Education has to be the key to all associations and indeed greenkeepers in achieving the highest level of professionalism within our industry and therefore greater recognition within the game of golf. FEGGA’s role with formal education has been to set the standards and this leading to what is now Greenkeeper Training Europe – www.greenkeepertraining.com
Greenkeeper Training Europe has now produced standards at 3 levels and will through its work be able to assist Countries with guidance on all aspects of formal greenkeeping education.
Continuous learning is a very important part of day to day learning and FEGGA provides support in this area through advice and also its Roadshow events that have now been operated in some 14 Countries over the past ten years. FEGGA also has a speaker bank that offers its Members Associations contact with a range of speaker’s world-wide covering industry learning presentations.
In keeping this theme, FEGGA again supporting new Golf developing Countries with Roadshows and education Tours.
The first Roadshow was in Iceland, and FEGGA providing support for a variety of lectures, but some specifically on Winter Management.
The second Roadshow was in Estonia, and was part of the FEGGA Development programme, providing development support for new golf developing Countries and Associations. Estonia has 8 golf courses, and they proudly supported this Roadshow with over 50 delegates attending. They are still in the early stages of their development, but with the support from FEGGA and the expertise that comes from the 24 member associations, they are truly benefiting from all this valuable experience, and becoming a strong member of the FEGGA family.
More and more National Greenkeeper Associations are combining football with golf among their membership services. Many see this as a great opportunity to reach out to more turf specialists with regards to their educational needs, and also other association events, that can be run in a more sustainable manner.
With this in mind, we have recently supported 6 Greenkeepers/Groundsman from Bulgaria whom wanted to gain experience in seeing grounds management in football within England. We were able to arrange visits to a wide range of clubs, allowing them to gain considerable knowledge and experience in the process of pitch renovation, and allowing new skills and development to be taken back home with them.
Greenkeeper Training Europe (GT-E)
At the Federation of European Golf Greenkeepers Association (FEGGA) annual conference held in January 2006, the member Associations took a decision to support this initiative. It was later that same year that the first edition of Pan European Standards was written. The Standards were written by a selected group of educational professionals from various parts of Europe, put together by FEGGA.
Funding support from The R&A, EGA and FEGGA has allowed the GT-E to develop 3 levels of Standards and an advice and guidance service.
Since 2006, the GT-E has helped many countries develop, improve and establish a structure of greenkeeper training, along with engaging in EU projects:
- Assisted with start-up education in Lithuania, Estonia
- Norway used the Pan European Standards, and the knowledge base of GT-E to get government agreement on their newly established equivalent NVQ level 2
- Assisted within the Green-E project
- Partner of the GreenQAmpus project
A New Future for Greenkeeper Training Europe
Up to this time the GT-E has been run as an independent organisation, and following the retirement of key directors, FEGGA feel it is the perfect time to review the future of the GT-E. Having consulted with a wider group of organisations, and with the FEGGA Members Associations, it has now been agreed that FEGGA will take on the full ownership of the GT-E.
A new business plan is being developed, and will have a small sub-committee of people made up of Dean Cleaver, past director of the GT-E and Executive Officer of FEGGA, along with Kamil Pecenka, Chairman of FEGGA, and Stig Persson, Past Chairman of FEGGA.
As part of the thinking in moving forward:
- It clearly makes sense for a European organisation (FEGGA) to be running and supporting European education
- It’s very important that the GT-E continues to maintain the Pan European Standards and its stand-alone website
- It will continue to Provide future support to European Countries and organisations
- The GT-E will provide the platform to gain future EU projects
- Continue to provide support for new Golf developing Countries
BRINGING PEOPLE AND ORGANISATIONS TOGETHER
FEGGA recently went on the Road with the Bulgarian Greenkeepers Association in supporting education for their Groundsman members. The tour took place within areas of England, with six Groundsman visiting and spending time with some of the leading grounsdman professionals within the football industry. This very much follows a trend that FEGGA have engaged in with supporting their Members.
