presentation on sustainability efforts throughout the golf business (including how they source their vendors/partners for The Open Championship and other events). We certainly savored the atmosphere of the historic golf club, which was established in 1843.
Steve Isaac of the R&A addresses the group.
Wednesday night was our last night in St. Andrews so that meant packing up, doing a final round of shopping, and enjoying the town one final time. The next morning we would take a short ride to Crail Golf Club and continue on to Edinburgh for our final two nights together in Scotland.
On Tuesday eight members of our group stayed in St. Andrews as they had been drawn from the ballot to play the Old Course. The remaining ten of us rode about 45 minutes to Carnoustie Golf Links, which will host The Open Championship in July 2018. We were anxious to hear about the plans for the course and the event from our hosts Sandy Reid and Craig Boath.
Craig Boath (foreground, holding Claret Jug) and Sandy Reid (right in blue sweater) explain some of the projects on the Championship Course in preparation for hosting of the 147th Open Championship in July 2018.
The Championship Course was closed for the week for maintenance but we could see plenty of it (and the work being done) as we played Carnoustie's Burnside Course.
As a special part of our visit to Carnoustie they made a rare exception and took their Claret Jug out of the display case for some photo opportunities. I suggested to Craig Boath that the "buy in" for having your photo taken with the Claret Jug was a donation to the BIGGA Benevolent Fund. We raised 150£ or approximately $200 to help UK greenkeepers in need.
The inimitable John Brauer (Sandtrapper, Flexxcape) with the Claret Jug.
The Burnside Course was a fun day on a relatively flat, shorter course. Many in our group commented that it was a perfect fit after two or three days of playing in St. Andrews.
Doug Middleton of Ocean Organics hosted a light lunch in the historic Carnoustie Golf Club after the round. The club dates to 1842.
Doug Middleton hosted lunch at the historic Carnoustie Golf Club - established in 1842.
On our way back from Carnoustie we stopped at Elmwood College for the BIGGA Central Scotland chapter education meeting. The meeting was arranged by Gordon Moir of St. Andrews Links. After my brief introduction to TurfNet, Michigan States Kevin Frank gave a presentation on Technology and Golf Maintenance.
It was an honor sharing the stage with Kevin and great fun meeting other local superintendents. We look forward to longer visits with them at the BTME conference at Harrogate, England, in January.
The combined TurfNet/BIGGA Central Scotland Chapter meeting.
Kevin Frank presenting on Technology and Golf Course Maintenance.
One of the biggest unknowns on the trip was whether any or many of us would get to play The Old Course. As the popularity of The Home of Golf has increased the "busy" time to play the course has extended into late October/early November.
Further restricting our chances was the fact that the clocks "fell back" on Sunday leaving less daylight and fewer tee times.
One of the benefits of waiting in line for the Old Course (for me anyway) was getting to see the morning mow.
A random ballot is run 48 hours before each day the course is available. The course is closed on Sunday. We agreed that once someone got out on the course from the ballot that they would remove themselves from future days to allow others a better chance.
There is also a walk-up policy where you can register each morning for any single openings that come up. The line usually starts forming at 4 AM each day.
The waiting list procedures
We arrived in St. Andrews early enough on Saturday that five of us got out on the walk-up basis. It was a windy day but that simply added to the experience. Four more got out on the ballot on Monday, eight were successful on Tuesday and the final four got out on the ballot on Wednesday. A few of us walked-on via the waiting list on Wednesday. I had decided to go over at 6 AM that morning and I was the third person in line. A quick What's App text to our group at that time brought John Brauer and David Whelchel over to play.
The walk-on queue was short at 6AM on Wednesday.
So our final result was that all 19 players played it once and five of us got to play it twice. Despite all the challenges to registering, the St. Andrews Links Trust does want to give everyone who wants to play The Old Course a chance to do so.
...our final result was that all 19 players played it once and five of us got to play it twice.
John Brauer and David Whelchel receive instructions from the starter on the Old Course.
Mike Cook with The Care of Trees has been on so many TurfNet trips that he probably has a TurfNet trip shirt for every day of the week. His company usually hosts a get together on each trip and Sunday night was no exception.
St. Andrews Brewing Company is a short walk from our hotel. We tasted a variety of their beers and a few whiskeys and many of their appetizers. We had a private room and outstanding service from their staff including Robbie the manager.
It was the perfect way for everyone to meet and discuss the first full day in Scotland.
Tripp Trotter, Tim Pratt, and Kevin Collins relaxing after a "hard day" of golf
The Carolina Boys - Brian Green (SOY finalist, Lonnie Poole GC) and Butch Sheffield (North Ridge Country Club)
Maureen Gall, Diana and Kevin Frank, John Gall and Andy Campbell.
