The most natural golf course in the world

golf course 6AIt’s sometimes wet; it’s sometimes wild, but it’s also stunningly beautiful … the ‘lost’ course of Askernish. Situated on the Outer Hebridean isle of South Uist, Askernish Golf Club has an amazing history. Originally designed by Old Tom Morris in 1891, it fell into disrepair and was finally reclaimed by the shifting sands.

In 2005 a chance conversation led to a visit by golf course consultant Gordon Irvine and the restoration of the course began. It takes an effort to get there, but for any golfer who has an innate love of the game, a visit to Askernish, the most natural golf course in the world, is a must.

In the beginning
imagesIn June 1891 Old Tom Morris, accompanied by his companion Horace Hutchinson, travelled from St Andrews to South Uist at the request of the wealthy landowner, Lady Emily Gordon Cathcart, the widow of Captain John Gordon, to inspect the machair lands with a view to laying out a new course. He eventually laid out the eighteen holes on the rolling dunes of Askernish farm, although he declared at the time that the choice of links land in that particular area was staggering.

Askernish 426To the uninitiated, machair is a Gaelic word meaning a fertile low-lying grassy plain, which occurs primarily on the exposed western coasts of Scotland and Ireland, and in particular the Outer Hebrides. Here sand, largely made up of crushed shells, is regularly blown ashore by the fierce Atlantic gales. Over time the calcium rich shell sand and traditional Outer Hebrides crofting land practices have led to the development of a mosaic of fertile Scottish grassland habitats renowned for its outstanding wildflowers, birds and insect life.

The early years
During its early years the course would have been used as a vehicle to entice visitors to the island, to be enjoyed along with the traditional pursuits of fishing and shooting. Some of the island’s residents were regular players, but these would have been mostly confined to the local clergy, doctors and teachers. It was maintained by local farm workers in the traditional way back then, using scythes and other handheld implements.

In 1922, the Scottish Land Settlement Act ceded the grazing rights of Askernish farm to 11 crofters and a lack of consistent maintenance led to the course’s general decline, then in 1932 Lady Cathcart died and ownership of the South Uist estate passed into hands of absentee landlords. The course was gradually reclaimed by nature and eventually disappeared into the shifting sands of the dunes.

Northern & ScottishNorthern and Scottish Airways began a regular air service from Renfrew to Askernish in 1936. The manager of the Lochboisdale Hotel was in charge of the aircraft bookings and commissioned a resident of the hotel, Derek MacReadie, a notable amateur golfer and avid fisherman, to lay out a 12 hole course using a flatter area of the machair alongside the grass airstrip.

Second half of the 20th century
The next significant development was the arrival of Dr Kenneth Robertson to South Uist in 1956. He was an enthusiastic and excellent golfer who immediately saw the potential of the course and worked tirelessly in reviving the membership and encouraging the youth of the island to adopt the sport.

Rocket rangeA military rocket range had opened in the northern part of the island and this brought an abundance of army personnel and construction workers who had a passion for golf to the course, where a portacabin was being used for a clubhouse. In 1970 Dr Robertson designed a new layout which consisted of nine holes and eighteen tees. By this time, the Old Tom Morris course had been totally consumed by nature and virtually forgotten.

Dr Robertson left the island in 1982 to retire to Edinburgh and with the downsizing of the military base the nine-hole course once again fell into decline. The 1990s were a decade of mixed fortunes for the club. The course only remained playable due to the determination and endeavour of a few locals until the idea of building a new clubhouse sparked some life into the club, but that collapsed as no grant funding could be found. The situation was so bad that at one point a vote was taken on whether or not to disband the club, but a handful of diehards soldiered on, without flags, tee markers or a greenkeeper.

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Course consultant Gordon Irvine

New millennium and new beginning
2005 was the remarkable turning point in the history of Askernish. Gordon Irvine, a golf course consultant and keen fisherman, contacted an estate in his native Ayrshire to enquire about fishing rights. The gentlemen he spoke to also happened to be the ex-Factor (estate manager) of South Uist Estates and mentioned during their conversation that there was an Old Tom Morris course on the island. Irvine was disbelieving and contacted the club’s Chairman Ralph Thompson for confirmation, who promptly confirmed that indeed there was a connection and invited Irvine over to inspect the links. At this time the nine-hole course had a few dozen members and the greens were mowed with rusting gang mowers and an old tractor.

Irvine visited the course in December 2005 and although the weather conditions were
atrocious, he immediately commented on the superb quality of the turf and when he saw the dune system from where the original course started, he exclaimed that he had found ‘The Holy Grail’. Now Irvine is something of a links specialist having worked at Turnberry throughout the 1980s, returning in 1994 to help prepare for the course for The Open. He has also undertaken consultancy work at Royal Cinque Ports in Kent, Hunstanton Golf Club and Royal West Norfolk Golf Club, both in Norfolk, UK.

Gordon Irvine's first view of of the links in December 2005

Gordon Irvine’s first view of of the links in December 2005

What he saw has now passed into folklore; at the top of the dune he gazed down on what was obviously a stretch of rolling links running alongside the beach. Although there was little or no sign of the position of the former greens it was obvious that the spectacular piece of land could have been the site of Old Tom’s creation.