The tour began at St Georges park, home of the English Football Association, and also home for the very experienced Alan Ferguson, a veteran in the world of Football pitch management. Alan was so gracious in the time he gave to the visiting Bulgarians, sharing his vast knowledge and experience, and sending them away with much to take home with them.
The Study Tour was made possible with the support of two of FEGGA’s Patrons, Dennis Sisis and Campey Turfcare. It was therefore also very beneficial for the group to visit both of their respected facilities, and to see how they operate and provide the excellent commitment and support to their customers, and serve the many sports they currently engage in. Dennis Sisis have a long history in manufacturing, and when visiting you can see this, but also you see how they are integrating this tradition with modern machining and paint plant technology, allowing them to maintain and build on the equipment they manufacture.
It was then onto the visit to Campey Turfcare. There is an excellent relationship that exists between these two companies, and Richard Campey, the founder of Campey Turfcare is an ex-employee of Sisis, and obviously built his business of much of the philosophy that he grew up with. Campey Turfcare have over the years been very innovating in building their brand, and using the vast amount of experience that exists when it comes to maintaining and renovating turf surfaces. They have worked very hard in developing turf systems that offer very successful end results turf technology.
The next two days of the Study Tour saw the group visiting Derby County football stadium, and seeing the pitch following the recent renovation programme in readiness for the new season. They also took on a visit to Leicester City’s training facility, who had also just completed renovations on many of the training pitches, and to see how they are committed to ensuring that stadium and training pitches mirror each other in pitch performance, and ensuring players, and teams get the opportunity to maximise their performances too.
Wednesday, saw the group visit the training facilities of Bury Football club, and although Bury play in slightly lower football league their commitment to turf maintenance and results were clear to see, and also the knowledge that the Grounds crew were willing to share with the group.
Finally It was off to Leigh Sports Village, close to Manchester, and a very different set-up, but again showing excellent examples of turf maintenance performances for multi teams to benefit from in their pursuit of the game of football, and other sporting activities.
In all the visits that were done, one thing that also had common place was the commitment they all made to encouraging and supporting grass roots football, kids benefiting and enjoying the game, and dreaming what could be, if only for a short time.
The six Groundsman, that came over from Bulgaria thoroughly enjoyed their experiences, and took a huge bank of knowledge back with them, and also were inspired by the great people they had been lucky enough to spend time with over the three educational days.
FEGGA and the BGGA thank both Dennis Sisis and Campey Turfcare, for making this Study Tour possible, and enabling their pursuit of offering education to their Members.
The Ohio State Program 2012-2013
Just over five years ago I made the decision to start my career as a sportsturf Greenkeeper. Without having any previous Greenkeeping experience, my first challenge saw me jetting off to the United States of America to be a part of The Ohio State Program. I represented the program on a 12 month internship where Michael O’Keeffe (Intern Program Manager) situated me on two different golf courses to manage cool season and warm season grass species in order to help my career development.
The first part of the internship started at Saucon Valley Country Club in Pennsylvania. Situated on 850 acres, the golf club boasts three parkland championship courses (Old, Grace and Weyhill) which have been ranked in the 100 courses in the USA and consistently ranked in the top 10 in Pennsylvania. I started working on the Old Course which was designed by British architect Herbert Strong in 1920. The U.S amateur (1951), U.S junior amateur (1983), U.S senior amateur (1987), two U.S senior opens (1992 & 2000) and most recently the U.S Women’s Open (2009) have been held on this prestigious golf course. The membership demands are very high.
I came across several challenges whilst working at Saucon Valley. One of these challenges was the climate which contained a high altitude of heat and humidity. This is something I had never experienced before in the UK. Temperatures rising from 30-38˚c with 70-90% humidity tested my ability to work under these conditions. We had to work hard to keep the course alive with hand watering techniques on pure bentgrass greens, fairways, tees and approaches under the climatic conditions. We worked from 11am till sundown to keep the cultivar alive throughout days of heat stress. During my time at the golf club I was fortunate enough to learn to use different types of equipment such as pedestrian & ride on machinery, spraying fertilisers, fungicides, insecticides, herbicides and wetting agents, tee set up, aerating greens (hollow coring & pencil tining), top dressing and so much more. I was working 90-100 hour weeks including weekends to meet the golf course demands and make sure it was of a high standard for members. My boss at the time told me “you will learn more with all the time you put in”, He was certainly right and all of the knowledge and experience gained there enabled me to prepare myself for my next adventure.
