Enhancing the tourist experience of a luxury self-catering holiday complex with a nine-hole golf course makes sound business sense as Chris McCulllough found out on a trip to Mains of Taymouth Country Estate and Golf Course in Scotland.
Tucked away nicely at the northernmost corner of Loch Tay in central Scotland lies the idyllic nine-hole Mains of Taymouth Golf Course.
Formerly know as the Kenmore Golf Course, the aptly christened 'Perthshire's finest nine-hole course' is part of the Mains of Taymouth Country Estate located just on the edge of the village of Kenmore.
This family-run estate is a bustling holiday park offering a varied range of luxury self-catering accommodation types for tourists. Adding value to the guests' stay, the golf course has been praised far and wide for its challenging holes amid such a beautiful surrounding.
During the 19th century, the 160 acres Mains of Taymouth estate was the home farm for nearby Taymouth Castle, seat of the Earls and Marquises of Breadalbane.
It was later purchased by the Menzies family in the 1920s and it is still in the family hands today, now run by Robin Menzies. As achieving an income from farming became more difficult, the family diversified into holiday cottages and also opened a caravan park, which has since evolved into the complex it is today.
The Mains of Taymouth Golf Course was designed and built by Robin, opening in 1992. It is suitable for all levels of golfers and is set in stunning parkland scenery, mostly on the flat.
Stuart MacGregor is the lucky man who has enjoyed being the course head greenkeeper for the past six years and has watched it really flourish during that time.
Although not originally involved in the greenkeeping industry, Stuart has quickly adapted to life as a greenkeeper and is thoroughly enjoying the experience.
Stuart said: "I did not work previously in the greenkeeping industry as I was more involved in hospitality. I grew up in Kenmore itself and was very lucky to have two golf courses on my doorstep to use. At the age of six, I started playing golf and played with Rory Menzies, whose father Robin now owns the place and is my current boss. He was always very encouraging about playing golf and great for extra coaching."
"Back in 2015, I was searching for work in the area and started working at the Mains of Taymouth that same year, as the perfect position for me became available."
"I was very lucky to have family ties with Robin Menzies and was lucky to be coached as a junior by a local professional called Gavin Dott," he said.
Stuart underwent some training to prepare for the job, including spraying certifications and completing an SVQ Level 2 at Elmwood College. He can also call on others when he needs any greenkeeping advice.
"When it comes to budgets, any advice needed regarding funding or machinery I can turn to my estate manager, Peter Bancroft, who is an ex-greenkeeper with an abundance of experience," said Stuart.
The Mains of Taymouth golf course is a parkland course with nine holes, with medal tees at 6,052 yards par 70; mens' tees at 5,502 yards par 68 and ladies' tees at 5,064 par 70.
The course itself roughly extends to an area of 45 hectares, with all nine greens equally around 3,500m2. The tee size is approximately 3,000m2; fairways around 10 hectares and the rough sized at 30 hectares.
"I mainly work as a one man team, with help in the height of summer when a young local lad called Cameron Shaw assists with mainly strimming, bunker tidying and any other tasks needed," Stuart said. "We don't employ a workshop technician but all servicing and machinery maintenance is carried out in-house."
"When required, I do get help from an agronomist from a good reputable company called groGreen, who keeps me right with my fertiliser schedule and any course related issues I may have."
"I'm quite lucky on this course as the soil profile is sandy with some gravel, which offers superb drainage. The greens are sand and soil based with free draining, and the tees are constructed with rootzone sand and soil. We practice vertidraining and hollow coring when and if needed," said Stuart.
With excellent drainage, the course can handle all weather conditions the Scottish climate can throw at it, but it has really been tested during the past few years.
"As with all the courses in Scotland, we do suffer from the occasional frost attack and heavy rain," added Stuart. "Luckily, the course is very free draining and, unlike some other local courses, we do not suffer overly from flooding. As the course is on a holiday estate, it is naturally quieter in the winter which helps prevent frost damage. We do have one green, the third, that suffers from poor air flow as it is surrounded by a lot of shrubbery," he said.
"During the summer period this year, we did have a few weeks of high temperatures and a lot of sunshine. With no rain, we experienced a drought period which caused us some problems on the course which, as a result, dried up very rapidly."
