Course manager feels light rough ‘benefits’ players

NO ONE knows the Gullane courses better than Stewart Duff, who has been on the greenkeeping staff at the East Lothian club for more than a quarter of a century. After an initial 17-year spell, the local man moved to Rosses Point in Ireland for four years before returning to Gullane in 2006 as course manager.

Stuart Duff on the 18th green. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Stuart Duff on the 18th green. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

He’s in charge of a 21-strong team that maintains the club’s three courses and is confident of delivering the composite Championship layout in the sort of condition Gullane is renowned for in golfing circles.

“All we have been doing for the Scottish Open is intensifying what we normally do,” said Duff, below. “We aren’t really doing anything different, just paying more attention to some of the finer details involved in an event of this stature.

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“Painting the inside of the holes, for instance. We’ve never done that before, so the boys are getting used to it. You don’t want to have a shaky hand when you are doing that job.”

With an Open Championship venue next door, Duff has found it useful to be able to put in a telephone call to his Muirfield counterpart, Colin Irvine, for the odd bit of advice. “If there’s something I wasn’t sure about, I got in touch with Colin,” added Duff. “The spectator pathways, for instance. I asked him what height they should be cut at. I also went up to see (Royal Aberdeen course manager) Robert (Patterson) to get his thoughts on certain things.”

At this time of year, the rough at Gullane can often be brutal but that’s not the case for the Scottish Open. It’s the event’s policy that the set up is fair rather than punishing for the pre-Open Championship test. On top of that, Mother Nature has also decreed what lies in wait.

“We’ve had a poor spring, so the rough isn’t thick,” said Duff. “That is going to benefit the players. The work we’ve done to thin out what we call a band of semi-maintained rough has added to that. The rough is a lot thinner than it normally would be. The fairways are firmer, the greens are firmer. It is more links-like – and that’s what we all want – compared to if we’d had a wet, warm spring.

“I think the players will enjoy the challenge here. It’s a players’ course. They can score well if they play well. But it can be tough in a cross wind.

“We want a test. We don’t want them to rip it up. A nice mix would be ideal. The ideal scenario would be a light wind on a nice opening day then a mixed bag after that.”