The green, green grass of home

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Angus is home to some of the best golf courses in the world, but how does it go from a patch of grass to a globally-renowned challenge?

We went behind the scenes at Carnoustie with Links Superintendent Sandy Reid to find out more about what makes a good golf course, great.

To non-golfers their notion of greenkeeping probably revolves around keeping the grass looking good, raking the bunkers and filling in the divots. Modern green-keeping in actual fact has more in common with running a nature reserve than mowing lawns.

Sandy Reid has been at Carnoustie for 18 years, and has been Links Superintendent for just under three of those. He has a green staff of 28, along with four mechanics and eight summer seasonals, who incidentally tend to do the jobs more commonly associated with greenkeeping.

Under his guidance, and that of his predecessor John Philp, the greenkeepers have strived to create a golfing experience second to none.

This was most recently recognised in the National Club Golfer Top 100 British Courses, with the Burnside rated 87th and the Championship in third place, and Carnoustie coming overall second in the STRI Environmental Awards 2015.

The Carnoustie greenkeepers are very rarely quiet, winter ironically is their busiest time, with the bigger or more disruptive projects scheduled then.

For example the R&A asked them to convert the Championship’s 18th tee from a split level to a single, Sandy said: “We always have a mind on what the competitions need or might require.

“A lot of the work we do is flood control and prevention where possible. This has included raising the bridges by over a foot which lessens the impact of floodwater and building mounds, which in addition to creating character on the course, also serve to control where the floodwater goes.”

Year-round projects at Carnoustie also include gorse management, sand-scrapes to encourage a return to natural grasses, wood stacks and Operation Pollinator which uses the natural re-introduction of wildflowers to encourage bees.

Tree planting is also big for them, when many courses were laid out in the 1950s, trees foreign to the area were incorporated, such as pines, corsicans and spruces. Now more indigenous species are being reintroduced - Scots Pine, birch, rowan, in appropriate areas for screening and definition.

Over 40 bird boxes have also been put up around the courses, catering for tits, thrush, owls, bats and so on, and this year a family of swans with six cygnets, the most to date, was spotted making use of one of the mini-lakes created by the excavations required for the new 11th and 12th holes opened last year.

All of the greenkeepers’ hard work in making the course play well, look good and be environmentally responsible is coming together with the enhancement works by the pro centre which Sandy hopes will give Carnoustie an edge.

He said: “What we want is people to come into Carnoustie and just go ‘Wow’ when they step onto the course.

“We don’t have the heritage of St Andrews. It’s not a tree-lined entrance like Magnolia Lane at Augusta.

“We’d like to make it a really positive impression so we know everyone is amazed by what we’ve done here. We want that ‘Wow Factor’.”