Paul Murphy’s ambition for Fife Golf Trust is forthright and unequivocal. “It’s to provide affordable and easy access to quality golf courses that have a broad appeal to locals and visitors, existing and new golfers,” says the chief executive officer of the Trust.

It’s certainly one that should disabuse anyone of that idea that playing in the Kingdom of Fife, the home of golf, is merely a pastime for the affluent and (dare one say it) slightly older constituency.

“Our mantra is that we are going to be affordable. Access for all is extremely important for us,” he says, adding that this experience is founded on the principles of sustainable environmental management.

The Herald: Paul Murphy

In  2017 the Trust became the first multi-site municipal set-up to be awarded internationally-recognised Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) certification – a recognition that was achieved again in 2022.

CEO of Fife Council, Ken Gourlay says: “I am delighted to see how far the Fife Golf Trust has come in terms of developing our facilities across Fife and how it has managed to open up opportunities for golf to be an inclusive sport for all. The Trust has done a fantastic job in developing and promoting golf across Fife.

It’s a game to which Murphy has been enthusiastically committed all his adult life. He began greenkeeping with Dundee Council at Caird Park when he was 17, became head greenkeeper at 22 before moving on to become course manager at Downfield Golf Club, birthplace of the Scottish Open, where he spent 18 years prior to coming to the Trust as golf courses manager before taking over as CEO in 2022.

The Herald: Glenrothes

His remit, he says was to bring the courses up to a higher standard and to build the teams. “That was driven by environmental management by going back to basics whilst building the brand through increasing customer confidence in the product.”

The Trust maintains seven courses: the 18-hole parkland courses of Cowdenbeath, Dunnikier, Scoonie and Glenrothes, as well as the links course at Kinghorn and two nine-holers, Auchterderran and Lochore Meadows. It also reaches out to vulnerable people, including Alzheimer Scotland, at the six-hole 2019 Course attached to Dunnikier Park Golf Course, Kirkcaldy which was designed and constructed in house.

Set up in 2012 on behalf of Fife Council, it is one of the biggest public golf facilities in Scotland. “As a Charitable Trust, we are committed to growing and developing the business to deliver real improvements and benefits for existing and future golfers,” says business manager Iain Evans.

The Herald: Iain Evans

“We receive support from Fife Council which enables us to give a 20 per cent discount to anyone over the age of 62 and to those on recognised forms of income and disability support and to younger people which means they can play golf in an affordable way. For instance, if you’re under 12, you pay a pound and for those aged between  12 to 18, it's £35 for unlimited access for the year. We then continue to offer Youth prices for those 12 – 18 and Intermediate prices for those 25 -29 years old”.

Murphy says that the Trust has relied on continued support from the Trust board which meets quarterly. “We have four elected members on that board so there is cross party support, and we also have representation from the R&A, the governing body of the sport, St Andrews Links Trust and independent directors.”

“One of the things we did early on in the journey was to move to a professional golfer model at the majority of our venues, which allowed us to improve the customer experience and provide retail for our customers which also enhanced the brand and helped reduced costs,” he says.

“We were doing that while ensuring that environmental sustainability is part of the DNA of our course maintenance across the wider parts of the business, including the installation of bird, owl and bat boxes and the sowing of wildflower areas for pollinators.”

Any degree of change, of course, involves a necessary degree of disruption. “Without everyone’s support the early years would have been a bit of a struggle. We needed buy-in from the staff, including the greenkeepers and starters (who ensure that each group stays on schedule) so we were bringing the team on a new journey, giving them confidence in what we were trying to achieve so that they understood the part they played in the journey they were on.

“It’s important to us that everybody working with the Trust enjoys their role allowing us to grow stronger together. The most difficult part was probably the first five years and while there are still areas within the golf courses that need extra work, managing them sustainably and looking after the environment is not overly taxing on the staff. It is, after all, central to what we do.”

The Herald: Dunnikier Park Golf Course

And with seven courses to look after, 21 greenkeeping staff and a management team of four working tirelessly to improve the business it was vital to have their support, he adds that  Fife Golf Trust also heavily relies on its partner clubs and local communities.

“We can positively change people’s mindset about the game of golf by inviting schools, volunteers and others in to help change their perceptions on what we do for wildlife – creating habitat, planting trees and that can only be good for golf and its positive role for everyone.

Such ambitions are not without their challenges. “The continued support of Fife Council is crucial for us to maintain our presence within the community, and we are aware that in the current economic climate there are budgetary pressures,” says Murphy. 

Keeping people on the courses is also demanding given the Scottish weather,” he adds. “Most inland courses have had a torrid time through the winter because the rain has never stopped. The climate is getting milder but wetter which obviously has an impact on course playability and will require future capital investment to ensure continued accessibility.”

He's confident though, of making further positive strides in the future, including exploring the possibility of autonomous cutting on the six-hole course “which would benefit the environment and complement the other improvements the staff are implementing”.

These are exciting times, he concludes – “While there will be other challenges to overcome, when we look at what we’ve already achieved and are planning it gives us great confidence looking into the future.