The second part of the internship took place in Naples Florida at The Club at Mediterra. This is another private membership club which is limited to 450 members and consists of two parkland 18 hole golf courses (North & South) designed by the well-known American architect Tom Fazio. When I arrived at the club both golf courses were going under major construction. During the construction process both courses were closed whilst they re-turfed certain tees & fairways, replaced bunkers & improved and replaced irrigation to benefit the layout of the two courses in the future.
It was safe to say that the work undertaken was very challenging as membership demands were high so they needed to get the courses open on time. During my time at the club I also volunteered for the PGA tour’s Northern Trust Open event at the Riviera Country Club located in Los Angeles. To my surprise I was selected to hand mow greens which was a big responsibility. In the evening my duties were to hand roll greens (if needed) and divot the fairways. The experience gained from this event was very valuable to me and something I will never forget. I am very thankful to the director (Frank Heery) at Mediterra for letting me get involved during the busy times at the golf club.
St Andrews Links Trust 2013-2015
After an enjoyable year working in America, the opportunity arose for me to work as a Seasonal Greenkeeper at the home of golf, St Andrews Links Trust (SALT) for three seasons. To work at this prestigious links venue was a great honour. I was situated on The Old Course for two seasons and my last season on the Eden Course which was created by no other than Old Tom Morris. It was a great experience to work on a golf course that had a sustainable approach to manage the fescue surfaces with cultural techniques which included fertilising & wetting agent applications to light top dressing on the sand based surfaces. During my time at SALT I was fortunate enough to work at major events such as The Women’s Open 2013 and The Open Championship 2015
Qualifications, Achievements & the Future
Whilst working at SALT I decided the time was right to gain some sports turf qualifications. As my knowledge of golf courses was quite weak, I needed to build on this, and therefore I decided to take the HNC & HND in Golf Course and Sportsurf Management at the SRUC Elmwood College. Completing these qualifications enabled me to successfully become an R&A scholar and achieve the SRUC Student of The year 2015 award. After I finished the HND, I decided to take the challenge and proceed with the BSc (hons) degree in Sportsturf Science & Management at Myerscough College where I graduated with a 2:1.
Since graduating I have managed to secure a full time job as an Assistant Greenkeeper at well credited Golf Club. I would now like to concentrate on gaining more hands on experience and have set myself targets to eventually work my way up the management ladder.
Here James, Assistant Greenkeeper on the Brabazon Course at the Belfry shares his unique opportunity to experience two tournaments in England and France during a memorable two weeks
Monday 19th June 2017 – Icons of football tournament week is finally here. Months of hard work from the team have come down to this one week. Making sure every piece of detail is done to make the course stand out as a top class venue. Today sees the TV towers being built behind every green, seeing this is quite strange on your home course. Exciting times, as its starting to feel like a big event is approaching.
Tuesday 20th – Lots of other companies are arriving on site now and what was your own course is starting to feel like someone else’s now. Lots of other people around building TV structures, hospitality areas. One of the first frustrations of the week is that all these people don’t tend to treat the course as you do and drive where they want and do what they want to get their job done. All these areas you have been protecting from golf traffic and general wear get damaged within a couple of days. A necessity of the job I suppose but frustrating none the less. The main stand behind the 18th green is starting to be constructed. It is some feature and you can sense what it’s going to feel like when its fully constructed. On the course we start the work on the bunkers, Fly-mowing the surrounds and edging them. Keeping on top of the weeds and moving sand around to maintain the levels.
