Golfers visiting Leven Links Golf Course in Fife are often unaware that they are playing, in part, over one of the oldest pieces of golfing land in the world. This is a traditional links with rolling fairways, many of which are lined by ancient sand dunes, fast putting surfaces, burns and pot bunkers.
(Standing front left & right) Leven Links course manager David Gray and dealer Double A golf specialist John Bateson with (middle row left to right) deputy course manager Gary McLaren, assistant greenkeeper Scott Downie and first assistant Patrick Wood, and (back row left & right) apprentice Andrew Wood and assistant greenkeeper Andrew Mann.
The club dates back to 1820 although golf only started being played here in 1846, and it is thought that the original layout became the first course that century to boast both 18 tees and 18 greens. Leven Links also lays claim to hosting the oldest open amateur strokeplay championship in the world.
The Standard Life Assurance Company's Amateur Champion Gold Medal has been held here since 1870, with more recent winners including Lee Westwood and Andrew Coltart. It also hosts the historic Lindsay Shield, an interclub match between Leven, St Andrews and Carnoustie which can be traced back over 150 years.
Establishing a new heritage is the aim of course manager David Gray, who took over here in September 2018 after a period as head greenkeeper at Ladybank Golf Club, also in Fife. David, who is a BIGGA Central Section Scotland committee member, believes there is a lot of potential to bring Leven Links back to a pre-eminent position by once more hosting big events and putting its name firmly back on the golfing map.
Two clubs share the course, Leven Golfing Society and Leven Thistle, and this comes with its own challenges, says David. The sheer volume of competitive golf generates a lot of work to meet the required standards and means the pressure on the small greenkeeping team is constant.
"It's great to have the opportunity to manage my own course in the way I'd like," says David. "Expectations are high, and we're trying to produce the best possible conditions on a day to day basis. This has meant the introduction of more modern techniques and cultural practices, as well as investment in up to date course machinery.
"With the exception of my deputy Gary McLaren, who has spent an impressive 30 years at Leven Links, I have been able to build a fantastic new team who have adapted very well to my strategies and are loving the introduction of the new equipment. Teamwork is hugely important in our industry and with staff working independently towards the same end goal, the collective results are so rewarding."
Leven Links and the clubhouse in the early 1900s
As part of this initial modernisation process, a ProGator utility vehicle equipped with an HD200 amenity turf sprayer was bought from local John Deere dealer Double A at Cupar. This provides more accuracy and precision plus a bigger tank capacity than the course's previous mounted sprayer, and led to the clubs' first John Deere machinery deal being agreed with the dealership in late 2019, as part of a new partnership approach.
The fleet now also includes 2500E hybrid electric and 2550 E-Cut triplex greens mowers, another ProGator with a Dakota top dresser, TE electric and HPX diesel Gator utility vehicles and an R Series walk-behind rotary mower plus ancillary products including a Wessex collector and a Tru-Turf greens roller, for which Double A is the official UK distributor.
"There was no structured machinery replacement strategy in place when I came to the club, so this was one of the first things we had to address to improve the overall course quality and presentation, as well as reliability of the equipment," says David.
"I made a proposal to the Leven Links Joint Committee, and their support has been fantastic, bearing in mind we are breaking completely new ground for the clubs with this deal. Now we have an established plan and we're always talking about what happens next, so it's very much a continuing process.
"We opted for a John Deere Financial lease deal, which proved to be extremely flexible as not only could we defer payments due to Covid-19, we were also able to bundle in an extra machine, the HPX Gator," says David. "We had great support too from John Bateson of Double A, and both of these aspects were key factors in making the deal happen very quickly and smoothly.
"Our cutting regimes have changed as well since bringing in the new Tru-Turf roller. John Deere cutting units are set up differently to our previous mowers and the clip rates are higher, so by using the roller we can miss out the odd cut now and again, which is a great bonus given the pressures on play.
"My past experience with Double A has been worth a lot, especially having them on the doorstep and knowing I can rely on the same level of service I've always received," adds David. "They helped me to focus on exactly what I needed to fit in with my plans for the course, and we're already benefiting from that and the great technological strides John Deere has made in recent years with its product range."