Lost masterpiece
Convinced he had stumbled on a lost masterpiece he suggested that if the club could muster a group of volunteers he would donate his time and expertise to help resurrect Askernish. So in March 2006, he returned to the island having assembled a small group of like-minded enthusiasts – golf course architect Mike Ebert, a greenkeeping colleague Chris Haspall and Adam Lawrence, the editor of internationally acclaimed Golf Course Architecture magazine.

With no plans of the course in existence, their first task was to try and identify eighteen possible locations for the greens, so using their combined knowledge of Old Tom’s design principles they walked through the machair plotting possible options. That evening Ebert produced a plan on his laptop, and this provided the basis for the restoration work. This original plan has been slightly modified since, but the basic area and layout remains much the same as plotted that day.

All the necessary planning permissions were in place by December 2007, although not without some resistance from a few local crofters who believed the club were trying eliminate livestock from the machair. Over time this has been proved not to be true, as the course has remained as authentic to its 1891 principles as possible.

Askernish 413Cattle and sheep still graze the land during the winter months and the use of all artificial fertilisers and herbicides is prohibited. This has led to Askernish being known as ‘the most natural golf course in the world’.

By the end of winter 2007, all eighteen holes were laid out and seventeen fairways were in place; the remaining fairway, the 12th, was under construction and featured a spectacular double fairway. The course was completed by the end of May 2008 with the official opening scheduled for late August.


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Grand opening
kenny dalglishOn 22nd August over 100 competitors plus the local, national and international media, locals and well-wishers flocked to the club for the official opening, presided over by club Chairman Ralph Thompson, and Honorary President Kenny Dalglish. On the first tee dressed in a kilt, Club Captain Donald MacInnes hit the opening tee-shot on Old Tom’s restored Askernish course with a finely-struck hickory iron.

The ongoing development of the course continued in 2009, again with Martin Ebert and Course Consultant Gordon Irvine MG but now including fresh support from Bandon Dunes developer Mike Keizer and American architect Tom Doak. The ‘fine-tuning’ included the re-siting of the 6th and 17th greens.

Course maintenance equipment
Maintenance facility signageObviously, a golf course requires a minimum of maintenance equipment to keep it playable and this is where Ransomes Jacobsen, the UK-based manufacturer of commercial mowing equipment, became involved in the project. Then Managing Director David Withers, now President of Jacobsen, is a golf enthusiast and through his industry contacts he became aware of the Askernish story. Realising they would need mowing equipment he contacted the club and offered to support them with a donation of equipment.

Askernish 369And so it was that in June 2007, the first delivery of equipment was transhipped from the local ferry port to the club; although not new, it had been refurbished at the Ipswich manufacturing plant and was gratefully received by head greenkeeper Allan MacDonald.

The small fleet of Jacobsen equipment consisted of a Greens King IV triplex greens mower, an AR250 contour rotary mower, a Fairway 250 and a Cushman Turf Truckster; enough equipment to maintain the course in its ‘natural’ state.

The greenkeeper
Askernish 432Allan MacDonald has been the full time head greenkeeper since 2006, although he has over 20 years association with the club. Research into his family history has revealed he is a descendant of Flora MacDonald, the Jacobean heroine who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after the Scots’ defeat at the Battle of Culloden.

The owner of a general store on the island until 2004, he gained a limited knowledge of greenkeeping through his volunteer work, which also included spells as secretary and captain. To further his education he undertook web-based courses on the Elmwood College turf management programme attaining Level 2 and recently completed the HNC module in Golf Course Management.  He is assisted by Nollie Mackinnon from May to October, when the cattle and sheep are prohibited from the machair and the course enters high season.

The course
Askernish 389In glorious weather, Allan was the host for my course tour and it was fascinating to see how the course had been restored. The first six holes form a loop which includes two par 5s and provide a gentle start with undulating greens and reasonable changes in elevation. But nothing prepares you for the sight when you reach the 7th tee, where you are greeted by the Atlantic Ocean with views of Barra and some of the most stunning dune systems in golf.

Walking the course it is difficult to see if by some chance the combined efforts of Irvine, Ebert, Haspall and latterly Malcolm Peake, have placed a green or tee in a location out of character with Old Tom’s original layout. No-one will ever know, but as you walk each hole, if they have been unfaithful, it has only enhanced the golfing experience.

Askernish 397

An enhanced natural bunker guarding the 8th green

A typical example is short par 4, 8th hole. For big hitters it is comfortably reached in one, but is guarded by fearsome drop offs to the right of the hole and back of the green, so you need to be extremely brave to try for an eagle or birdie.

We arrive back at the clubhouse and sit down to some welcome refreshments prepared by the clubhouse manager, Mary Flora MacDonald who just happens to be Allan’s wife! Askernish 429Her homemade cakes and biscuits are superb and the clubhouse has a really homely feel; there’s even a small Pro Shop to the side, also managed by Mary Flora.

Over tea and cake I have the chance to interview Allan and get more background for the piece I intend to write. He obviously loves his job and is hugely appreciative about the support he has received from many sources, especially Ransomes Jacobsen.

Malcolm Peake

“We are extremely grateful to Malcolm Peake, who introduced David Withers to us in 2007; David’s enthusiasm for this project cannot be underestimated,” he said. “The equipment we received from Ransomes Jacobsen has enabled us to keep the course maintained throughout the year. We have over 200 acres of grass and it takes one and half days to cut the fairways. We keep it as natural as possible, overseeding the greens every year with a 50/50 mix of creeping red and chewings fescues from our seed supplier Johnsons.