Wednesday 21st – TV towers, corporate hospitality, marquee and the stand behind 18 are well under way now and structurally almost complete. You definitely can feel the Brabazon is a tournament course now. Condition wise, Director of Golf Course and Estates Angus Macleod and Head Greenkeeper Jamie Wade are happy we are where they need to be the day before the tournament starts. The weather is a real challenge at the moment and the irrigation system is being tested to its limits. A lot of hand watering is being carried out to keep on top of the dry areas. Fairway drain lines and some tees are slightly burning up, so big efforts are being made to keep on top of them. Today has seen the spectator post and rope being put in. Again this is strange to see on your own course. For some of the lads that have been here a while it brings back memories of the British Masters and Ryder Cups so it’s good to hear stories from them.
Thursday 22nd –The rough is growing like there’s no tomorrow. Trying to keep on top of it and the post and rope are making this a challenge as its now in the way for the guys out on the rough mowers. In general it is now pretty much up to tournament spec and some last bits of detail are being finished off just to add more definition to the course. Angus and Jamie are after a bit more speed out of the greens so an evening cut with groomers in to keep a check on some unwanted seed heads is done. Tournament jobs are handed out and I’m excited to be given the main putting green, the famous 10th and 18th as well as 15 and 16 to cut during the match days. Cannot wait for the morning now for the first of the tournament days with the ProAm. The long shifts of the previous week are starting to make us feel the tiredness a bit but once the tournament buzz starts I’m sure that tired feeling will be gone.
Friday 23rd – First day of the Icons Tournament is here. Everyone arrives in good spirits raring to go. Morning briefing is quite brief and simple everyone is already aware of their jobs and just a gentle reminder to make sure everyone stays focussed and keep the already high standards set. It’s quite strange to see your home course now fully set up for a big tournament, all the tees are finished with the advertising boards and finally the Audemars Piguet clocks being put into place. The weather has remained kind to us, still challenging with the prolonged dry spells but nicer than working in the cold rain! The green speed is pretty much where it’s needed to be for the tournament proper so an evening cut again to keep the seed heads under control and the speed where we want it to be is required. Had some great feedback from the players. Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke were both complimentary about the course which is great news for us. End of day 1 and we can all leave happy.
Saturday 24th – A 3:45 alarm call again, ready for a 5am start and a team briefing. Today is the first day of the actual tournament so a bit of excitement is in the air as the team gathers in the morning. Weather is sunny and warm again so nice to be out working so early, however it’s a nightmare to see the lines on the greens on certain holes. The morning set up goes really well again and without issue. The greens are performing well but with the hot dry weather another cut in between sessions is changed to just a roll to ease the stress of them a bit but maintain speed. Holes are also changed and any bunkers that have been used are raked ready for the afternoon. Fairway divoting is also carried out to keep the detail up and to prevent any chance of a players ball landing in a divot.
Sunday 25th – The Final day is here and the week has flown by so quick. A 5am start again to get our jobs completed, however for the singles matches today the tee time is slightly later so pressure is off very slightly today to be completed early on. Everyone is well up to speed with their jobs by now and we actually got the jobs wrapped up quicker than the previous two days as a result, and everything went smoothly. A staff BBQ and a few drinks followed our setup as our part in the tournament is now complete, course looks in great shape again shame the sun is not fully out today to show it off properly to the cameras. The feedback from the players again is fantastic and it’s a relief that all our hard work has gone down well.
Straight from The Belfry and it’s to Birmingham airport for a 1pm flight to Paris to the next part of my two week stint in tournament mode. This time I am going to Le Golf National for the HNA Open de France, a European Tour Rolex Series event. The journey went smoothly until we hit the chaos of the Paris ring roads being gridlocked. Just over two hours from leaving Charles de Gualle airport having met up with David Mclaren from Gleneagles, we finally arrived onsite at Le Golf National for a welcome party and meet the home crew and other volunteers. A few beers and BBQ. Later we headed to our hotel for the week to get sorted out and a welcome early night for the week ahead.
