The Carrick on Loch Lomond is a 71-par course designed by the acclaimed Canadian golf course designer, Doug Carrick, his first outside his native country. It is rare for a course to be named after its designer but, such was the job that he did of sculpting the 18 holes into the dramatic landscape straddling the fault lines between the Scottish lowlands and highlands, it seemed the obvious choice.
The front nine holes are in the lowlands and are, therefore, played over fairly flat terrain along the banks of Loch Lomond. The back nine heads off into the highlands and offers spectacular views of the Loch to the west and Ben Lomond to the north.
Various significant lagoons, an incredible 122 bunkers and, of course, the Loch itself, make this a particularly challenging course. It has played host to the Ladies Scottish Open and, recently, the PGA Cup.
According to the club's marketing, "true love awaits all who rise to the challenge".
Jim Brown is Golf Courses & Estates Manager at De Vere Cameron House - The Carrick on Loch Lomond. He has worked for the De Vere group for close on eight years, the last sixteen months on the bonny, bonny banks. Here, he takes up the story.
"I left school wanting to work within the horticultural industry and, after a brief 'Youth Opportunity Scheme' with The National Trust as a groundsman, I joined Keighley Golf Club in West Yorkshire. My last position was as Golf Course, Estate & Property Manager at De Vere Oulton Hall, Leeds, where I served for over six years. I also currently hold the position of De Vere Group Golf Courses Manager, focusing on the responsibilities of Capital Investment, National Account Management and collating statistical data for the group.
The mainstay of my career education was the City & Guilds qualification, passing Phases 2, 3 and 4. I then completed my Licentiateship in Amenity Horticulture with the City & Guilds Institute. Beyond that, I have qualifications in Spray Application, Tree Surveying and D32/33 & L12 coaching and assessor awards, which I completed with the GTC.
I am completely responsible for the presentation and control of the budgets for the golf courses and grounds. However, there is always a level of flexibility with operational costs, which is determined by current and forecast levels of trading - this in agreement with the General Manager.
The Carrick is five years old and of a heathland design style, overlooking and bordering Loch Lomond. Including golf courses, grounds and estates, we have a full time staff of fifteen, with additional seasonal help during the 'summer' months. Included within that number is one full time mechanic, and we also have a Countryside Ranger who helps us look after and preserve our nature reserves and areas of natural habitat.
The vast majority of our maintenance work, both on the golf courses and internally, is undertaken in house with our own specialised equipment and specifically trained and qualified staff.
We have used contractors in the past for some project works, however, we are now investing in our own equipment and training to enable us to undertake these projects in house - this offers us better opportunities to undertake this work when conditions are more suitable to ensure success.
As the course is a relatively new construction, greens, tees, subsurface contouring and drainage are all very high specification - this also includes a significant irrigation system covering greens, tees, fairways and many areas of rough - it would be nice if it stopped raining long enough to able to try it out!
With the amount of annual rainfall we receive in this part of the country, our maintenance regimes are very much geared towards aeration, thatch control and drainage - in and amongst this, we also try to deliver the best possible surfaces and turf quality we possibly can.
To help us deliver these maintenance regimes, we have at our disposal; drainage trenching equipment, greens and fairway topdressers, Graden sand injection and a Blec Sandmaster - this with additional resources to purchase sands and aggregates to maintain these important processes.
As indicated, this area of the country endures significant amounts of annual rainfall. Statistically, over the past three years, the annual rainfall recorded was:
2010 - 1191mm
2011 - 2174mm
2012 - 1776mm
With these amounts of annual rainfall, some of the challenges we face are poor golf course presentation, flooding, erosion, golf course closures and the potential for a negative reputation.
Our challenges were obvious and, with these in mind, a strategy was agreed. The investment in the aforementioned equipment was secured and the management and subsequent improvements are now clear to see.
We do not have any temporary greens, only temporary surfaces on par 3 tees.
We have a practice facility which includes the use of floating golf balls; we have a large lagoon in the middle of the facility which includes a floating green!
Additional to golf facilities, we also offer guided walks around the nature reserves, manage a fishing syndicate, offer tennis, guided hill climbing walks, a Loch cruise and sea plane excursions.
Other than mowing practices, we aerate and topdress our greens at least monthly, aiming to apply circa 200 tonnes of sand to the greens which, in the wet environment, is no mean feat. Aeration consists of 5 and 8mm solid tining, 12mm hollow tining, sand injection Graden scarifying, 8 and 12mm verti-draining, slit tining and brushing.
