Two young Scottish-trained greenkeepers will soon find themselves at the heart of meticulous preparations for the 2006 US Open golf championship at New York's famous Winged Foot club.
Stewart Macfarlane and Danny Murray are part of a growing "Grain Drain" which has so far seen a total of ten former greenkeeping students of Oatridge College in West Lothian travel to the States to gain invaluable experience on some of the country's and the world's best courses.
Both are part of a programme run by Ohio State University, which sends young American greenkeepers all over the world to develop their skills and understanding and offers "internships" to young men and women from Europe and elsewhere, who want to broaden their experience.
Twenty-five year old Stewart, who is originally from Winchburgh in West Lothian, worked at Dundas Park golf Club in South Queensferry and Harburn Golf Club in West Lothian, while studying for his Modern Apprenticeship at Oatridge. When he first moved to the States he was at the Winged Foot club and during the winter, switch to the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles where he was part of the preparations for this year's Nissan Open.
Danny Murray did his apprenticeship at the Marriot Dalmahoy Golf and Country Club and worked on the 12-hole Gogarburn course in Edinburgh and Archerfield Links in East Lothian. He was plucked from his home turf less than 18 months after completing his Modern Apprenticeship, when he moved to the eight-course Pinehurst complex - "The cradle of American golf" in North Carolina - in time for the 2005 US Open. Now he will transfer to Winged Foot to join Stewart there in plenty of time to ready the course for one of the biggest events in the world golfing calendar.
Michael O'Keeffe, the Irishman who manages The Ohio Program, says: "The course superintendent at Winged Foot has been really impressed with Stewart and when I mentioned to him that Danny is from the same College, he had no hesitation in offering him the chance of a move.
"Oatridge trainees have been models on our programme. Course superintendents love their ability to 'get stuck in' and they love their solid and confident knowledge of the fundamentals of greenkeeping.
" I think Scotland's ability to train young people in the practical and sound fundamentals of looking after a golf course is being recognised around the world. In future, when fewer chemicals will be permitted, the Scottish management philosophy of 'less is more' will come to the fore. That is why these young people are in such high demand. They are being trained to manage golf courses in a more environmentally friendly way from the start."
Stewart Macfarlane, who studied at Oatridge between 1997 and 2001, says: "Working on some of the best courses and learning from the best golf course superintendents in the world has been an amazing experience. I have found the Americans very welcoming and I would tell other students interested in entering the Ohio State University program to go for it. It will be something they will never forget."
Stewart hopes to return home for a time later in the year, when he finishes work at Winged Foot, but he then intends to go to Australia. Michael O'Keeffe has offered to help him find work there.
But one of the good things about The Ohio Program is that, unlike the "Brain Drain", which at one time worried politicians because our bright young boffins were being lured abroad, the "Grain Drain" does not necessarily mean the best young greenkeepers are lost to Scotland forever. Michael O'Keeffe cites Kevin and Kenneth Gillespie, brothers who trained at Oatridge College and gained invaluable experience in the United States. They are now back in Scotland where they are actually helping to train American greenkeepers at the world-class Archerfield links on the East Lothian coast.
Photos: Top - Stewart Macfarlane (left) and Danny Murray.
Right - Mike O'Keefe with some of the Oatridge staff.