A tiny, nine-hole East Sutherland golf club has just completed an ambitious £12,000 project to re-lay its uneven 100-year-old greens. Helmsdale Golf Club, which has just 60 members and depends on volunteer help, was only able to undertake the work thanks to outside support.
Funding was sourced from two local grant-awarding bodies and three neighbouring golf clubs – Brora, the Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle and Royal Dornoch – rallied round to provide machinery and labour free-of-charge.
Helmsdale club secretary Ron Sutherland said members had been greatly touched by the support shown.
“This project would have been a massive undertaking for any golf club, let alone one as small as Helmsdale and it would never have got off the ground without the support of our neighbouring clubs,” he said.
The club’s management committee realised over two years ago that the situation regarding their 1860 yard course was becoming so acute it was threatening the club’s future.
“Our greens were 100 years old, beyond repair and in desperate need of rejuvenation,” explained Mr Sutherland. “They contained an inappropriate mix of different grasses, lichens and mosses which had taken hold over the years because we only have one part-time, voluntary greenkeeper and little heavy machinery.
“The greens were playable but they were uneven and not conducive to good golf. The poor putting surfaces were holding the club back at a time when attracting local memberships and visiting golfers was critical for the club’s survival.”
The club initially considered laying Astro Turf then rejected the idea because of the cost.
“Astro turf would have lasted up to 30 years and is low maintenance – it only requires brushing, “ said Mr Sutherland. “However each green would have cost £2000 and that was simply too much.”
Club captain Graham Grant eventually suggested re-turfing and funding was sourced from the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund (£6877) and the Scottish Hydro Gordonbush Windfarm Community Fund (£5000).
Mr Sutherland’s wife, Karen, who is club treasurer and works for a local accountant, steered the group through the complicated funding application process.
An appeal for the loan of machinery and labour as well as advice was answered by the three neighbouring clubs.
Volunteers from the Helmsdale club, helped by greenkeepers from Brora, spent three weeks at the start of October cutting the old turf and preparing the greens under the supervision of a project consultant Pat Allan of Symbio products.
A nine-strong team of greenkeepers from the three clubs turned out to lay the new turf at the end of the month, taking two days to complete the work.
Mr Sutherland said: “Everyone involved has done a truly professional job and the Helmsdale committee are very thankful for the wonderful community spirit shown. We can now look forward to a bright future with quality, new putting surfaces which should help attract enough golfers to sustain the club for another 100 years. We hope to be playing on the new greens by April 2013 when we will hold an opening Texas Scramble.”
Royal Dornoch general manager Neil Hampton commented: “Royal Dornoch was delighted to help out when we got the call. Golf in the Highlands depends on many different factors and has clubs of all sizes but what makes it happen is everyone working together for the good of the game.
“Helmsdale bravely took on an initiative to improve their facilities and it was the least we could do to help them realise their ambitions.”
Royal Dornoch Golf Club www.royaldornoch.com
Helmsdale Golf Club www.helmsdale.org/golf.html