Tournament preparation

Now we are really in the middle of the golfing season all eyes have been on Portstewart Golf Club and Dundonald Links where the Irish and Scottish Opens have been staged respectively. This week it’s The Open at Royal Birkdale where the world’s best will be vying for the Claret Jug. You might wonder what is done during a tournament week to prepare these courses compared to everyday play.

You may be surprised to know there’s not a huge amount of difference. Most of the hard work has taken place well in advance and over a long period of time – we’re talking years here, not just the one year beforehand. Treatments such as aeration to keep the greens open and free from compaction, topdressing to keep them smooth and firm, overseeding to introduce the finest grasses and weed control are all regular practices done throughout the year or as and when they’re necessary.

Like St Andrews Links, these courses will involve the Sports Turf Research Institute in measuring surface performance aspects such as smoothness, trueness, firmness, organic matter content and moisture levels. Plans will be drawn up from there to achieve the specific targets required.

Sports Turf Research Institute explaining all the tools they use to measure surface performance to seasonal staff

Green speeds are determined in advance and are based on size, the undulations and location. Are they exposed near the top of dunes or in hollows? Of course a great deal of attention is paid to the weather forecast too.

What also may be of surprise is that generally speaking the tournament organisers don’t want the green speeds to be much quicker, if at all, to what they are for general play on that particular course. That means grass height is usually the same as it normally would be. Any small increase in speed can be achieved by double cutting or rolling. Only the fairways might be cut a little closer to provide tighter lies for the players.

Measuring moisture and firmness of the practice putting green

On the week of the tournament, and possibly the week beforehand, the intensity of work is the one aspect which really steps up as shown in the chart below. All these tasks are carried out before play begins with some repeated in the evening during tournament week.

Task Tournament Frequency General Play Frequency
Cut greens Daily or more Daily
Greens rolled As required As required
Cut tees Daily 2/3 times per w/k
Cut surrounds Daily 2/3 times per w/k
Cut fairways Daily 2/3 times per w/k
Cut semi-rough Daily Weekly
Rake bunkers Daily Daily
Move holes Daily Every 2nd day
Move tee markers Daily Daily
Fill divots Daily Daily
Hand irrigate greens As required As required


There are numerous other small tasks to be fitted in around these, for instance mowers have to be checked they are cutting properly after each operation. Then there’s always the unexpected to deal with – the weather is usually good for throwing up surprises or the tournament organiser may need assistance in an area outwith the golf course.

The most difficult job… Painting the holes! 

Of course all this additional work for a tournament needs two key things; extra staff and equipment. The turf industry is a very tight knit group and there are always greenstaff from nearby clubs, and often from around the world, willing to help as volunteers for the week. During The Open, all other courses on The Open rota give up a member of staff for two weeks to assist the host club and the R&A organise accommodation and meals etc. for them.

Likewise, the machinery company the club is associated with can assist with some additional mowers and maybe even provide a mechanic for the week.

Many hands make light work as they say… relatively speaking anyway!

Words by Gordon Moir, Director of Greenkeeping


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