Askernish 368“In the initial reconstruction phase we used the AR250 rotary mower to take down the indigenous grasses to recreate the fairways, which we now manage in the summer with a Fairway 305. Although a basic greens mower, the Greens King IV has been superb and the quality of cut is second to none.

“We cut at 6mm in the summer and increase the height to 7mm in the winter. We rope off the greens in the winter months to stop the animals grazing and they look after the fairways for us!”

Former Chairman and Liar-in-chief
Ralph & KennyWe we’re soon joined by Ralph Thompson, who recently relinquished the job as club chairman, but who is still heavily involved as a board member. Ralph, who was once light heartedly described in the US magazine Sports Illustrated as “chairman and liar-in-chief,” is, without doubt, the main reason why the unearthing of Askernish has happened. A native of South Uist, he lived in Aberdeen from the age of 16 to 32, returning to the island in 1988 upon the death of his father.

“We now have over 200 members and 34 Life members”, he says with obvious pride. “We have around a 1,000 rounds a year and at the end of August we host the Askernish Open. This is the highlight of our year and over three days we enjoy a great golf course, friendship, hospitality and one of the best golf experiences available, but I’m biased. We entertain visitors from as far afield as the mainland Europe, Scandinavia, the Americas and Africa; our Half-way house has quickly made its way into Askernish folklore!

life members

A group of Life Members gather at the start of the inaugural competition

“This year we hosted the first Life Members competition with over 20 members attending from all over the globe. For some of the members it was their first trip to Askernish, even though they had made a monetary contribution to the restoration work years earlier.

“The weekend was a fantastic success and is now going to become a bi-annual event. Tom Doak, the world renowned golf course architect and his associate Eric Iverson were in attendance and Tom told me that he mentions Askernish in the latest edition of his ‘Confidential Guide to UK Golf Courses’ as one of the three best courses in Scotland. That is some accolade for our humble course!”

My time on the island was coming to a close as I needed to get to the airport at Benbecula for the return flights to Glasgow via Stornaway. I bade my farewells and on the drive through the majestic landscape of South Uist had time to reflect on my visit.

That chance conversation between Gordon Irvine and Ralph Thompson was the beginning of a remarkable restoration project, probably one that will never again be experienced in the world of golf. Martin Ebert said that hole 8 at Askernish was the “most natural par 4 in the world” and it would take a brave man to disagree.

 Askernish – the most natural golf course anywhere in the world!

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Environmental protection remains a top priority at Vale do Lobo

Vale do Lobo is the largest luxury resort development in Portugal and features twoVale do Lobo 412
18-hole championship golf courses. The resort owners are conscious of their impact on their surroundings and are committed to maintaining the environmental equilibrium; and that’s one of the drivers behind their recent purchases of turf maintenance equipment with zero emissions at the point of use.

Year Opened: 1968 (first nine holes)
Location: Almancil, Portugal
Resort Technical Director: Eng. Luis Matos
Golf Courses Superintendent: Ignacio Coelho
Equipment: Jacobsen Eclipse 322 electric greens mowers (3);
Smithco  Super Star 48 volt electric bunker rakes (3)

HistoryCostain logo
Sir Richard Costain, managing director of the international construction company Costain, was a regular visitor to the Algarve in the early 1960s and being a scratch golfer decided he would like to build a course in the area. While visiting several sites he came across the Vale do Lobo (Valley of the Wolf), a dramatic area of land some 15 miles west of Faro.

Having purchased the land he now required an architect, so he chose his old school friend, Sir Henry Cotton, and together they drew up the first plans for the course, which were unveiled in 1962. At that time, the Algarve was mainly inhabited by farmers and fishermen but with the first nine holes opening in 1965 followed by a second nine holes and the construction of the five star Dona Filipa Hotel in 1968, that soon changed, especially when Faro International Airport opened that same year.

In 1971 the first ‘aldeamento’ (housing complex) was completed and the following yearVale do Lobo 371 the third nine hole course opened. Sander van Gelder, a Dutch entrepreneur, discovered Vale do Lobo while on holiday in the mid 1970s, and recognising its potential, bought the resort and moved to Portugal in 1977.

The Roger Taylor tennis centre opened in 1980 and in 1997, the construction of an additional nine holes saw the creation of the Royal and Ocean courses. Vale do Lobo celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2002, staging the Algarve Open de Portugal for the first time and the same year hosted its first ATP Seniors Tour event,  won by John McEnroe. The Algarve Open de Portugal returned for a second consecutive year in 2003.

Towards the end of 2006, the resort was sold to a group of Portuguese and international investors, including Portugal’s largest national bank, Caixa Geral de Depósitos.

The courses
Both courses at Vale do Lobo feature umbrella pine and fig tree-lined fairways that Vale do Lobo 434sweep down to the Atlantic; the par 72, 6,059 metre Royal course, designed by American golf architect Rocky Roquemore, based on the original drawings of Sir Henry Cotton, sits dramatically along the cliff’s edge. The 9th green is virtually an island and the famous 16th, with clifftop carry is one of the most photographed holes in Europe.

