Inside Gullane Golf Club: Stewart Duff – Course Manager
With the new golf season just around the corner, we caught up with our Course Manager, Stewart Duff, for our latest Q&A. With a long history at Gullane dating back to 1985, Stewart provides an insight into the high standards he and his team maintain across the courses – as well as looking back to his memories from the Scottish Opens.
Stewart, thanks for doing this feature as we know you are very busy! Firstly, tell us about your background at Gullane GC.
“I started originally at Gullane in 1985. Just as a summer seasonal worker but got kept on as an apprentice. I came straight from North Berwick High School. I never really played golf growing up, I hated it actually (laughs). It wasn’t my game back then, as I was more interested in football. I’ve developed a love for golf and have played since I started here. The club are very proactive to see the greenkeepers playing and I now have a love-hate relationship with it – like most others!
“In terms of my job, I worked my way up to Head Greenkeeper on Course No 1. That was during 1985 to 2002. I left in 2002 to take up a position as Course Manager at County Sligo GC (Rosses Point) until 2006. Although I had a title as Head Greenkeeper on Course No 1 here, I wanted to go somewhere on my own and be a Course Manager in full charge and see if I could do it. Rosses Point came up and that’s where I cut my teeth in that role. I then returned to Gullane in 2006 as Course Manager until now, overseeing the work on all three Courses and the Children’s Course.”
How has your role grown and how many greenkeepers do you oversee?
“The role has grown, as has my responsibility. There are 25 of us in total across the three courses. Our working hours are light dependent, so our start and finishing times change throughout the year. In the height of summer at weekends, the earliest the boys will be in at is 5am. During the growing season, weekdays, it’s about 6am until 2.30pm. Everyone works around a 39-hour week. I’ll come out in the evening time, and have a wander round and check on things, so it’s not as a straightforward for me. Generally, the other guys stick to the set hours.”
How do you maintain the standards Gullane is well known for?
“We are privileged having the good sandy soils here, everything is quite free draining. We are also privileged to have the desirable grasses on all of the playing surfaces, but the hardest thing is maintaining that 365 days a year. Obviously, there is maintenance required and that can affect surfaces. In this day in age, everyone expects five-star conditions every day, no matter what the weather is like. Although we are blessed with the good soils and grasses, it is still a task keeping everything in pristine condition. We are rarely closed, as we don’t close during frosty conditions. Compared to an inland course or others in Edinburgh, they will likely be closed in frost or be waterlogged. We generally don’t suffer from that – apart from snow we’re open!”
Do you have a favourite course at Gullane?
“Each one is different. I would probably keep more of an eye on what is happening on No 1 rather than 2 or 3, as that is often the most popular course. In terms of preference, each course is excellent so I wouldn’t say I favour any over the other.”
Have you seen any changes over the years in terms of your work?
“I would say definitely in the last 10 years there has been a huge difference in technology. With expectations going up and up, we have to adapt to that, getting more efficient using machinery. Everything has to be good all the time, when maybe 15 years ago if there were a couple of scruffy areas it might be acceptable. Today, it’s all about producing the courses in the best possible condition and technology is a big part of that.
“We’ve also had an increase in staff numbers as demands have gone up. We are always striving to do more and evolve e.g. getting machinery that covers areas quicker. I think we’re at full working capacity just now and up to date with technology. We monitor technology to see what else may emerge into the mainstream.”
Do you have any highlights during your time at Gullane?
“The first Scottish Open we held in 2015. Having it here was a dream come true. It was all new and seeing the course on TV, plus the feedback we got from it, was a huge highlight. Watching your course on Sky Sports, the professionals playing on it, it was an amazing experience. The feedback I received from the guys working at the tournament, as well as the regular staff and volunteers that came in to support us, was fantastic. The whole buzz among the staff and going out for a meal in the village was superb – everyone was just buzzing. The tournament was very much part of the community.
“We were under pressure to perform, and some things you can’t control like the weather, so you worry about what you can control! There were a few sleepless nights, making sure everything was ready, but thankfully everything went well. Both men’s events, and the Ladies Scottish Open, were most enjoyable.”
Thanks Stewart, keep up the good work and good luck for the season ahead!