While millions of golf fans follow the fortunes of the world’s best players at the US Open this week, a leading Scottish course manager’s focus will be more grounded.
Chris Haspell, the Course Manager at the internationally-renowned Castle Stuart Golf Links near Inverness, is playing a leading role in the preparation and management of the venue in Chambers Bay in Washington State, due to his specialist expertise in fine fescue management.
For the first time in a Major tournament in the US, the competition, being held from 18-21 June, will be played on fescue grass, more commonly seen on British links courses.
When some of the Chambers Bay greens became slowly contaminated with other grasses in 2013, it was decided to overseed the course with fescue which is slow-growing, requires less water and fertilizer and is less prone to disease.
It also provides a faster, truer roll and does not ‘grab’ the golf ball like other types of grass. It is said to suit Chambers Bay which is similar to a links course because it is built on sand near the sea and has firm playing surfaces that give golfers the option to ‘run’ shots rather than fly them to the green.
Castle Stuart was created using fescue grass and Chris Haspell and his team have a half-acre site on the course given over to testing 55 species of fescue grass to select those that best suit the Highland climate, need the least water and are the most disease-resistant. The results of these tests were passed to the team at Chambers Bay.
Castle Stuart has hosted three Scottish Opens in the last four years and will again be the venue for the tournament in 2016. In addition, Chris has acted as consultant at two Danish Opens and on several Challenge Tour events in the past.
It was recently announced that the Arnold Palmer Group (APG) is investing in the current partnership at Castle Stuart and is collaborating on building a second course – and Arnold Palmer’s first in Scotland – on the shores of the Moray Firth near Inverness.
Chris said: “I will hope to bring experience in fescue grass management, as well as tips and tricks for maintaining a healthy plant in stress conditions to the US Open.
“Josh Lewis, and Eric Johnson, the golf course superintendent and director of agronomy at Chambers Bay, are good friends and they deserve to have success with this event and if I can play a small part that will be fantastic.
“The fescue grass has never been played on before at a Major in the US so it will be interesting to see what the players think. I hope the course will play more links style and be a good challenge for them.
“Many tournaments in the US are target golf exhibitions. I hope to see more of the ground game come to the fore and different shot making.”
At the Scottish Open, Chris works with his small team plus about 20 volunteers, but at the US Open there will be an army of around 170 volunteers and staff.
“I will be forging links with people from around the world which will help build more awareness of Castle Stuart and the Highlands in general”, he said. “The more people who learn about what we can offer in the Highlands, including our work on fescue management, the better.”
Castle Stuart Golf Links has achieved global acclaim in its first six years and was placed at No. 56 on Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in the World in 2013.
Chris added: “With the Arnold Palmer Group joining the investors at Castle Stuart, and with the prospect of another great golf course on site, I will be looking at all aspects of the infrastructure and management at the US Open to help improve the existing and future product we have.”