We couldn’t see tees for the woods

Some of the volunteers who worked over the winter to clear away the trees at Falkirk Carmuirs Golf Course
Some of the volunteers who worked over the winter to clear away the trees at Falkirk Carmuirs Golf Course

The members at Falkirk Carmuirs Golf Club must really love their course.

Around 30 of them proved it when they made a “tree-mendous” commitment to their club and took to swinging chainsaws instead of golf clubs over four months of cold, damp and windy winter weekends to make sure the course was ship shape for the start of the new season.

A fire fighter by trade, Nicky Barr knows an emergency situation when he sees one and the state of the trees on the course was something that was ruining games – and the environment.

Nicky enlisted the help of fellow club members Davie Jones, who had experience as a landscaping team leader with Stirling Council, and civil servant Ian Murray to get a plan together which would improve the course, help trees struggling to grow in densely packed woodland and bring the wildlife back.

Davie said: “In the 1990s and early 2000s the club worked with the Forestry Commission to plant 30,000 trees on the golf course. The commission had targets at that time to plant as much woodland as possible in Scotland and the club committee agreed to let them plant extensively, so the fairways would be tree-lined.

“We thought that was going to be a good thing, but unfortunately they made it a condition no maintenance would take place on the trees for 10 years. It should really have only been around three years, but they did what they thought was best at the time.”

The trees grew at a good rate and golfers soon began voicing concerns about how close together they were.

Both members of the club for over 20 years, Nicky and Davie came up with a proposal, The Falkirk Golf Club Trees Project, aimed at felling a number of the most troublesome trees over a period of five years.

Davie said: “The idea was to get rid of the trees that were badly damaged, diseased or dying and safeguard the good trees. One tree can do the job of 20 trees if it is allowed to flourish and there always has to be a thinning process when trees are struggling.

“We got in touch with the Forestry Commission and they were happy with us doing this, granting us a Tree Felling Licence. First and foremost this was a tree management project, but we were very keen to recycle the wood so nothing went to waste.”

A team of volunteers, ranging in age from 17 to 73, soon assembled to carry out the vital project.

John Spence (74) has been at the club for over half a century. He was the oldest member of the hardy band of amateur tree fellers working in wild conditions every weekend. He said: “I never liked the trees – probably because that’s where my ball would always end up. To my mind the course is now looking a lot better.”

Davie said: “None of the volunteers had any experience in this kind of field apart from two guys who worked for me at Stirling Council who brought in their knowledge and skills.”

The group held a golf tournament and other events to raise funds for the project, allowing the hire of equipment like chainsaws and chippers. Members unable to physically assist in the project also donated money to the cause.

Davie said: “We expected something like six volunteers to show up on the first morning, but we got 30. We sat them down and gave them talks on health and safety and manual handling and got them used to the equipment.”

Nicky said: “You’ve got to realise most of these guys were nine to five office workers who had never done a manual job like this before and the amount of effort they put in was immense.”

The project began on October 24, continued over the winter period and came to an end, for the time being, last week as golfers returned in greater numbers for the new season.

Davie said: “It was a huge effort in bad conditions – I think we only had one weekend where it was dry. We had a five year plan and we probably did three year’s worth of work over one winter.

“We’re well ahead of the game and have removed in excess of 1000 trees. You can really see the golf course now and the remaining trees are now going to flourish. The Forestry Commission was more than happy with what we accomplished – it’s always good to have those guys on board for advice and help.

“There were no mishaps, which is remarkable when you consider what we did. We really tried to take care of the course.”

Work was carried out on the 1st, 18th and 4th holes first, followed by the 17th and 9th and then the 10th and 8th. The group is most pleased with how the 3rd hole turned out after all its hard work.

When the volunteers could not manage the 40 foot high willow trees they called in Apex Tree Services.

Davie said: “We’re going back out this winter and hope to complete the works. We are holding another tournament and fund raising events in May and more members say they are going to come and help us this year.

“If this went out to contract it would probably have cost the club up to £70,000.”