A greenkeeper's take on links golf in winter

9 December 2022 Your Course Features

Gullane links superintendent Stewart Duff offers a greenkeeper's take on links golf during winter.

David Simpson putts on the 18th hole at Gullane 2.jpg
A golfer playing a winter round at Gullane



Times are changing in East Lothian. Where once the grass would stop growing at the end of September, Gullane course manager Stewart Duff now finds his team can be cutting right up until December.


With three courses, and in an area of Scotland that is renowned for benefiting from mild winters, there can be an awful lot of footfall across the renowned links. 


“We’re such a catchment area for Edinburgh and Glasgow,” said Duff. “When all these courses are closed, people are flocking here at the weekend.


“It’s almost pay and play on the No 2 and 3 courses and there are usually a few slots on No. 1 as well. 


“We don’t play off temporary greens and we don’t close the greens when it is frosty.


“Other courses are closed – either waterlogged or with heavy frost – so winter play does take its toll.”


That damage can be most clearly seen on the tees on Gullane’s No. 3 course – “they can get quite a battering during the winter” – and there’s only a limited number of measures Duff and his team can draw upon.


He explained: “It’s just a case of putting up with it and putting an early fertiliser application down in March.


“We do have winter tees and can push them forward during the week and be on the back tees at the weekend – so we can limit play that way - but that’s about the only defence we have for wear and tear.


“We rope off areas, which every course does, and start directing just before things start to get a bit worn. We’ll make people walk round just to protect these areas.


“In terms of the greens, there’s very little protection but we use a lot of soil products, sprays, and seaweed to feed the soil and keep the grass nice and healthy.”


Gullane routinely play on frosty greens – with the surfaces neither suffering from bruising or scorching.


That also brings the players to the club but Duff is relaxed about the impact and he’ll only consider coming off the main surface and protecting them in extreme circumstances.


“If we have three, four or five days of continual frost without any thawing I might think ‘let’s put them on temporary greens on the course’,” he declared.


“But we generally never get that. We might have two days of frost and then it clears up. 


“I don’t really see any adverse effect if it is just two or three mornings of frost. The only concern I get is when you’ve got frost but no thaw over three or four days. 


“In general, though, we are quite lucky and that’s probably down to having a lower percentage of meadow grass in the greens.”


This article was first published in Your Course from the British & International Golf Greenkeepers Association, which aims to inform golfers about what goes in to the maintenance of a modern golf course and the greenkeepers whose job it is to produce the surfaces.


Staff Photos 2020-14.JPG
Karl Hansell
BIGGA | Head of Marketing and Communications

Karl has been head of communications for BIGGA since March 2016. His duties include editing the monthly Greenkeeper International magazine, in addition to other communications activities for the association.


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