A Numbers Game – Golf Course Industry

© matthew wharton

I wrote about a trip to the Scottish Highlands and my love for the region last year in this space. Recently I returned from another adventure in the Highlands where I discovered another laudable golf course – Golspie Golf Club.

Golspie is in the village of Golspie in Sutherland on the North Sea coast. The village has a population of just over 1,300 but boasts a phenomenal golf course designed by five-time Open champion James Braid.

Founded in 1889 and redesigned by Braid in 1925, Golspie is one of the most unique golf courses in the world. It has a collection of real link holes, as well as moorland and parkland holes.

The course starts with a par 5 followed by a par 3 located just inland from numbers 3, 4 and 5, which are along the coast with the sea to your left. The sixth hole is the second par 3 and turns directly inland from the sea.

After the sixth you have a brief walk to the tees of the par-4 seventh which continues to play inland over a high dune to a plateau on the property. The eighth par-4 bends left and the course now resembles British moorland with heather lining the sides of the fairways and Scots pines providing the backdrop to the green in the distance.

The ninth, 10th and 11th holes continue through this pine forest creating more of a parkland feel and you are certainly sheltered from ocean breezes at this point in your course. The 12th starts with the tee still sheltered in the trees before exiting into the open moorland adjacent to the eighth. The 13th continues on this same part of the property before reaching the 14th, which runs past the maintenance facility parallel to the road past the golf course.

This is where the sea view comes back. Although they don’t directly face the sea, the last four holes meander to and from the clubhouse. Real link holes to close your tower.

One of the things that struck me about the course was how much the moorland and parkland type holes reminded me of Pinehurst – minus the exposed sand scrapes. The landscape and nature of these golf holes was quite similar but with heather instead.

The 16 par 3 featured one of the most intimidating two-tiered greens I have ever seen. He really deserves to be on the @GreatGolfHoles Twitter account.

The most impressive thing about Golspie? The condition.

The grass was perfectly maintained and the greens were firm and true. Can’t say anything about the golf course seemed out of place. The course is maintained at a high standard.

Chief greenkeeper Muir Ross and his team have set an incredible standard – and the team is what I want to highlight. The Golspie team consists of just three employees: Muir and two other greenkeepers. In fact, Muir told me, that team only has 2½ employees this year. Muir has a seasonal assistant.

How do they do? Honestly, I do not know. My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Muir for a drink and a chat before our tour. He shared that their soil is a rich loam that creates an optimal growing environment for turf, compared to their hardy neighbor to the north.

Golspie is just six miles south of Brora. In recent years, the team at No Laying Up have helped shine the spotlight on Brora, a North Sea braid design famous for the sheep that help keep the golf course “clipped”.

A game in Brora feels like stepping back in time. I find him immensely attractive. But that rustic charm won’t always appeal to everyone. This is where I think Golspie has the advantage. Golspie is a one-round, multi-course experience. And the level of condition and manicure will please everyone.

Earlier this year, our team struggled to meet our expectations when our numbers were low. We then managed a few new recruits and received reinforcements from the relief of Cap H-2B. Once we hit our full complement of 18 workers, we headed out to the races.

I certainly understand that every golf course is unique, with varying soils, microclimates and more. But if three people can handle 18 holes at Golspie by the standard maintained by Muir Ross and his team, then we in the United States still have a lot to learn.

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG, is the superintendent of the Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, NC and past president of the Carolinas GCSA. Follow him on Twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.

Michael C. Ford