Penn State Students Learn About Turf Management in Ireland and Scotland

June 3, 2016 in 4-year, Articles, Teaching

Thirteen undergraduate students in the Turfgrass Science major traveled to Ireland and Scotland with faculty and staff from May 9th- May 17th as part of TURF 499, an embedded international study course. The course involved weekly lectures during the 2016 spring semester on the history, design, and management of golf courses and athletic fields in Ireland and Scotland. It culminated in a 9-day trip to both countries to visit several high profile turf venues.

Upon arrival in Ireland, Penn State faculty/staff (Fowler, Kaminski, Landschoot, McGraw, McNitt, Petrunak), and students drove from Shannon Airport to the village of Adare to tour a state-of-the-art golf course construction project. The tour was led by Tom Marzolf, golf course architect with Fazio Golf Course Designers, and project consultant John Clarkin (graduate of Penn State’s Two Year Golf Turf Management Program). Later the same day we drove west to visit Ballybunion Golf Club, one of the finest links courses in Ireland, to learn about links course management from Head Greenkeeper John Bambury (also a graduate from Penn State’s Two-Year Program). That evening we stayed in Killarney and had dinner with famous golf course architect, Robert Trent Jones Jr.

Ballybunion pic

Ballybunion Golf Club.

The next day involved a long drive east; stopping briefly at Royal Curragh Golf Club, Ireland’s oldest golf course, to meet with John Dempsey, Course Manager. Royal Curragh was a great introduction to the design and management of a typical Irish parkland golf course. After lunch we drove to Dublin, where we visited the Guinness Brewery for a beer-making lesson.

On day 3 we walked from our Dublin hotel to Croke Park, the largest sports turf stadium in Ireland. We received an excellent overview of the stadium and the intensive management program for the nearly-perfect perennial ryegrass turf from Pitch Manager Stuart Wilson.

Day 4 began with a short plane ride from Dublin to Glasgow, followed by a trip south to Turnberry Golf Club to tour the Ailsa Course (site of four Open Championships) with Alan Patterson, Head Greenkeeper. Turnberry is a world-class links golf course that is undergoing an impressive upgrade by its new owner, Donald Trump.

Turnberry Pic

The 9th hole, with newly renovated lighthouse at Turnberry Golf Club.

Continuing north, our group spent the night in the village of Dryman, and then onto Loch Lomond Golf Club the next morning to meet with Head Greenkeeper David Cole. The Loch Lomond tour began with an overview of the history of the property, construction of the course, and the elaborate drainage system installed to handle the 70+ inches of rainfall that occurs in Western Scotland each year. A walking tour of the course revealed high quality browntop/fescue greens and fairways surrounded by pristine natural areas. The tour ended at the ruins of a 15th century castle, which stands guard over the 18th green.

After leaving Loch Lomond, we traveled east to St. Andrews for dinner and a much needed rest. Sunday was a “free day” for students, faculty, and staff; and most of us shopped, golfed, and/or explored the historic castle and cathedral ruins east of the town center. Ben McGraw and John Kaminski were fortunate enough to get tee times on the historic St. Andrews Old Course.

The following day we got up early to walk around the Old Course with Gordon McKie, Course Manager. Students received an excellent presentation on the challenges and responsibilities of maintaining the world’s oldest and most famous golf course. Among the major challenges are turf wear and compaction from thousands of golfers and curiosity seekers; restoring bunkers without changing the original design; and maintaining greens, tees, fairways, and roughs without interfering with the golfing experience of visitors from around the world. Later that day, some of us drove south to look at Kingsbarns Golf Club, and visit the picturesque fishing villages of Crail, Anstruther, and Pittenweem. Late in the afternoon, we spent a couple of hours visiting with Gordon Moir, Director of Greenkeeping, St. Andrews Links Trust, and toured the maintenance facility for the six golf courses that make up St. Andrews Links Trust.

Our group traveled back to the U.S. on Tuesday, May 17. All TURF 499 participants, including the faculty and staff, learned a great deal about golf course and sports turf management in Ireland and Scotland. We also gained an appreciation of the history and culture of both countries. Our group would like to acknowledge and thank our hosts for taking time from their busy schedules to provide excellent tours of their facilities. Hopefully, we will offer another international turf course in the future.

Students picTURF 499 students pose in front of maintenance building at St. Andrews.