The Ocean Course, composed of the two original 9-hole golf courses designed by Sir
Vale do Lobo 426Henry Cotton, is a combination of links and parkland golf that provides enjoyable and alternative options for golfers of all standards. At 6,137 metres with a par of 73 it features gently undulating fairways which run alongside the nature reserve before leading gently down to the shores of the Atlantic. The 11th and 14th are challenging and spectacular par 4s and the par 3 15th runs alongside the beach.

The Resort’s ethos
One of the first people I met on my visit was Eng. Luis Matos, the Resort and Technical Director who has been associated with Vale do Lobo for over 41 years. During the short walk to the location of the photoshoot he explained the ethos of the resort.

“We are situated in an amazing area of 400 hectares bordering the Atlantic Ocean,” heVale do Lobo 411 said, “of which 75 hectares are dedicated to the golf courses. The courses are based on original concepts by the legendary Sir Henry Cotton and were re-developed by the respected American golf architect Rocky Roquemore.

“We are an ideal destination for golfers, second home owners and holiday makers, thanks to an exceptional climate, dramatic coastline, golden beaches, acclaimed restaurants, the golf courses and an impressive property portfolio. We are delighted to have hosted to the Portuguese Open on two occasions.

“The importance of the natural environment in Vale do Lobo has been a priority at the resort from the outset, with continuous innovation, infrastructure and services remaining essential in preserving the unique natural environment of the area. The overall aim of the resort is to balance the needs and desires of the residents and visitors, while also maintaining a philosophy of sustainable development.

“To ensure the successful environmental management of the Vale do Lobo golf courses, we are always looking to find new and innovative solutions to course maintenance and in keeping with this philosophy, we have recently acquired new equipment from the renowned Jacobsen brand, to allow the latest technology to be used to create harmony between the courses and the environment.”

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Golf Courses Superintendent Ignacio Coelho sitting on the Eclipse 322

New course maintenance equipment
Ignacio Coelho is the Golf Courses Superintendent at Vale do Lobo and has worked at the resort for the past 24 years and leads a team of 32 greenkeeping staff. With over 110,000 rounds of golf every year, the courses demand an impressive and dedicated team to keep them in pristine condition.

Speaking during the delivery of the three Jacobsen Eclipse 322s he said,Vale do Lobo 359
“We had a demonstration of the mowers just over a year ago and I was very impressed with the thinking behind their design. The battery packs which store the electricity have an automatic watering system, which makes them easy to maintain and the quality of cut on the greens is impressive. Obviously they are virtually silent when in operation and create no
emissions when being used around the resort.

“The other obvious benefit is that there is absolutely no chance of an hydraulic oil spill on the greens, because they are totally powered by electricity and have no hydraulic system. I made a serious business case for purchasing the equipment, presented it to our Finance Director, Luisa Salazar and to Luis Matos, and my recommendations were approved.

“Jacobsen sent one of their service engineers from the UK to install the Vale do Lobo 439machines, which was excellent as he could fully explain to my assistant, Luis Rebelo and our mechanic, some of the more detailed functions of the mowers.

“We have also taken delivery of three all-electric bunker rakes from the Smithco brand. These Super Star 48 volt rakes, together with the new Jacobsen machines, combine efficiency with minimal noise pollution to allow for a greater quality of life for the residents, while equally respecting the environment. Everyone at Vale do Lobo is proud to be once again working towards a cleaner and more environmentally friendly future.”

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A Canadian Calling

Superintendent Ian McQueen living his dream at Toronto-area course

Islington Golf Club At-A-Glance

Year Opened: 1926
Location: Toronto, Canada
Superintendent: Ian McQueen
Turf: Poa annua on the greens, Providence & 007 bentgrasses in the fairways and mix of bluegrass, fescue, rye and poa in the rough
Equipment: Jacobsen ECLIPSE2 122F walking greens mowers (6); Jacobsen ECLIPSE 322 riding greens mowers (2); Jacobsen SLF-1880 fairway mowers (3) and Cushman Turf-Trucksters (3)
Ian McQueen, Superintendent of Islington Golf Club in Toronto, Canada. Of being a superintendent, McQueen says, "It's all I've ever done and all I ever will do."

Ian McQueen, Superintendent of Islington Golf Club in Toronto, Canada. Of being a superintendent, McQueen says, “It’s all I’ve ever done and all I ever will do.”

Some superintendents end up in the business by chance. Others take a side door through a related business or industry. And there are the guys for whom the profession is a calling. Ian McQueen, Superintendent of Islington Golf Club in Toronto, Canada, is one of those guys.

“I fell in love with this industry at 14 years of age,” said McQueen. “It’s all I’ve ever done and all I ever wanted to do.”

After receiving a turfgrass degree from Penn State and completing an internship in the Baltimore area, McQueen became superintendent at a private club with a single owner. Fast forward to now, McQueen answers to 500 members at Islington – a job that can be just as challenging as managing bentgrass in tundra-like conditions.

“Working for a board was a learning curve for me because you have so many different opinions,” said McQueen. “Sharing information with our board and members has been a great way for them to really understand what we do and our unique needs.”

McQueen frequently posts on his turf blog and Twitter (@IanMcQueenIGC) to keep members aware of course updates. He says social media has been instrumental in fostering a great relationship between the members and turf staff.

“We had a flood in early July of last year and then an incredibly challenging winter,” said McQueen. “We lost a green to the flood and the rest were decimated by an ice storm in December. But our members knew about it from our constant flow of communications. They could see with their own eyes from the pictures just how bad things were. Because they were well informed on what we were facing, the board voted to completely rebuild our 90-year-old push-up greens at a $1.1 million price tag.”