Monday 26th – A 4am alarm call to get ready for the first day of the French open week. 4:45 and all the volunteers and home crew assemble for the first morning meeting. The briefing and for the rest of the week was held by Golf Courses and Estates Manager Alejandro Reyes and his deputy Lucas who welcomed us to Le Golf National and went through all the information we needed about the golf course and how they wanted us to go about moving around the site in order to preserve all of their hard work leading up to the tournament. Also with us first thing was Paul Armitage, General Manager of Le Golf National to give us a welcome and thank us for volunteering for their tournament.
This morning I was put on the bunker team. The morning session was all about getting up to speed with how they would like the bunkers preparing for the week. This was not only the players first day of practice, but ours also!
The evening session was back into the bunkers but this time they were completely smooth raked the bases trampled by foot to give more compaction to the already nice and firm sand.
Tuesday 27th – the same as every day the morning meeting started at 4:45, and today gave us a briefing on how yesterday went. As expected the set up was a bit slower to what was needed for the actual tournament and Wednesdays ProAm. This was just a case of most of the volunteering crew not being up to speed yet with travelling around the site and new and different equipment to use. The good news was the quality was pretty much as it needed to be with just a few details to be picked up on through practice and understanding of the task in hand. This morning was into the bunkers to set them up for day two of the practice rounds, exactly the same as yesterday –smooth rake the sides for compaction and then tine rake the middle lightly. There was a definite difference in speed today of everyone. The bunker team leader decided that It was best to split the team up so that the front and back 9 holes were split and I was asked to be front 9 team leader which was great and nice to be given acknowledgment for the previous day’s work.
The evening session started with a team briefing to let everyone know what stage the staff and the course was at. The morning set up went without any problems and the speed although not quite there yet had picked up greatly.
Le Golf National the previous week had experienced like me in the UK unusually high temperatures and with that came the pressure on the irrigation system and the irrigation technicians themselves. Greens being hand watered was as a morning and nightly job, all the while taking moisture meter readings to keep them between the 15-20% required by the tour and that was certainly a challenge for the guys on that job as it was drying out as fast as it was going on.
Wednesday 28th – This morning saw the first morning of me being front 9 bunker team leader and I don’t mind admitting I was a bit nervous about it. Not only was I thinking I need to make sure everything is perfect but also some of the people on my team worked for Le Golf National, how would they feel about some random guy turning up and potentially telling them to rake the bunker again! Thankfully that only happened a couple of times and they were fine. I did think to myself though who would I prefer to get the wrap from one of the staff or Alejandro and Lucas, I chose the former. Splitting the team worked fantastically we covered 18 holes quicker and easier and the main bunker team leader was very happy, so a job well done and some relief!
The evening session saw us back out on the bunkers to firm up and smooth rake the bases of the greenside bunkers, a single plugged ball lead to this, which goes to show the level of detail they go to in order to make the players happy and the tournament a success. The remainder of the evening saw us divotting the fairways with green sand, and then back to base for some evening food, a well earned beer and some even more well earned sleep!
Thursday 29th – The first tournament day is here and the crew gather nice and early for our briefing. Today the golf course architect Hubert Chesneau is here to wish the team good luck, something he does every year apparently, which is a nice touch. Everyone’s jobs have remained pretty much the same. The weather has noticeably cooled down today, which I think is a bit of a relief for Alejandro and Lucas with the greens being so dry for so long, that side of the pressure has eased slightly I would imagine. Myself and the rest of the front 9 bunker team have a good setup, everything goes smoothly and we are done in great time. It’s a strange feeling the first day of the actual tournament, nothing really changes at all, the task ahead is the same as its been the rest of the week but I think because it’s the actual tournament now there is a focus on leaving no stone unturned in delivering a great set up. There is no second chance or make sure it’s better tomorrow, now is the real deal and I think for that reason it feels different. Back to the maintenance facility everyone heads in one group which is pretty good to see, breakfast is ready and waiting for us like it has been the last few days and I’m sure as hard as I’ve been working, the croissants and pan au chocolates I’ve been having for breakfast are starting to show, who cares back to normal next week! The morning debrief is positive and some good feedback is received. We are to meet back up again at 6pm for the evening shift but in the meantime me and another volunteer go off for a coffee and sit down in the players’ lounge and then off to watch some of the golf for the afternoon in between a quick photo with the Ryder Cup and a very quick moment on TV. Back to the evening shift and it’s a slight change in jobs for me, as much as being on the grass bins for the fairway mowers is slightly boring it’s a chance for a bit of rest from the hard work of raking bunkers. 10pm soon came and time for some tea back in the maintenance facility provided by our catering truck and then back to the hotel and a quick beer with the lads before heading to bed.
