Castle Stuart Golf Links

By the time Castle Stuart Golf Links made its first outing on national TV during the 2011 Scottish Open, it had already earned numerous accolades for its dramatic vistas and intuitively designed greens. Described by Golf Digest magazine as the “most perfectly conceived and executed design ever built”, it was quickly establishing a reputation as one of the best new courses in Britain.

castle-stuart-case-studyThe layout, devised by Mark Parsinen, managing partner, and American architect Gil Hanse, was beautiful, playable and fun. It had taken six years to refine with every sight-line meticulously identified, every hollow carved for optimum strategic impact. The devil was very much in the detail, and that included the sand and topsoil which would give Castle Stuart its irresistible links feel.

“We wanted a free-draining sand that would go easily into the fescue turf and help us produce a better surface,” explains Chris Haspell, course manager at Castle Stuart.

Following a recommendation by a colleague and peer, Haspell opted for Hugh King & Co’s Washed Dune Sand for top dressing ahead of the course’s grand opening in 2009. “We first used it when we started top-dressing to produce the surface rather than for the grow-in,” he says. “It fitted much better with the types of sand we already had in our greens – medium-fine rather than medium-course. But it’s also very clean. There’s no contamination in the sand at all, so it spreads very cleanly. So cleanly, you wouldn’t know it’s been done.”

Three years later, Castle Stuart uses up to 200 tonnes of Washed Dune Sand annually to maintain the smooth-running greens for which it has become renowned. It’s a policy that paid dividends during the Scottish Open when torrential rain threatened to overshadow a spectacular tour debut.

“Realistically, the greens, which are all sand, may have been a little softer than they were on Thursday or Friday, but apart from that, there was very little difference and that comes down to the free-draining characteristics of the sand,” says Haspell, “By Saturday, the greens were playable. They weren’t the problem – it was the landslides and the rest of the course which had taken a real battering. You could have played on the greens by Saturday lunchtime; they drain that well.”

The bittersweet week in July tested Haspell and his team beyond anything they could have imagined. In the end, and after incredible determination, the Castle Stuart greenkeeping team prevailed. The experience will be hard to forget, although many of Haspell’s earlier decisions were vindicated, especially when it came to sand choice.

“Wherever you get your sand from, quality is always the big issue. If your drainage qualities aren’t sufficient, then you run the risk of your greens puddling. Always analyse your sand, and try to get the best you can,” he advises. “We’ve been very happy with the sand supplied by Hugh King & Co, and we’ll keep using it until they run out!”