The Stirling Academy comprises a putting green, two short game areas, bunker practice areas and an outfield with eight purpose-built targets, which have been artificially surfaced.
“Six of these targets also double up as greens for a six-hole Academy course so that its use a “wee” course can be alternated with their use as a long game Academy,” said Howard Swan.
“The Academy has been designed to make best use of limited area which is acted as a practice ground for the membership for decades so that they may hone their skills and additionally have some fun. It has been laid out in such a way as to encourage people in the community to take up the game and to, who knows, join a club to swell the membership. Those people may be youngsters – there is a comprehensive programme developed for schools golf and with youth groups – or they may be the more mature members of the local population who might struggle to play 18 holes for whatever reason.
“The design allows for wheelchair access for those who are physically disabled, and also to allow those who are disadvantaged in society – both behaviourally and socially – to be able to play the game and give all the chance to experience golf. Developing a facility which could cater for those benefitting from the Golf in Society initiative which gives dementia sufferers the chance to play, was always a prominent part of the concept.
“Essentially, the Academy at Stirling is providing an opportunity for the game to reach out and include, rather than to exclude, those who may not otherwise have the chance to play as well as providing a training ground for young kids, women and beginners,” said Swan. “It is an ethic which I have subscribed to during most of my professional career and found the challenge to be able to produce facilities which allowed it to be exercised quite, quite difficult. It has to be the way forward for the game by widening its base growing its participation . Having facilities which can do that… not just 18 hole courses, but three, six and nine hole layouts with comprehensive practice areas … this is the future for us all.”
Construction began last year on the club’s former practice ground during the club’s 150th anniversary with a project team of Greentech Sportsturf, Scotgrass, TIS Scotland together with the club’s greenkeeping staff.
“I gave the club a vision – I’m delighted to say that it enthused and shared in it and the prospect to uplift the club’s facilities and enhance the reputation. From that we created a brief together to cover the concept, the development, the operation and management,” said Swan.
He adds “My idea was always to mark the 150th anniversary with something rather special, having been able as the club’s architect to transform the holes on the 18-hole course over the last decade to great success and accolade. The one thing the club did not want to do, quite rightly, was to touch the golf course during their anniversary year.”
“I would like to think that the project is unique in that we have taken a concept that I derived some time ago for multiple use of an area of land and for achieving the maximum return for every square metre in every possible way.”
One of the short game Academies for chipping and bunker play is surfaced with natural grass, the other artificial. Each feature varying depth of bunkers, varying heights of mounds, wedge play from different elevations around the target surfaces. The Academy course features false bunkers which give the required feature, perspective and framing to the greens but need no maintenance and allow ball picking mechanically to be easily effected. Its holes vary between 25m and 70 m and each is played from artificial teeing areas which are wholly mobile and can be moved around the outfield to change the angle of play on any hole shortening or lengthening each of the six as the age and competence of the players may necessitate.
Originally scheduled for April , the Academy’s opening was delayed until June because of the coronavirus pandemic, and initially play is being limited to the membership,
“We are expecting that we will manage to get a public opening in September, but all dependent upon what the Scottish government decides to do about easing of the lockdown and of adjustment to the social distancing rules,” said David Morrison, chair of the club’s development group.
He adds “It is very pleasing that, already, after only one month of play on the Academy, the club’s junior membership numbers are burgeoning as the number of ladies during the club. It is particularly thrilling to see families playing together on the Academy course and those disadvantaged having fun with their families, who may be caring for them, swinging the clubs.”
The club’s foresight in creating the Academy has attracted significant public funding support from SportScotland and has enabled it to demonstrate how the game can reach out to communities so very, very well.