Greenkeeping at the 2018 Ryder Cup

In December last year I received an exciting phone call to say that I had been chosen to join the greenkeeping team at Le Golf National in France for the 2018 Ryder Cup. This opportunity arose because I had been a past delegate of the FTMI (Future Turf Managers Initiative). They had chosen one delegate from each of the last five years to experience this unique opportunity.

The host golf course, the Albatross, was designed by architects Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge in collaboration with Pierre Thevenin. Their inspiration was to ‘create a stadium golf course’ with construction beginning in July 1987 and opening three years later in October 1990.

My first day on site was the Sunday prior to tournament week. This was the first time the full team would be in place; a total of 170 staff , 135 volunteers (representing over 130 golf clubs and 25 different countries) and 35 of Le Golf National’s own full-time staff. It started with an introduction to the management team; Alejandro Reyes, Golf Course and Estate Manger and Paul Armitage, General Manager.

They led the way with an inspiring presentation explaining the club’s journey from when it was announced in May 2011 that they would be hosting the event. To accommodate the majority of the international team, the presentation was first spoken in French then English then Spanish – inclusive and impressive! Throughout the morning you could feel a great atmosphere being created amongst everyone. We were very motivated and excited for the week ahead.

Once the presentations and introductions were complete, each person was told what team they were to be in and who their team leader was. There were four teams, each had around 20-25 people who were responsible for four or five holes on the course. Tasks included mowing greens and collar surfaces, measuring green speeds and moisture, raking bunkers, hand watering, clearing footprints in rough and debris, fairway divoting etc.

As explained in the interview below, I was in team three who were responsible for managing holes 2, 3, 13 and 14.

The attention to detail and standards being achieved were very impressive. Good communication and team work was the key given the amount of staff on hand. All surfaces were in pristine condition all week.

Other tasks included the mowing of tees, aprons and fairways…

Raking bunkers for Tiger and team on practice days was a great experience. It also helped me familiarise myself with the whole course.

I was very fortunate to experience the opening tee shots on two of the tournament days. Surrounded by the 6,900 capacity grandstand it really was an amazing atmosphere, nothing like anything I have witnessed in person at a golf event. The Icelandic thunder clap in full motion added to the already exciting atmosphere.

Over 270,000 spectators attended the event with a global TV audience of roughly 500 million. Overall, the whole week was an amazing experience especially with a European victory. The weather, which can play a huge factor in any golf event, was perfect. It was a settled week with a gentle breeze at times adding to the challenge. Full sunshine and cloudless skies showcased all the greenkeeping team’s hard work allowing spectators and worldwide TV viewers alike to witness the course in picture perfect conditions.

Hearing our Ryder Cup anthem “Ole, Ole, Ole , Ole” echoing around the course at 6.30am in the dark during our morning set up was pretty special and it continued during our evening duties late into the night. The appreciation from the crowds was overwhelming whilst driving in from our shifts in our large entourage of machines – the sound of horns and cheering created a great team spirit.

Listening to the inspiring presentation from the management team in our induction, I knew it would be a special week. Everyone helped one another, there was even applause and cheering after every briefing. The feeling that we were part of team Europe was very motivating too. I’ve taken back great memories especially celebrating with the winning team on the 18th green and us all thunder clapping with the surrounding crowds. A great end to a perfect week!

Above is the full greenkeeping team. Well done to Alejandro Reyes and all of his team for their achievements. Working at tournaments has many benefits; meeting new colleagues and old, sharing and learning good practices with other professionals. I look to implement these new learnings at the Links.

Speaking of which, it’s now time to turn my attention to what will be another busy winter programme here at the Home of Golf. Let’s hope it is a kind winter for us and the golfers!

Words by Gavin Neill, Deputy Course Manager – New & Jubilee Courses

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