Islington's push-up greens are currently being rebuilt to USGA specs. The drainage and gravel layer of green no. 2 (seen above) were recently installed.

Islington’s push-up greens are currently being rebuilt to USGA specs. The drainage and gravel layer of green no. 2 (seen above) were recently installed.

The renovations have already begun at Islington, which is getting all-new USGA greens. It will be a huge upgrade for the course, which competes for members with several other Toronto-area courses. Islington currently has 550 members.

Islington’s membership will get in around 30,000 rounds of golf a year, which is down from 36,000 a few years ago. It’s an impressive number considering the course is only open six months out of the year.

“We’re changing some of the sloping of the greens to keep up certain green speeds,” says McQueen. “Now that the height-of-cut is much lower than twenty years ago, the slopes that are about six degrees need to be changed to two or three while maintaining the general shape of the green as a whole.”

One of three Jacobsen SLF-1880 fairway mowers used at Islington. McQueen likes the machine's lighter weight and ability to cut right up to the approaches.

One of three Jacobsen SLF-1880 fairway mowers used at Islington. McQueen likes the machine’s lighter weight and ability to cut right up to the approaches.

McQueen uses a fleet of Jacobsen ECLIPSE2 122F greens mowers to maintain his greens.

“I’ve had Jacobsen walkers for about a decade because I think they’re the best on the market,” said McQueen. “I love that you can control the frequency-of-clip. During peak season, we set the FOC and HOC the same, about .110. This gets us a pretty consistent roll of 10-10.5’, which is ideal for members.”

“We use the Jacobsen SLF-1880 fairway units to mow the traditional half-moon style,” said McQueen. “I really like the light weight of the SLF-1880, they can mow right up to the approaches without a problem. I have three but plan to get two more.”

“I think the keys to success here at Islington are consistency and communication,” said McQueen. “If you can present consistently good conditions and communicate everything you’re doing to your members, you create a winning environment.”

“I think the keys to success here at Islington are consistency and communication,” said McQueen. “If you can present consistently good conditions and communicate everything you’re doing to your members, you create a winning environment” ~Ian McQueen, Superintendent of Islington Golf Club, Toronto, Canada

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Seaside golf since 1934

Rya Golfklubb is an 18-hole coastal golf course, situated
8 km south of Helsingborg onRya 3618 the Swedish shore of the Öresund, the body of water that separates the eastern seaboard of Denmark and the southwestern coast of Sweden. Founded in 1934 it is one of the top 20 golf courses in the country; a good reason for Jacobsen to pay a visit earlier this year.

Founded in 1934 as Helsingkrona Golfklubb, the first nine hole course was constructed at Örby meadows on the outskirts of Helsingborg. Carl-Erik Nordgren was the club’s first professional and greenkeeper, but the popularity of the club quickly outgrew the nine holes and new land was sought as a matter of urgency.

The original clubhouse

The original clubhouse

A new area of land was purchased further down the coast in 1935 and a 13-hole course built, the Club’s name was changed in 1936 to Rya Golfklubb and the following year it became the 19th member of the Swedish Golf Federation. In 1946 the club became a limited company and a further four holes were added.

Following the purchase of additional land, the remaining five holes were completed over the next 10 years producing a course that measured 5,016 metres from the white tees. Rafael Sundblom was the driving force behind the development at this time and the club hosted numerous championships.

In 1970 a new clubhouse was completed and further land purchased, new holes 11 through 14 were constructed, which enabled the driving range to be enlarged and alterations to several other holes, increasing the length of the course by 415 metres. However, the opening of the new holes was delayed until 1971 due to an unusually harsh and severe winter.

Renovation and refurbishment of the former holes
11, 12 and 14 started in 1982, Rya 4522613including  the much-criticized 14th green.  The clubhouse was extended, neither the first nor the last time that this happened! In 1993 a task force was established to lead Rya into the new millenium and another major redevelopment and extension of the clubhouse was completed, but the planned construction of a machinery maintenance facility was postponed until 1994.

The Club’s fortunes waned over the next 10 years and debts were accumulated with monies owed to the local community and financial institutions. Something had to happen, so the board took the decision to offer members a shareholding in the Club. This was offered to all members with 1,129 accepting and the club becoming Rya Golf AB in 2005.

The resulting influx of funds cleared the debts and allowed the Club to introduce a Master Plan for the future including the construction of three new holes, under the guidance of the British golf course architects Hawtree Ltd, and the modernisation of the entire course maintenance fleet.

The board consists of six members, all serving for two years, but they can be re-elected at the end of their term. A four-person committee selects candidates for office; however in the interest of continuity, the current chairman has been in the role since 2004. Three new board members were elected in 2013.Rya 286

At the time of my visit Magnus Sunesson, a former European Tour professional from 1987-1994, was the Club’s manager. Although he never won a major tournament, his time on the tour was memorable and enjoyable. He finished 4th four times and 12th in the Open at Royal Birkdale in 1991.

He rubbed shoulders with some of the great European professionals and played in the same group as Bernhard Langer on the final day of the Madrid Open in 1991, Gordon Brand Jr in the BMW PGA event at Wentworth in 1992 and Ian Woosnam at the European Open at Sunningdale in 1993. In 1989 he played only Swedish tournaments and won a total 250,000 Swedish Krone.

