Appointed just before the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews Links, Gordon McKie is responsible for the upkeep of the world’s oldest golf course. Along with his dedicated team of green staff, the Glasgow-born greenkeeper is looking forward to the return of The Open in 2015 but insists there is a lot of work to do in the meantime. “Preparing the course is foremost in our minds and getting it in the best possible condition,” says McKie. “It’s a huge event for St Andrews Links, the town, Fife and Scotland.”


Unusual weather not an issue

Although this part of Scotland has recently suffered from some of the wettest weather on record, McKie says it hasn’t affected preparations much. Drainage on the course is good, and everything has been greener than normal across the Links due to the high rainfall.

With no snow and little frost the golf course wasn’t closed much over the winter, but the course held up well. “It was, overall, pretty mild and dry so it gave us a chance to do the work we had planned on lifting the levels of some of the major bunkers, including Shell bunker (7th), Hell (14th), Cottage (4th) and Cartgate (3rd and 15th),” McKie explains.


“We don’t mess with history”


Lifting the levels of bunkers that have been in place for over 100 years without changing the character of the course or the hole is no small challenge. But McKie’s greenkeeping team is well trained for the job. “We have four or five staff with special skills for building and revetting bunkers and who have around 75 years of work experience between them,” he says. “It’s not a process you can do in one go. It can take up to two months for the revetting of the faces and surrounds of each bunker to be completed.”

“On a large bunker such as Hell, we lay six or seven layers of turf and have to allow for natural settlement for at least a couple of weeks as the layers of the face take shape, before adding the next batch,” he continues. “Building or rebuilding a bunker is like building the foundations of a house. Turf is soft and pliable so needs to be treated with care. Get the foundations right and you shouldn’t have too much of an issue.”

“We make slight tweaks to the shape of a bunker to allow for condition and playability,” adds McKie. “But we don’t mess with history; we just want to carry it through to the modern era using the latest techniques, skills and technology.”


“It’s all about teamwork here”

The Old Course has 15 full-time and four or five seasonal staff from around the world. For the Alfred Dunhill Links in October, a team of 45 will be working on the Old Course, utilizing greenkeepers from their other six courses. When The Open comes around, that number will rise to 60. Communication keeps them working like a finely tuned orchestra.

“It’s all about teamwork here,” McKie says. “I suppose I see myself as the manager of a football team. I have a lot of young guys – and girls – who are enthusiastic about what they do but I also need some old heads with experience. It makes me really proud that I don’t have to brief the staff in the morning with too many detailed instructions; everyone knows what they’re doing well in advance.”


“I have to pinch myself”

When asked how he likes being the modern-day Tom Morris, McKie says, “I think about Old Tom almost every day when I’m up at that first tee. He was the first recognized greenkeeper and sometimes I have to pinch myself that I’ve been handed the opportunity to follow in his footsteps. As greenkeepers we respect him so much. He was the grandfather of our industry and for the many years modern greenkeeping has taken place on the Old Course we’ve never tried to change much of what he did.”