Friday 30th – 5 am start again and a morning briefing, and information on the days forecast is not so great. A large amount of rain is forecast and the potential for an electrical storm and it certainly delivered; time to see what the new drainage system installed is made of in a tournament. The rain came down hard and for a good couple of hours, 18 of us where placed on standby ready to go out and push water when needed but that time never arrived, slightly puddling up on some fairways occurred but nothing to worry about. Play was actually suspended for a while as lightening was above us. The drainage system certainly did its job and even more impressive were the bunkers, no washouts, no flooding out. The capillary concrete did its job perfectly much to the relief of Alejandro. It actually took just 30 minutes to get the course back into near as perfect condition as it could be for play to start again, very impressive to say the least.
6pm arrived quickly today and due to the rain, fairways and greens were not cut, just a touch up of bunkers and some fairway divotting and a relatively early finish and back to the hotel for a well received early night.
Saturday 1st July – 5 am start again today, but with the added bonus of a slightly later tee off times as the field of players had now been cut, so a little less pressure to get set up in time. I can’t believe how dry the course is after so much rain we had yesterday. Yet more rain is expected today, not as much as yesterday and no threat of lightening. We are again on standby until 13:30 today to be safe with the rain coming down and again no problems, the drainage here is unreal. Back at the hotel for a much needed afternoon sleep before heading back to the course for the evening shift. This evening I was hand cutting greens which was such a fantastic experience especially getting to cut the 18th in front of a fair few people. This was definitely a highlight of my week and one I will remember forever. Hopefully there will be many more times like this, but as my first time, it’s one I will never forget.
Sunday 2nd – The last day of the tournament is here and the week has flown by. Thankfully today the forecast is great although an unexpected shower during the morning set up was not brilliant. I was back hand cutting greens for the final day, shame it was in the pouring rain but it soon stopped and after breakfast we headed out to the course to watch some of the final days play and later on watch the final groups come down 18 and a chance for all the support staff to go onto the green to watch the winner be presented with his trophy and a photo with him. Such an amazing experience being on the 18th green, being so close to it all going on it was a great end to the week, getting the best view in the house was well deserved by everyone there. Afterwards it was time to relax have a few drinks and some food. We all went to the main bar in the club house where some of the players, caddies and officials were doing the same thing it was another surreal experience getting involved and was just a great way to end the week. Onto the French Golf Federations hospitality suit for a champagne reception and some words from their President; Jean-Lou Charon, thanking everyone for their work and efforts over the past week and also from Thomas Levet who had some nice words to say, also thanking everyone for what they had done to make the week a success.
I can honestly say these last two weeks have been hard work, with late nights and early mornings and running on pretty much adrenaline alone, but what an experience it’s been. I have learnt so much to take away and help me go forward in my career. Working on a tournament at your home club is fantastic, it’s great to be a part of the process in delivering a great course and what I have learnt is going to be so valuable when I one day hopefully have my own course to manage.
I have met some fantastic people and new friends to keep in touch with. Volunteering for a big tournament, I say to anyone thinking of doing it, to do it. Its hard work and the long days catch up with you on your return but it’s worth it so much. I cannot wait to do it again.
This week Royal Birkdale will host The Open for the 10th time, taking it to joint second in the list of most used venues on the current Open rota.
As the world’s most prestigious golf tournament arrives in Lancashire, the course will once again have been prepared by a team of highly-trained greenkeepers who are counted among the almost 6,000 members of the British & International Golf Greenkeepers Association.
He said: “I can’t deny that expectations are higher than ever. But preparations have been smooth so far, and we’re confident of presenting the course in a better condition than ever before. Let’s just hope we get the weather to allow us to show off everything Royal Birkdale has to offer.”