He was appointed Head Professional at Royal Drottningholm Golfklubb, west of Stockholm in 1995, a position he held until 1998. During this time he worked for the Swedish Golf Association (SGA) as a part-time coach to the Boys’ national team and coached other teams at all levels.


The SGA has its own commercial company, SGF Affärsutveckling AB, which works to promote the sport to businesses who want to be associated with golf, which in turn creates more resources for the sport.

While working for SGF in 1999 he got involved with Hello Sweden, an organisation that links Swedish sports with Swedish business. It looks at both promising young sportspeople and established stars and offers support to help them excel. It has produced produced golfers such as Henrik Stenson, Peter Hansen and Christen Nielsen, all of whom Magnus coached in 2004.

Thoughts of a return to the European Tour had been percolating in Magnus’s mind so in 2005 he attempted a comeback, winning a pre-qualifying tournament for the Open at Royal Ashdown Forest, when he shot a course record of 67, but in the final quailfying event at Irvine he was one of 90 players competing for just four places and failed to qualify.

In 2006, he decided to try his hand at golf commentary on television and auditioned with French-owned broadcaster Canal Plus along with 23 other hopefuls and secured one of the four places on offer. Most commentating was undertaken from a small studio in Copenhagen with live video feed from the competitions, but he did get to visit a couple of tournaments, including one in Dubai. His enjoyable career as a TV commentator continued until 2011.

Magnus takes up the story from here.

“The former manager at Rya resigned suddenly
and I saw an advertisement in a local golf magazine,” he said. “Friends encouraged me to apply, so I spoke to the former manager, applied, was invited for an interview, then another and three weeks later was offered the job. I began my new career here at Rya on 2 April 2012.

“We are a progressive club with high ambition and everyone is behind the board in making it happen. We now have almost 1,300 members, of which 150 are juniors, who cannot become shareholders until they are 18. We have planning permission for 20 homes on land we own adjacent to the course and are awaiting proposals from interested parties.

“Our main priority now is to improve the quality of
the course, which will encourageRya 4522709 more people to visit us. We welcome guests from all over the world and our goal is to be up amongst the best seaside golf courses in Europe and a viable alternative to Ireland and Scotland. I appreciate it’s a lofty goal, but it has the support of everyone at the club.”

My next stop was at the impressive maintenance facility, which was full of Jacobsen equipment following the signing of a recent preferred supplier agreement with local distributor Gräsvårdsmaskiner (GVM) of Malmo.

Head greenkeeper Brian Petersen came out to meet me
and invited me to jump on a Rya 283buggy for a tour of the course. Like all Scandinavians, his command of English was excellent and he began by providing some facts and figures for the course.

“We  had more than 29,000 member rounds and 6,000 green fees last year, so in excess of 35,000 rounds,” he said. “I have seven staff in total during high season plus a full-time mechanic, so a big enough team to keep ahead of the golfers.

“We plan to increase the definition across the course by raising the height of cut in all areas; for example we are mowing the greens at 3mm producing 9.5 to 10 on the stimpmeter and can get that up to 12.5 for club championships. We are drilling and filling the greens to get better soil exchange and bringing Rya back to its seaside roots. We want to preserve the history, but with subtle changes.

“The need for a long-term relationship with
a trusted supplier was the prime reason forRya 255
changing our machinery fleet. The quality and performance of the Eclipse greens mower was a major selling point and changing its frequency of cut and then rolling with the Smithco greens roller enables us to get championship green speed.

“Rafael Sundblom, who was probably the first modern golf course architect in the Nordic Countries, and he was responsible for the majority of original holes here. He was involved in over 30 golf projects throughout his career and his most famous course design was Halmstad Golfklubb, which opened in 1938 and hosted the Solheim Cup in 2007.”

My visit concluded with an invitation to lunch in the modern, contemporary clubhouse, where Magnus Sunesson reiterated the ambition of the club.

“We are a long established club, as you can see from our history, but our goal is to be the premier seaside club in Sweden. This is a significant challenge, but we believe that building strong and lasting partnerships with trusted suppliers is the way forward. The preferred supplier agreement with GVM is typical of the approach we are taking; one that is beneficial to both parties in the long term.”
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Unique by Design

Texas club features classic Tillinghast design along with natural grass tennis courts

Oak Hills Country Club At-A-Glance

Year Opened: 1922
Location: San Antonio, TX
Superintendent: Craig Felton
Turf: Champion bermuda grass on the greens; 419 bermuda grass in the fairways and the roughs
Equipment: Jacobsen Greens King 522 walking greens mowers (11); Jacobsen ECLIPSE 322 riding greens mowers (4); Jacobsen LF570 fairway mowers (3); Jacobsen AR-522 contour rotary mowers (4); GA-24 aerator; Cushman Turf-Truckster (2)
Craig Felton has been the Superintendent at Oak HIlls Country Club in San Antonio, Texas for over ten years.

Craig Felton has been the Superintendent at Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio, Texas for over ten years.

Although there are nearly 20 U.S. golf courses with ‘Oak Hills’ in their name, Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio stands out among the tall trees with a truly unique and colorful history.