"The grass turned an unnatural shade of brown for a while and I was forced to get the old irrigator out and pump water to the tees to at least keep them watered and in better condition."
"It wasn't long, though, before the traditional weather returned and normal service was restored and the irrigator was parked in the shed again," said Stuart.
Stuart likes to be really organised when it comes to his management routines on the course and that means having the equipment prepared at all times, ready to roll when the good weather windows arrive.
"I like to get myself into a routine when the weather is favourable," Stuart said. "Greens are cut daily, whilst the tees and surrounds, fairways and semi rough areas are cut twice a week. When the grass growth slows down in low season, I move to cutting greens three times a week and tend to cut the rest of the course just as when required."
"Scarifying is carried out in May when the growing season is at its peak, and I would normally run the hollow core twice a year at the start and end of the growing season. We take soil samples twice a year to work out the fertiliser schedule for the year with help from the agronomist."
"Again, it is me that carries out all the main greenkeeper jobs, with help from Cameron with the basic maintenance tasks. At the end of the season, I usually turn my attention to any trees that need trimming and bunker edging. Plans are well underway to create a new practice facility as well as a practice putting green on the course too," said Stuart.
Upon visiting the course, it is clear to see that presentation ranks very highly with Stuart and the estate owners as the holiday lets and the course are well kept and presented.
Acknowledging this, Stuart added: "I like to take pride in my work and go home each day with a sense of achievement, therefore presentation means a lot. With the golf course being positioned on a holiday let estate, we try our utmost to keep the golf course and estate in a good inviting condition."
"Any renovation work is carried out without too many limitations. It's a very popular and busy place most of the year. Weather is now a lot more unpredictable than once was, and on occasion more extreme than usual for the time of year, which makes any work scheduling very interesting."
Interacting with club members and guests is a vital tool in building good relationships with them, the greenkeeper and the complex owners and that's something Mains of Taymouth is good at.
"As we are a holiday estate, we do have a good reception team that keeps our members and visiting guests informed with up to date information on anything they may require," said Stuart. "We also currently host two clubs on our golf course, namely our own, the Kenmore Golf Club, and the Taymouth Castle Golf Club, as their course is currently closed. As a keen golfer myself, I am a member of the Kenmore Golf Club which also helps with the communications."
Over the years, there have been a number of new projects completed at the course including the restructuring of the first tee and the ninth hole to accommodate for a new development of cottages.
On top of his duties as golf course greenkeeper, Stuart also helps out the maintenance team that looks after the holiday lets. There is an estate health and safety office which does also cover the golf course.
Stuart has access to an adequate range of mostly John Deere machinery and equipment to use on the course, all of which are usually bought outright direct from the local dealer, Double A groundcare equipment based in Cupar.
"We do seem to prefer John Deere machinery here, as they are usually very reliable and the mowers create a lovely tidy finish," said Stuart. "The Lastec Articulator 721XR is a new purchase and is saving me a lot of time. It really has made my job easier after using older machinery previously."
Rabbits are really the only pests that annoy Stuart by scraping up the bunkers on the course. If weeds appear, then these are attacked with the appropriate applications of weedkiller.
Relationships between golf course members and greenkeepers can often get strained and, at times, can lead to greenkeepers feeling somewhat undervalued.
However, for Stuart and the Mains of Taymouth Golf Course, the relationships are good and golfers have enjoyed getting out on the course again as the restrictions surrounding Covid-19 have been relaxed.
Stuart added: "I have noticed on our estate that the golf course has been gaining in popularity, especially after the last year of lockdown. This definitely has made people appreciate the benefit of being outside in their own local area and we have seen an influx of more local members as a result. As a course, we have always encouraged juniors to join and are seeing the benefits of this."
"I believe golfing is a great source of exercise for people of all ages, ability and fitness, and I would love to see this sport becoming more popular."
"We encourage young people to get involved in the estate and, to do so, we offer great rates for joining. We also host events such as our open day with competitions and a barbecue to encourage people to join and increase the profile," Stuart concluded.
What's in the shed?
John Deere 3310 tractor with front loader
John Deere 3235C fairway mower
John Deere 2653B triple mower
John Deere 220SL greens mower
Stihl FS100 strimmer
Stihl FS460 strimmer/brush cutter
Lastec Articulator 721XR
Gambetti 350ltr sprayer
John Deere Gator 6x4 utility vehicle