The students graduating from the 2011-13 EIGCA’s Vocational Qualification course were invited by their Gold Industry Partner, TORO, to a Study Tour of some of the golf courses in Fife, Scotland. TORO has throughout the years awarded a special prize to one of the students but this year TORO very generously decided to invite all students to receive this fantastic opportunity to visit the Home of Golf.
TORO’s Andy Brown accompanied the three students – Alex Hay, Dannis Nieuwpoort and Michael Terech – along with EIGCA Education Board Chairman, Gary Johnston and Past President, Ken Moodie.
The Study Tour represents the final part of the EIGCA student programme and gave the students an opportunity to examine how traditional Links courses have developed over time and how they have coped with changes in club and ball technology, as well as the introduction of modern maintenance techniques. Following the tour, each student will prepare a paper on aspects of Links design, which will be presented at next year’s EIGCA conference.
Gordon Moir, Director of Green Keeping at The St Andrews Links Trust, kindly hosted the group during a walk on the Old Course and at The Castle Course. Gordon explained how the Old Course had undergone many changes over its history and how and why they are still being undertaken today, whether it be to reduce the impact of increased traffic, increase the number of pin positions available or bring back elements of strategy that have been lost.
The Castle Course, which is the newest course in the Links Trust’s portfolio, provided an excellent contrast to the tradition of the Old Course experience. The students were asked to consider how the design had accommodated the use of modern golf equipment and yet still provide the opportunity to play the traditional ground game.
The final visit was to Elie GC in the south of Fife. The group was met by the Club Secretary Gordon Fleming and Alan Mackie, past Captain and club historian. Alan gave an extremely interesting and informative talk on how the club came into existence in 1875 and how the course itself had changed since the earliest known record of an official layout in 1770.
For Ken Moodie, one of the most interesting learning experiences on the Study Tour was the opportunity to play over the Jubilee Course with hickory clubs and replica gutty golf balls. “This gave the students a first-hand demonstration of the shorter distance the ball could be hit with old technology and underlined the reasons that a good grasp of the ‘running game’ was required in order to play the links courses well. Tee shots had to be strategically positioned in order to find an opening to the green to allow a ball to be run into the flag. The students also experienced the difficulties of getting the ball in the air with a long shot and the challenge of controlling a smaller and lighter golf ball in the wind. It was very noticeable how the break of the ball was affected by the breeze during putting, especially in the last few feet of its roll.”
Michael was also taken with changes in the equipment and the impact they physically have on the way the game is played – “hickories and gutta-perchas make it an entirely different game!” He went on: “It is the architectural elements and strategic solutions – within superficially similar courses – which is truly astonishing. Seeing the Classic vs. Modern really shows the universal greatness of links courses which lies in fine details of the land. There have been many lessons learned in the process that will put my work on future projects in a different perspective.”
“St. Andrews never fails to amaze on TV,” said Dannis, “but driving into town and seeing the R&A clubhouse for the first time in person was a humbling experience to say the least. There is a sense of awe about the place and walking the hallowed grass of the Old Course was an experience I will never forget. The learning will come when the whole experience has completely sunk in. It was educational, it gave me an understanding of the place you don’t get from watching on television, but above all it was fun!
Alex was also inspired: “Walking down the hill from the St Andrews bus station and seeing the 18th green and R&A Clubhouse sent a shiver down my spine. The 8 hour train and bus journey had been worth every second! Meeting Gordon Moir from the Links Trust was a real highlight and it was great to walk The Old Course with him the following morning. Of particular interest to me were the changes that had taken place, all of which made improvements in my opinion. Gordon was a great host, extremely knowledgeable and full of great stories: my favourite being about the old R&A member who passed away leaving a skeleton in his locker! Elie was our final course of the tour; for me, this was golf in its purest form and you could imagine a wild day there. I got the impression the 3 club wind we had was actually only a light breeze! It was the highlight of my year!”
For Gary Johnston the study tour came at the end of what has been two years of hard work and dedication by all three students. “I can’t think of a better way to round off their learning than with this trip to St Andrews. In addition to being an exceptional educational event it was also a great experience for three students to visit the historical home of golf. Thanks must go to all the people who not only helped to make this happen but for making it such a wonderful experience, especially Gordon Moir, Gordon Fleming, Alan Mackie and above all Andy Brown and Toro.”
“Toro is delighted to continue to support the EIGCA student programme through this new initiative,” says Andy Brown, “education and experience go hand in hand and we believe that this study tour provides a suitable blend of the two. We would like to wish Alex, Dannis and Michael the best of luck as they forge successful careers in golf architecture.”