Designed by A.W. Tillinghast and opened in 1922, Oak Hills Country Club is no stranger to the spotlight.  The club has hosted a total of 35 PGA TOUR events, with winners including Arnold Palmer, Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw and Nick Price.

For the last ten years, Craig Felton has watched over Oak Hills as the Superintendent.  Like the course, Felton’s golf lineage also runs deep, with stops along the way at clubs in Austin, Texas and Birmingham, Alabama.  He was also a superintendent at New Orleans Country Club for three years after working at a private club in Houston.

Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio is one of the few golf courses in the U.S. that finishes both 9s with a par 3.

Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio is one of the few golf courses in the U.S. that finishes both 9s with a par 3.

“Oak Hills is a very classic course, a very prototypical Tillinghast design but also very unique,” said Felton.  “It’s one of the few golf courses in the entire country that finishes both 9s with a par 3.”

But even with the course’s uniqueness and classic design, the course finds it difficult to compete with some of San Antonio’s newer private clubs.

“Player expectations have never been higher.  Our last golf course renovation took place thirty years ago.  As a result, it’s hard to keep up with more modern courses,” said Felton.  “The course is just 6,765 yards total and landlocked, so it would be difficult to lengthen the course.  But we make the best of it here at Oak Hills and I think our members appreciate that.”

Craig Felton is one of the few turf managers in Texas to maintain natural grass tennis courts.

Craig Felton is one of the few turf managers in Texas to maintain natural grass tennis courts.

Another unique amenity that keeps Felton busy is two Champion bermuda grass tennis courts.

“We’re one of the only clubs in Texas with natural grass tennis courts,” said Felton.  “We put a lot of work into them: mowing every day in the summer, verticutting/topdressing once a week and aerifying three times a year.  Ironically, we spend more time maintaining them than people play on them.  You have to be a pretty good player to enjoy the grass courts.”

Felton has been a loyal Jacobsen customer for over a decade and he even attended the manufacturer’s Future Turf Managers event back in 1989 when it was held in Racine, Wisconsin.

A Jacobsen AR-522 contour rotary mower trims around a tree at Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio, Texas.

A Jacobsen AR-522 contour rotary mower trims around a tree at Oak Hills Country Club in San Antonio, Texas.

“We’re pretty much wall to wall Jacobsen here and have been for a while,” said Felton.  “We’ve got Greens King 522 walkers on the greens, which give an unbelievable quality-of-cut.  We also use the ECLIPSE 322s primarily for verticutting, but I also wanted the flexibility of using them for mowing when needed because the cut quality is so good – it’s almost like walking.

“I’ve noticed that new Jacobsen President David Withers is bringing new energy to the company and helping Jacobsen go in the right direction,” said Felton.  “On the local level, our dealer C&M goes above and beyond to get what we need here and that means a lot.

“I’d love to spend the rest of my career here at Oak Hills, but these days superintendents really don’t control their own destiny anymore.  But I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else.”

I’d love to spend the rest of my career here at Oak Hills, but these days superintendents really don’t control their own destiny anymore.  But I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else.” ~Craig Felton, Superintendent of Oak Hills Country Club, San Antonio, Texas

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First student cohort graduates from WINSTONuniversity

Winstonuniversity 162WINSTONuniversity is based at the WINSTONgolf 45-hole facility at Gneven Ot Vorbeck in Mecklenburg, northern Germany and opened its door to the first intake of European and international students in October 2013. Featuring two 18-hole championship courses – WINSTONlinks, designed by David Krause and WINSTONopen, plus the Par-3 course WINSTONkranich – the resort is ranked amongst the top facilities in Europe. (Please note that the house style of any WINSTON related course or entity features the initial word in capitals with the subsidiary word in lowercase; it is not a spelling error!)

Five year agreement

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Signing of the five-year exclusive supplier agreement are Jenny Elshout, Managing Director, WINSTONgolf; Hubertus von Treuenfels, CEO, WINSTONuniversity and Rupert Price, Sales Director, Ransomes Jacobsen

In late autumn 2012, Ransomes Jacobsen signed an exclusive agreement to supply WINSTONuniversity with a range of equipment to support the teaching curriculum at the new international golf course and club management education centre of excellence in Germany.

Under the terms of the five-year exclusive supply agreement, Ransomes Jacobsen provides equipment to facilitate the teaching of a greenkeeping-based curriculum involving both classroom and on-course practical instructions. We have also agreed to provide staff from our Cutting Edge Training division for specialist teaching and that every cohort of students will visit our European headquarters in Ipswich at least once a year.

Winstonuniversity 038Through our German distributor Golf-Tech GmbH of Munster, Jacobsen have committed to provide tournament support machinery and personnel for the Pon Senior Open, a European Tour event, over a three year timescale as well as supporting the university’s recruitment programme.

Hubertas von TreuenfelsCommenting at the signing of the agreement back in 2012, Hubertus von Treuenfels, CEO of WINSTONuniversity said,
“As a privately funded, golf management institute we aim to develop the leadership capabilities required around the world to ensure the game of golf has a successful future. We have designed an educational model of problem-based learning that will encourage students to create solutions that will develop a detailed understanding of the management of fine turf. Initially for the golf sector, this learning system will be broadened to embrace other sports and perhaps, other business sectors in the future.”

Ian Butcher, former International Development Officer at Elmwood College, is the Programme Director at WINSTONuniversity and said,
“Our target audience for the initial cohort of students will be primarily from the emerging markets in golf, such as China, the Asia Pacific region and eastern Europe, although we welcome students from the major golfing nations in western Europe and the USA.

