WHEN local teenager Eoin Riddell embarked on a career as an apprentice greenkeeper at Royal Dornoch, little did he know that nearly 40 years later he would enjoy the title of course manager leading a 20-strong full-time team caring for one of the world golf’s most cherished links.
With September 12 marking the global Thank A Greenkeeper Day promoted annually by the British and International Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA), Eoin has been reflecting on the managerial role and challenges he has enjoyed for close to 20 years.
“At Royal Dornoch, being so far north and far removed from the supply chain, we have always been sensitive to our environment, without even appreciating it in years gone by.
“We have always mixed our own soil, grown our own turf, composted on-site and such like. Now that’s commonplace as golf courses look to reduce their carbon footprint.
“We are GEO certified, and we have been working closely with organisations like The R&A and RSPB.
“We have had various visits and butterfly conservationists have also been surveying the Championship Course. We have a very rich habitat here.
“One of our team has even been trained on beekeeping and we are going with a couple of hives just now.
“It irritates me when people, often through lack of knowledge, suggest golf courses aren’t environmentally friendly.
“We have two golf courses in the Championship and the Struie here – and other land where golf isn’t played. The habitat is actually richer on the courses because we have made it better for flora, fauna and the wildlife to thrive.
“There are waterways and we have created bug hotels, we don’t touch certain areas during the bird nesting season and we thin out wispy grass to encourage the orchids and heather to come through.
“We are here to preserve the golf courses and make sure we pass them on for the next generation to enjoy and look after.
“This is the first season the new-look 8th hole has come into play after the team worked hand in glove with architects Mackenzie and Ebert. As with the previous changes made to the 7th, I’m pleased to say the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from members and visitors alike.
“When anything changes, you are always going to get a few people saying they preferred things the way they were before. But comments like that have been few and far between.
“Working to a good design, the final product was created by the team here at Royal Dornoch and we should take immense pride in that.
“The workmanship has been superb, second to none. I am always going to say I don’t think there is a better team anywhere than the one I have here – and I have been lucky enough to visit many leading golf courses.
“I believe members of any golf club should appreciate the work put in by their greenkeepers in all manner of weather conditions and it’s nice to see BIGGA getting favourable comments on the role from Tommy Fleetwood, Nick Dougherty, Nelly Korda and Nick Faldo.
“I accept that some members will seek me out to complain about something rather than to mention the positive things they tend to take for granted.
“But I have always been thick-skinned, and the vast majority appreciate that what we have here at Royal Dornoch is something very special and ranked among the world’s finest links.
“All greenkeepers are at the mercy of the elements, and we are quite far north. We are working with a living thing in outside weather which isn’t always favourable. That is part of the challenge.
“When I started off as an apprentice with another lad, we took the team here up to eight. We’d be working out of an old Nissen hut, eating our sandwiches with dirty hands perched on a fertiliser bag. Sadly, while most clubs treat their staff as qualified professionals nowadays there will still be some out there where little has changed.
“But I’d certainly encourage any youngster to pursue a career in greenkeeping. I have certainly never regretted it. I absolutely love it. I can’t see a better job out there.
“There are loads of opportunities and having Royal Dornoch on your CV certainly opens doors, with former colleagues here going on to play key roles at top courses like Royal Aberdeen, Cruden Bay, Royal Jersey, Royal County Down and Wentworth – and that’s just a few off the top of my head.”