Royal Dornoch’s Course Manager, Eoin Riddell, celebrates 35 years of service over our famous links this year.
Looking ahead to a new season and looking back to work over the winter period, as well as the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we caught up with Eoin for a Q&A on all matters greenkeeping and more…
Eoin, how has it been over the winter from a greenkeeping perspective, working across the Championship and Struie Courses?
ER: It has actually been very good, considering the weather we had from Christmas up until the end of February. From October to Christmas, when the weather was nice, we did the majority of our winter turfing jobs and bigger construction jobs. It meant that when we did get the snow and the frost we were in our whin and tree management, which the snow doesn’t affect.
The weather hasn’t really stopped us at all and, having met all the guys recently, I said it’s probably the first time we’ve nearly finished a winter programme. Usually, we seek to do that many things it is difficult to finish them all, but everything has fallen into place the way things have gone and the way the guys have worked.
There was a strong covering of snow in February from images shared by the club. Was that unusual for Dornoch?
ER: Apart from the ‘Beast from the East’ some three years ago, we don’t tend to get a lot of snow. When we do get it here, it doesn’t usually hang about too long being close to the sea. The snow hanging about for the length it did is very, very strange up here.
While the restrictions due to the pandemic have been challenging for us all, has the lack of golfers actually benefitted you and your team for maintaining the course?
ER: It’s definitely helped, without being too positive! We’ve had less footfall on pathways, less divots on fairways and tees, all things like that, so it does help. In the winter we might be turfing a lot of areas because they are worn out, but that didn’t need to be done to the same level this year, as it was more remedial work. Again, the inactivity has probably helped our winter programme.
So, golfers can expect the courses to be of their usual high standard in 2021?
ER: I would hope so! They will be in great shape. The courses have had a rest. Like anything else, we would all like a rest now and then.
Turning to the 7th hole on the Championship, officially opened back in September. How is the hole looking?
ER: It has certainly come on well, again aided by not as many golfers walking over it. It will take a few years to mature properly, as it’s still thin in areas. Obviously, it was all seeded and not turfed, so we may need to do some extra work just to thicken up the grass in certain areas. I’m quite happy with the way it is looking just now, before we hopefully start getting more footfall on it.
Both the Championship and Struie were again recently voted in Golf World’s Top 100 courses in Scotland. Does the Struie continue to develop nicely from a greenkeeping point of view?
ER: Yeah, the Struie pretty much gets the same upkeep as the Championship Course, just to a slightly lesser degree, but really the same kind of treatment day in, day out. It is getting better and we’re trying to get more people to play it now. Once you’ve played it, I think people are surprised. It will never be the Championship Course, it is perhaps more for juniors, seniors and for others to have a lovely game of golf, but it is a testing 18-holer. A lot of people don’t realise it is such a good course.
The club are active in promoting sustainable golf and working with GEO (Golf Environment Organisation). What are your main focuses at the club?
ER: GEO covers everything to do with running a golf club, not just the course. It deals with the clubhouse, the kitchen, the Pro Shop and other areas e.g. using reusable bottles, using local produce to keep down the carbon footprint of deliveries. It has now become a big thing in golf, with the whole industry working harder in this area. We do try and work with the environment and try and help it as much as we can.
The key things for us in terms of GEO are trying to go down the route of all electric vehicles as much as possible, certainly on the greenkeeping side. That stops diesel fumes from mowers and, because of our new build of shed, we have our own panels on the roof to generate our own electricity in the shed. Our Saving Wildcat work is important as well, trying to help an endangered species. We are also focused on a lot of recycling as a club. Another bigger one for the club is the coastal erosion down at the 10th on the Struie, with the bio rolls and the saltmarsh project. We are trying to protect the golf course but doing it in an environmentally sensitive manner.
How much are you looking forward to normality?
ER: I’m looking forward to hearing the voices of different nationalities again! Not just for me, but the whole team, as it’s about getting more golfers back to appreciate the work we’re doing. We’re working away in all weathers, but it’s obviously only limited member play and we want to showcase what we’re doing to everyone. We just can’t wait. I know we will be busy, I know we will be pushed all the time, but you would rather that than the challenges we have all faced in the COVID-19 world. We look forward to having visitors back at the club from across the world when it is safe to do so.
You have worked at Royal Dornoch since 1986. When you see awards, like the course being voted No. 1 in Scotland at the 2020 World Golf Awards, do you still take great pride in what you are doing on the links?
ER: Definitely, 100%. You are always learning, too, in this job. You never know it all, you’re always looking for more things to improve on. I’m still in a group with seven other course managers across Scotland. We all used to meet up a couple of times a year, of course we can’t do that just now, but we still have our Zoom meetings and bang our heads together. We’re always learning off each other. We’re all in the same boat, we just want to get back to normal.
Thanks for your time, Eoin, and good luck for 2021!
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