Robbie, the manager
The beer room at St. Andrews Brewing Company
With everyone rested and settled in it was time for our first round of scheduled golf. We were lucky to play Kingsbarns Golf Links on the last open day of their season. Earlier this year the course hosted the British Women's Open yet there were few remaining signs of the infrastructure to host that event.
Kingsbarns lies just seven miles south of St. Andrews, so it was a quick trip there. The golf course opened in 2000 and occupies 1.8 miles of the North Sea coastline. It was designed by Kyle Phillips who ensured that you could see the North Sea from every hole. The course also had returning nines -- meaning that nine and 18 came back to the modern clubhouse -- a rarity in traditional links golf. Our own Dave Wilber was the agronomic consultant at Kingsbarns during construction.
We were blessed with a sunny day for this round and everyone had a great time out on the links.
Butch Sheffield (in red) and John Brauer (rear) on the first tee at Kingsbarns.
Superintendent of the Year Finalists Brian Green (2nd left) and Mike Golden (far right) with Tripp Trotter of Syngenta and Mikes father Ray
David Whelchel getting the shot saver from the starter at Kingsbarns.
Andy Campbell picked me up at the Rusacks Hotel at 6 AM and we were off to coordinate the pickup of our group at Edinburgh Airport. By design Saturday did not include any organized golf for the group. The "day off" was intended to help people get rested, acclimated and organized for the six rounds of golf coming up.
The largest contingent (11) was on Delta's non-stop flight from New York/JFK. Thanks to Scott Schukraft for taking this pre-flight photo.
(l-r) Bob Kamp, Brian Green, Kevin Collins, Jeff Hemphill and Rich Struss at JFK airport.
Everyone was scheduled to be into Edinburgh by 9:30. Our only travel casualty was Butch Sheffield, who was nearly four hours late due to a mechanical issue with American at JFK. When I realized Butch would arrive later than the rest of the group I spoke with the station manager for the airline and she assured me that they would get him a ride (and pay for same) to St. Andrews. I'm happy to report that's exactly what happened.
Transportation from Edinburgh to St. Andrews was provided by Andy and two van service companies.
After settling in, some folks decided to get up a game that afternoon. Six players took to St. Andrews Jubilee Course for the afternoon. We are staying adjacent to St. Andrews Links, so the participants simply threw their clubs over their shoulders and walked ten minutes to their respective clubhouses. A few also checked out the Himalayas putting course.
Andy heard there might be a few single spots on the Old Course so we drew numbers at the hotel to determine the order we would enter the standby list. Tim Pratt arrived from South Korea on Friday (a day earlier than the rest) and was the first out on The Old Course on Saturday while we were riding in from Edinburgh.
Jeff Hemphill, Kevin Frank and I were offered "dark times" (between 1-1:40 PM) with the understanding that we might not finish before dark. So in the spirit of "bird-in-the-hand" the three of us also set out to play as part of two different groups.
Above, Jeff Hemphill tees off on #1 at the Old Course.
Below, Kevin Frank of Michigan State on the Swilcan bridge.
We also heard the good news that four members of our group -- Doug Middleton, Kevin Collins, and Mike & Ray Golden -- were successfully drawn from the ballot to play the Old Course on Monday. That makes eight out of nineteen golfers who are assured at this point to have this "round of a lifetime" experience on the TurfNet trip to Scotland.
Kevin Frank ® says "not this time" as he successfully skirts the iconic Hell Bunker.
Standing on the first tee of The Old Course is as daunting as it appears. There could be fifty or more people just watching the first tee or strolling by. As I walked down the first fairway a rush came over me and I realized that this was the start of a very special round of golf.
It was mostly clear but very windy, with the flagsticks taking their usual punishment from the wind. Our playing partners were also determined to finish before dark so we managed to get in the entire round with about twenty minutes of daylight to spare. The setting sun made for some outstanding photos.
Above, Kevin Frank leaning into the wind on the Old Course. Below, the 18th green at dusk.
Andy Campbell and his wife Claire were in town as Kevin Frank and I came up the 18th fairway. Andy invited us into the historic St. Andrews Golf Club -- of which he is a member -- for a round of drinks. The St. Andrews Golf Club was founded in 1888 and has a great view of the 18th green of the Old Course. It will also be the location for the Wednesday evening presentation to our group by Steve Isaac from the R&A.
Most folks found their way to the classic Dunvegan Hotel (only a 9-iron from the Old Course) for another round of drinks and dinner. With everyone in town and some having played golf on the Old Course, Saturday was another perfect day in the annals of TurfNet member trips.
When I am headed somewhere on a trip I typically go online to see if any concerts or other performances are taking place while I'm there. Luckily I discovered that St. Andrews had a Choral Festival in full swing the night before the TurfNet group's arrival in Scotland.
Bjarte Eike and Barokksolistene -- baroque musicians from Norway touring as The Alehouse Boys -- were performing their Alehouse Sessions in a venue with a twist. Rather than setting up in an auditorium, the festival transformed a student dining hall on the campus of St. Andrews University into a 1600's era local pub.
