The devil, it’s been said, is in the details. And when it comes to golf, there is no smaller detail than the blades of grass that — collectively — form the natural carpet upon which we play this wonderful game.
So, does that mean David Greenshields is a devil?
Hard at ‘Work’ — David Greenshields during a round at Dumbarnie Links, a new course in Fife and a client of Barenbrug, David’s employer.
Not remotely. But as Goswick’s recently appointed Course Director on the club’s board of directors — with a PhD in plant genetics and a day job as the UK and Ireland product manager for the Dutch-based Barenbrug that breeds and markets grass seed — David knows a thing or two, or a thousand, about all that green stuff we tend to take for granted.
Recently, he took time out from his busy schedule to chat with Goswick member Dan Miller about what makes this remote Northumberland course, and its natural links turf, so special.
DAN: So, as we talk, Goswick — along with every other golf course in England — is closed in keeping with the latest national lockdown. Difficult to see a silver lining in this, unless your priority it to protect the condition of the course.
DAVID: Yes, the lockdown last spring certainly did wonders for the quality of the turf, in particular the fairways. And I suspect this closure will have a similar effect, especially given that it’s too cold right now for the grass to grow and divots to recover. You would never plan it this way. We’d all much rather be playing golf. But there is some upside to giving the course an extended rest during the dormant season.
DAN: And when it comes to Goswick, the quality of that turf is of paramount importance.
DAVID: Absolutely. There are only about 250 genuine links courses around the world. Most are here, in the UK and Ireland of course, and Goswick is a leading example of an authentic links when it comes to grass. It has greens dominated by fescue, which is sadly not the case at many great links courses. This really adds to the links experience — and puts Goswick in a small elite group.
DAN: Is that why you are a member, even though you live in Edinburgh and have to drive 80 minutes each way to play golf at Goswick?
DAVID: Definitely. The journey is more than worth it to hear that hollow thud on a well struck iron shot into a green. And to experience the bounce and the roll of the ball. Fescue has a tougher thatch and deeper roots than other grasses that are common on golf greens. That makes for a firm fast turf. And it also allows for closely mown green surrounds that makes for more creative shots that can take advantage of the natural contours. That’s the way golf began. And, if you ask me, it’s still the best form of the game.
DAN: Have you always felt this way about links golf?
DAVID: No. I’ve come to fully appreciate it the more that I’ve had the opportunity to experience it. I grew up on a farm in Northeast England that bordered a parkland golf course. I had two older brothers who played golf, so I got started when I was just four years old. I played a lot as a kid, but it wasn’t my main sport. A couple of golf holidays in my teens — to North Berwick and Ireland changed that. A proper taste of links golf, and then moving to Scotland aged 18, had me hooked.
DAN: What precipitated that change of locale?
DAVID: Education. I went to Edinburgh University for an undergraduate degree, then pursued a master’s in environmental biology at the University of St Andrews. That gave me access to all of the courses there so that really nurtured my appreciation for links golf. Then I retuned to Edinburgh for a PhD. in plant genetics, during which I played competitive university golf. By the end of it, I decided that rather than stay in research I wanted to build a career that involved golf in some way. After doing some teaching, I kind of stumbled into the job with Barenbrug.
DAN: What can you tell me about them?
DAVID: They are a grass breeder and marketer on a global scale. They have companies on six continents. The UK business has a large focus in professional sport, and particularly golf. As product manager, I get to visit (and occasionally sample!) the best courses in the country on a daily basis. We supply seed to the majority of the Open Championship venues and get involved in new construction projects such as Dumbarnie Links in Fife.
DAN: And Goswick!
DAVID: Yes, that’s right. As I mentioned, fescue is the thing that really sets Goswick apart. At Barenbrug, we’re breeding new and improved varieties of fescue every year and Goswick will always be at the front of the queue for the latest and best developments.
DAN: So, you were voted onto the club’s board in December and have just started your term as Course Director. What are your hopes and dreams for Goswick going forward?
DAVID: Well, No.1 is to continue to look for ways to make the course even better. There’s not another top course in the UK that’s not making changes. We cannot afford to stand still. If we target the right areas, I think there’s every reason to believe that Goswick can make it into the top 100 list for GB&I. We’re very close as is.
DAN: How would that change things?
DAVID: It would really help us raise our profile, which is another top objective. I really love sharing the unique experience of Goswick. Not enough people know just how great it is. Now, the counter argument to that is that we don’t want to spoil what we have. But we’re miles away from that. We have plenty of unused tee times. We can certainly facilitate more people. It’s an experience that every true golfer will love. We need to do a better job of communicating that. To misquote Mark Twain, a round of golf at Goswick is a good walk elevated.
DAN: Thanks, David. Exciting times ahead for Goswick, just as soon as we can put this pandemic behind us.
DAVID: I couldn’t agree more.