We apply foliar feeds to tees and greens throughout the summer - tank mixed with Primo Maxx PGR - granular feeds throughout winter and generally aim for around 200kg of N per hectare - this is dependent on rainfall and aeration which can increase/decrease inputs. Fairways receive approximately 20kg of N per hectare; however, we apply soluble iron to improve presentation.
Our approach to mowing and maintenance is to share roles and responsibilities to avoid repetition, however, there are a small number of specialist tasks which are undertaken by specifically trained staff. Golf course presentation and turf quality is paramount to what we are trying to achieve.
End of season maintenance on greens is 12mm hollow tining and Graden sand injection scarifying. There are no budget constraints.
We communicate all the work we are doing and the latest developments to the golfing public via a monthly newsletter.
As for projects, it could be considered that drainage improvements are project work, however, as we are constantly maintaining and upgrading the drainage at the Carrick, we see this as general maintenance.
Recent projects (within the past 18 months) have included a complete 122 bunker refurbishment, which included the re-turfing of all the faces, with additional tee construction and, on the 14th hole, additional secondary drainage, which was undertaken by a contractor.
Training and education is generally delivered by Myerscough College, which is work based vocational qualification. We also arrange supplementary education by suppliers, and encourage attendance at lectures and seminars.
We employ trainees and additional casual labour through the summer months. Their training is delivered by ourselves and in compliance with our own Health, Safety & Training manual. We do have a company H&S officer and we attend H&S department forums every month.
Additionally, we are audited by an external H&S company who rank us along with others within the group - this is undertaken every six months.
Machinery is purchased through a capital expenditure process, which is governed by central office. Equipment replacement is proposed, along with evidence of failure, financially written off etc., including a return on investment where possible.
Equipment and key product lines are purchased from a preferred or exclusive supplier network, which is agreed usually every three years. We currently have supply agreements in place with a number of the industry's leading manufacturers and suppliers.
We have a Waste2Water system for washing down our machinery and, as far as legislation, the environment and sitting within the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park is concerned, we are fully compliant with containing potential pollutants.
I don't have a particular wish list. However, if I could have anything, I would have a little more sunshine and a little less rain.
With regard to pests and disease, we don't suffer too much. We do get leatherjackets in spring and do have the odd mole tunnelling around but, other than that, nothing much to report. Disease is very minimal with only two fungicide sprays within the last sixteen months - these were preventative prior to aggressive aeration.
As we sit within the National Park, we do take our environmental responsibilities very seriously. I have a full time Countryside Ranger who helps us to ensure we are sympathetic to our surroundings, and we continue to manage our environmental responsibilities properly. We are surrounded by and play host to a diverse and varied species of flora and fauna - a highlight of which are freshwater otters.
We have a full environmental policy in place which is incorporated within a golf course policy document. We have an excellent working relationship with The Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park and we are currently in the process of finalising our application for GEO status.
I believe greenkeeping is in reasonable health. There are obviously going to be anomalies as there are such a wide range of golf clubs, courses and facilities. Some, like ours, are part of a large organisation, whilst some are nine hole golf courses with small memberships and tight budgets. I am absolutely sure that if all golf courses were enjoying strong memberships, with thriving clubhouses, all greenkeeping staff would be highly respected and rewarded well. The fact is, it isn't like that.
There are bodies out there who are representing both greenkeepers and grounds people very well, but I truly believe that we are masters of our own destinies. We need to be part of, or at the very least influential in, determining policy.
We need to understand the varying levels of success at our respective golf venues and be ready to help determine a solution - if we can volunteer a way to help, it may even stop worse decisions being enforced."
Unique Half-Way House
The resort has innovatively transformed 'The Highland Laddie' into a unique half-way house. The former riverboat was recently unveiled to provide golfers with the ideal spot to relax mid-way through their round.
Guests at The Carrick will be able to enjoy a hearty selection of locally produced Scottish Killie pies and refreshments, whilst enjoying stunning views of Ben Lomond and the Highlands.
The 'Laddie' has been carefully dug into the course in between the 9th green and 10th tee, with a time-capsule, buried under the boat to mark the special occasion. The capsule contains golfing memorabilia from The Carrick and will ensure the legacy of the new half-way house for years to come.
"We firmly believe that this is the most unique half-way house in the country and will be an important addition to The Carrick. We're obviously currently in the midst of some fantastic weather and The Highland Laddie is the ideal pit stop," commented Ross Whitfield, General Manager, The Carrick on Loch Lomond. "We are always searching for ways to improve The Carrick and provide one of the most memorable golf experiences anywhere in the country. And with a host of other developments over the past 12 months, we think we are providing exactly that."
The Carrick has heavily invested in a host of initiatives that have been expertly led by Golf Course Manager Jim Brown, further enhancing the highly-regarded resort.