I met with Bjarte in advance of the performance. He explained that their Alehouse Sessions performances are an always evolving glimpse into the music of a 17th Century tavern. The instruments were accurate for the period of the mid-1600s. Bjarke explained that when Lord Cromwell closed down most of the theaters that the actors and musicians moved into the local pubs and performed a variety of tunes and dances to the delight of the local community. For nearly two hours the audience was treated to a very special night of entertainment.
An interview with Bjarte and a sample of their music below:
Along the lines of "good fortune" -- for them and us -- the St. Andrews Brewing Company was supplying the beer for the event. After a short chat with the owner I determined that their pub would be ideal for our group's "evening out" (hosted by Mike Cook of The Care of Trees) later in the week.
A few email exchanges later and the entire evening was "sorted", as the lingo goes over here.
For me at least, an auspicious start to what I hope proves to be a great week for the TurfNet group in Scotland.
One of the ways we promote future trips is by having plenty of shirts, hats, and other gift items from our previous trips in circulation. With our domestic trips it's easiest to have these items shipped to (or provided by) the host resort to greet our attendees on arrival, but the gift boxes for the foreign trips need to be sent out in advance so participants can pack the items themselves.
Swag boxes being sent out of the UPS Store in Atlanta.
Swag is also a great way to acknowledge and thank our sponsors for their support of the trip. This year our swag gift box has a variety of items. Syngenta is supplying long sleeve pullovers and a dozen Pro V1 golf balls and SandTrapper is supplying hats.
I suggested something a little different to Ocean Organics: each participant receives a DVD of the movie Tommy's Honour (about the life of Young Tom Morris and his father Old Tom.) The movie was in extremely limited release last spring and most participants hadn't seen it. It was filmed in and around St. Andrews and is set at many of the courses we are playing on the trip. Its also a great look at the history and traditions of golf in Scotland.
The folks at Carnoustie Golf Links sent their booklet on all the environmental projects around their series of golf courses, and I created a trip guidebook with all the details about each day's golf and activities.
Mike Cook tweeted a photo of his swag upon its arrival at his home:
I can't report on our gift items without giving a shoutout to Divots Sportswear our Atlanta-based provider of hats and shirts. Their service and patience is very much appreciated. We are probably not the easiest customer to deal with since we have relatively small orders and usually need a fast turnaround, but they always manage to come through for us with quality products and smiling faces.
Divots has been a great supplier for us over the years.
If you or your course are looking for a new supplier for your crew uniforms, consider contacting Divots and you may find them a great alternative. Ask for Michelle and tell her TurfNet sent you.
How do you get your own TurfNet swag? Sign up for next year's trip (hint: you'll have to cross the Atlantic and it helps to enjoy Guinness. The dates are October 12 20, 2018).
The TurfNet Members' Trip Advance Team (read that as me) is on the ground in Edinburgh making final preparations to greet our group of 20 and welcome them to the Home of Golf on Saturday morning.
Favorable exchange rates this year made this first trip to Scotland economically feasible, at long last. Planning has been in the works for over a year with the help of friends and contacts made through our activities with BIGGA and presentations at BTME over the past few years. Many had offered to help set us up with golf when we visited Scotland.
Where to "pitch our tent" for most of the trip was not a difficult decision: St. Andrews, of course! With that decision behind me, I enlisted the aid of Andy Campbell, a St. Andrews local who had been a golf course superintendent for many years and holds both the CGCS and MG (BIGGAs Master Greenkeeper) certifications.
Like so many entrepreneurs, Andy decided to go out on his own with a small St. Andrews-based golf tour company and later started representing a line of products in this industry.
Andy was a great host to our inaugural TurfNet Members Education Trip to BTME at Harrogate earlier this year. Our group was treated to local experiences that average visitors to the area just don't have access to.
Andy Campbelll (far left) hosted us at the St. Andrews Golf Club, where he is a member, in January 2017.
We wanted to have a variety of experiences, but also wanted to ensure that we visited at least two different cities and that all golf was played on classic links courses. And of course everyone would like a chance to play The Old Course.
It wasn't until we got fairly well into the planning of the trip that I realized that Andy is very much cut from TurfNet cloth and of our same mindset regarding work ethic and "value travel". Many Skype calls were made at odd hours and over weekends. I was happy to defer to his local knowledge to ensure that our mix of courses, hotels and other activities would be of a high standard and in keeping with the great experience of past TurfNet trips.
When the group arrives Saturday morning, it's off to St. Andrews for five nights and golf at Kingsbarns Golf Links, the Burnside course at Carnoustie Golf Links, St. Andrews New and Jubilee... and we'll try our luck at the Old Course lottery as well.
We look forward to a great week with our UK friends and to experiencing all the golf and history Scotland has to offer.
Kingsbarns Golf Links