Meet the golf course superintendent: Frank Clarkson

By Alistair February 11, 2024 09:22

Working for Darwin Escapes, Frank talks about running Dundonald Links all-year round, preparing for professional tournaments and the challenges of managing three very different golf courses.

Can you take us through your career to date?

My greenkeeping career started at Loch Lomond Golf Club in 1996. I was studying for an HND in turf science at the time, at Myerscough College, Lancashire, and part of the course involved completing an industrial placement. It was Loch Lomond’s first year holding a professional tournament, at what was then a relatively unknown venue. I do remember Thomas Bjorn was the victor.

I worked my way up through the crew at Loch Lomond and became assistant superintendent there in 1999. In 2003, Loch Lomond purchased Dundonald Links, the then-new Kyle Phillips golf course on the west coast near Troon offered me the chance to manage the site as golf course superintendent. I stayed in this role until 2019, when the site was purchased by Darwin Escapes to form part of their larger portfolio. I continued to work for the company, originally just at Dundonald, and gradually moved on to work with all three golf courses in the Darwin portfolio, plus another seven standalone holiday parks, one of which is still in development.

I have been fortunate to work on the set up of various professional tournaments with the Solheim Cup in 2000 being particularly memorable. There was a great Solheim Cup held that year in Scotland at the start of October – it was very dramatic, finishing in the pitch black and with a European win. I think that was the start of the Solheim Cup becoming the high-profile event it is today.

Dundonald Links has hosted the Women’s Scottish Open five times in the last decade. The ladies’ events are fantastic, the players accessible and engaging to the public and great to work with. They really are great ambassadors of the sport.

I’ve worked on several professional tournaments in the men’s game also – eight or nine Scottish Opens. Dundonald Links currently has the privilege of hosting Final Qualifying for the Open, starting last year and continuing until 2026.

How do you prepare for major tournaments?

There’s not a lot of difference in how we prepare for a professional event, apart from the fact that everything is intensified. Golf is an all-year sport, which puts more pressure on the greenkeeping teams to keep the course in the best possible playing conditions throughout the year. Once you have the event date confirmed, the goal is to work back from that for all preparations. We’d still be looking for the same result as any other season, however the goal is to have the course in the absolute peak of condition on the first practice day.

What’s your greenkeeping team like at Dundonald Links and how does it differ from your other venues?

Although our golf courses are all 18 holes, they are all very different, and they all have unique challenges. In the west coast of Scotland, you’ve got an average rainfall of roughly 1.4m of rain per annum, but we also have Kilnwick Percy Golf Club in East Yorkshire and down to The Springs Golf Club in Oxfordshire, which probably see around 800mm a year. The climates are substantially different and the weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable. Ground conditions are also very different: we’ve got a sand-based course in Scotland, clay-based course in East Yorkshire and a chalk-based course down on the banks of the river Thames.

What are your plans for Dundonald Links and your other venues?

We’ve just been through a large renovation project at Dundonald, with the focus on enhancing the player experience around the teeing grounds, walkways… and general traffic management from green to tee and tee to fairway. We’ve improved the infrastructure from a drainage and water management perspective and extensive upgrade of the practice facilities including dedicated putting greens for our lodge guests. For Dundonald, it’s very much a case of trying to ensure the golf course performs consistently well all year round, this is also true of The Springs and Kilnwick Percy GC. From the first tee to the 18th green… the goal is that it doesn’t matter what day you visit, the golf course plays as designed.

The Springs has seen a programme to improve the course through redesign and construction of all bunkers and practice facilities. Kilnwick Percy has heavily invested in a capillary drainage system for greens which does not over dry the greens in summer, however, moves water effectively in winter. You only have to look at recent weather patterns, flooding in the East Midlands and east coast of Scotland through to lengthy droughts in the summer and temperatures which can exceed 30 degrees Celsius. Our challenge as turf managers is to make sure that we’re ready for whatever the future’s going to bring, so we can ensure we have a good product for the golfer, delivered in a sustainable way.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I work with some fantastic teams across the group including highly skilled greenkeepers, however a large part of my role is to work with the grounds and maintenance teams at non-golfing venues. I probably learn more than I impart! They’re passionate about the guest experience and the job they do, so I’d say that’s my number one pleasure – the people.

Every day is a different challenge. I love seeing a foursome come off the 18th green, and two are high-fiving and two looking a bit sullen. Those are players who’ve had a bit of fun and competition. It makes me feel like you’ve given them a day that they’ll hopefully remember and come back to play again.

You can find out more about Darwin Escapes’ three courses and book a tee time at


By Alistair February 11, 2024 09:22

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