Winston 002A“This is an exciting opportunity as both WINSTONuniversity and Ransomes Jacobsen believe wholeheartedly in growing the game of golf and in the provision of skills and techniques necessary for the next generation of fine turf professionals across the globe to flourish and develop long-term careers.”


That was then, at the start of partnership; now move forward to
the present and the first cohort of 12 students have graduated. For six months they stayed at Gut Vorbeck, unlikely student accommodation as it is a superbly appointed former manor house, built in 1912 and completely restored and remodelled in 2010. A new dining facility, adjacent to Gut Vorbeck, was completed in time for the first intake and an interesting exchange of cultures saw the Chinese students preparing meals for the Europeans and vice versa.

And there was probably no better location for the graduation ceremony than at ‘The Home of Golf’ at St. Andrews in Scotland. The cosmopolitan group from 11 countries around the world stayed at the Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort and Spa located adjacent to the famous 17th ‘Road’ hole.

Professor Al Turgeon, Walter Woods and Ian Butcher

Professor Al Turgeon, Walter Woods and Ian Butcher

Guest of honour Walter Woods, who for 21 years served as the Superintendent at the St. Andrews Links Trust and who is one of the founding fathers of the British & International Golf Greenkeepers’ presented the diplomas and Professor Al Turgeon, the renowned specialist in turf grass management and a visiting lecturer at WINSTONuniversity, travelled from the U.S. to Scotland to congratulate the graduates.

Graduation-Students Swilcan BridgeThe visit to St. Andrews was the culmination of six months of a unique education for golf course and club managers at WINSTONuniversity. During the trip to Scotland the group gained new insights in the maintenance of world class courses, such as the Duke’s Course owned and managed by the Old Course Hotel as well as the links of Kingsbarns, where they also had an opportunity to play the courses.

Stop-over in Ipswich

Graduation visit JacobsenOn the journey from Germany to Scotland the group made a stop-over at our headquarters in Ipswich where they were able to see how commercial mowing equipment is manufactured, beginning with sheet metal entering the production process at one end of the facility and completed mowers rolling of the production lines at the other end.

On this particular occasion they were fortunate to meet Dr. Frank Rossi of Cornell University, who was over in the UK to lecture at the Jacobsen-sponsored Future Turf Managers’ programme, an education initiative for deputy greenkeepers who are looking to reach the next level in their careers.

Earlier in the year, the students spent a month in Portugal, hosted by Orizonte Golf, operators of seven courses in the greater Lisbon area, to experience the challenge of golf resort management in a different climate.

Quality education

Frank Ahern, one of the first graduates to complete the WINSTONuniversity course said,
“We not only learnt about turf and resource management, but also gained a solid background in the economics and strategic marketing of golf courses. I can only advise anyone who sees their future in golf course management to apply for the next cohort at WINSTONuniversity.”

Ian ButcherProgramme Director Ian Butcher added,
“Proof of how much our graduates are sought after is demonstrated by the fact that all the graduates are now working in the industry, either having returned to their clubs such as Crecy Golf Club in Paris, or found internships or residencies at US Open venue Baltusrol or Loch Lomond in Scotland. Engelmann, a leading golf course maintenance company with clients all over Germany and Austria, also took three of our alumni.

“The business challenges facing golf means there is a greater need amongst future leaders for understanding across the various career paths, in the Pro Shop, Clubhouse and of course in the core business, the golf course itself. What was interesting with this first cohort was to see the professional players and course managers exchanging skills.

“Our curriculum reflects these challenges and encourages a combined strategic approach, as demonstrated by our assignment working for the Orizonte Golf Group in Portugal, recommendations which included resource management, marketing initiatives and course management solutions. Throughout the six-month program we teach solely by case study, and develop problem solving and communication skills. The courses will be enhanced next year with more practical applications in conjunction with the WINSTONgolf course management, led by Andy Matzer.

“Secondly WINSTONuniversity is as engaged with its graduates following their careers as when they were studying with us on the program. As they continue to complete innovative and project orientated assignments around the world they begin to have a positive impact on golf development in their respective countries. Our partnerships, teaching teams and international networks all combine to fast track individuals into leadership and management.”

New student applications

Vehicle logo 176The application process for the second course at WINSTONuniversity, starting in October 2014, is now open. The programme can take just 20 students and CEO Hubertus von Treuenfels is comfortable that he will be in a position to select the best applicants.

“We are confident that we have the curriculum that prepares students for the real world”, he said, “and while confident that we will fill all the places I would like to stress that we do not want to deter anyone from applying for the new semester which will start in October 2014 and run until the end of March 2015.“

Rupert Price, Sales Director at Ransomes Jacobsen concluded saying,
“We are delighted to be involved with this innovative educational programme. We are committed to training on a global scale, across our business and also imparting knowledge around the world.

“Golf-Tech, our German distributor, was instrumental in setting up this agreement and has played an important role liaising with the team at WINSTONuniversity as well as providing the equipment that is being used in much of the learning process.

“I am particularly keen to encourage students from the emerging nations, as we believe that the way forward in these countries is for the indigenous people to become highly skilled in the art of fine turf management. If you are interested I would recommend that you contact WINSTONuniversity as soon as possible.”

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