These days, Stewart Duff splits his time between preparing his courses for European Tour events and keeping his eye on visiting film crews. With the Scottish Open making its second visit to Gullane, his profile has never been higher
Is there pressure to repeat the success of 2015?
“Like most progressive golf clubs, we are always looking at ways to improve the experience for everyone who plays our courses. We’ve taken on extra staff and that has enabled us to do more on a day-to-day basis. In terms of The Scottish Open, all of the extra work we’ve put into the course will benefit us in the lead-up to the tournament.”
It’s the same course layout as 2015. Has anything been changed?
“There are a few changes. Instead of being a long straight par four, the 10th fairway has been altered to a slight dogleg left to right, and we’ve put in a new tee and made some changes to the bunkering. There’s also a new tee back left at 16, and around the 8th green we’ve made some bunker changes and mounding work to make it fairer and more aesthetically pleasing. The work took place in December 2016.”
Do the changes make the course tougher?
“The 10th fairway makes better golfers think more about their tee shots because they have to decide whether to take a driver and take on the risk-and-reward shot over the bunkers or go for a lay-up with a three wood. For the day-to-day members, the new eight green complex has made it fairer. It’s also made it slightly easier for the pros, but the pros were already able to stop the ball on the green whereas the day-to-day golfers can find that tricky.”
When did the preparations for the Scottish Open start in earnest?
“The spectator pathways were cut out in January. It was a good time for us because there weren’t any nesting birds in the rough at that time, and the rough wasn’t that tall. We have continued to cut the paths leading up to the tournament.”
When does the course close ahead of the tournament?
“One week before the tournament starts. Gullane is an extremely busy members golf club with three golf courses, so the club is trying to strike a balance between keeping the members and visitors happy, and keeping the European Tour happy, while giving me as much time as they can. Six weeks out, we’ve introduced some restrictions on landing zones and fairways. That’s offering some protection to the course. We’re also restricting play from certain tees. All these things help in the build-up to a tournament.”
With a month to go, what is your focus?
“We’re trying to time our herbicide applications in advance of the Scottish Open. Our timings are essential to allow recovery well before the tournament starts. There will also be a lot of refinement work on the greens. There’s a lot of bent grass on our greens, so we’ll be light brushing, grooming and verticutting to get nice, refined greens surfaces.”
How do you use Hugh King sand?
“We use the Washed Dune sand on the greens, tees, aprons and fairways, and Bunker 8 sand in the bunkers. In terms of topdressing; from October through to April, we apply about 12 tonnes at a time onto the greens once a month. The aprons have been done three or four times with a lot more sand because we’re trying to firm up the aprons. And I think we’ve had one or two applications on the tees. In total, our annual Washed Dune sand order from Hugh King is about 1,000 tonnes.”
You started using Hugh King sand 10 years ago. Why start then?
“The Washed Dune sand was almost identical to the dune sand we had on our site. Unfortunately that stockpile was used up. We did use another sand, but it was like dust in comparison. I wasn’t impressed with it at all, so to get something like Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand was heaven sent. It was superb. It’s a great product and the company always deliver it nice and clean. There are no stones. No clay. There’s no other debris, so it was an absolutely fantastic find.”
How have the courses changed since the introduction of Hugh King sand?
“Firmness has improved. The organic matter has gone down on our greens. We have a tighter, denser sword on the fairways. There has been a lot of good benefits from bringing in Hugh King sand.”
Have there been any improvements between 2015 and 2018?
“The testing we’re doing is showing we are firmer than what we were in 2015. Come tournament week, it will all come down to the weather conditions. That will dictate how quick the greens will be and how the course plays. The weather will have the final say! However, the tests we’re doing now show we are in a better place than we were in 2015.”
Can you pinpoint how these improvements have been achieved?
“It’s a combination of a lot of things. It’s not one thing that makes a difference. Good sensible practices applied at the right time; that’s what makes the difference. Saying that, an important cog in that operation has been Hugh King’s sand.”