This will be Chris’ fifth Open, having prepared the course for the event twice before, in 1998 and 2008, and also at Muirfield in 1992. His first Open experience was as Deputy Course Manager for the 1974 Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Supporting the home team during the Open itself will be a team of over 50 BIGGA members, drawn from clubs all over the UK and further afield, who have volunteered their time freely and will be on hand to assist with duties such as bunker raking.
Additionally, BIGGA members across the country have worked hard to prepare their courses for Regional and Final Open Qualifying competitions in the build up to this week’s main event.
The BIGGA Volunteer Support Team is invaluable to us,” said Chris. With their help I can be confident that everything out on the course is under control, allowing the home team to undertake all the duties that come with hosting a Major tournament.
Each year the R&A requests the assistance of BIGGA members with hosting the championship, meaning BIGGA members have witnessed some of the greatest duels in golf first hand.
During The Open you can keep track of what’s going on out on the course by following @BIGGALtd and using the hashtag #BIGGASupportTeam.
Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport hosts the 146th Open Championship this July, which will be the 10th time it has been held at this stunning links course north of Liverpool. Since the first Open here in 1954, the course has been, alongside Royal Lytham, the most regular venue for the Championship other than St Andrews. Royal Birkdale will also be hosting the final of the R&A Nine Hole Championship on the Saturday before The Open.
As course manager for the past 22 years, this will be Chris Whittle’s third Open at Royal Birkdale, following two more when he was course manager at Muirfield and deputy at Royal Lytham. Chris has never worked on anything but links courses, and his experience of balancing the demands of the golf course with those of the land’s SSSI status is unparalleled.
Although he says the course set-up for 2017 will be very much the same as it was for the last Open here in 2008, there have been a few recent changes to the course maintenance equipment fleet supplied by local John Deere dealer Turner Groundscare of Tarvin in Chester, whose area sales manager Ian Roberts has been looking after Royal Birkdale on both the sales and service side for over 22 years.
Eight new 180SL walk-behind greens mowers have now replaced the previous 220C models, and have been joined by two new A Series machines, an 8000AE hybrid electric five-gang cylinder mower for the surrounds and an 8800A rough mower. Additional tournament support machinery and staff will be provided for The Open as required.
“Since the last Open at Royal Birkdale in 2008, we have worked very closely with Chris and his team to provide the key greenkeeping staff with technical training at John Deere’s Langar HQ, as well as specialist onsite training. This has been designed to help them become self-sufficient in all the main aspects of machinery servicing and maintenance, and understand how to optimise machine performance,” says John Deere territory manager Marcus Morris.
“This ongoing partnership between the club, John Deere and Turner Groundscare helps us all to achieve the best possible results where they matter, out on the course.”
On the newest machines in the fleet, which also includes greens/tees and fairway mowers, Chris Whittle says: “The new 180SL walk-behinds were recommended to me by John Deere and Turners when it came time to replace the older models, so we got the dealer to send us one on demonstration and it basically sold itself.
“The narrower working width means we get very accurate contour following on our undulating greens, and at John Deere’s suggestion we’ve also had them fitted with groomers, which we’ve never used before. These help to maintain the quality of cut and finish we’re looking for.
“We only use the 8800A rough mower on the semi-rough, as we never cut the rough at Royal Birkdale,” he adds. “This is generally used to mow at two heights, one at around 35mm and the other at around 70mm – it’s a Birkdale thing! We might widen this area from five to 10m if required for tournament purposes. Other than that nothing’s really changed much at all.”
Two new electric TE Gator utility vehicles have also been added to the fleet this year, which now includes three heavy-duty Pro Gators. One is equipped with an HD200 low-profile amenity turf sprayer, one with a cargo box and one with a Dakota top dresser. Aside from the course equipment, the main aspect of running an Open championship that has changed massively in Chris’ eyes is how much bigger the tournament has become – particularly the infrastructure that envelops the event, which had already started to go up on the course in late April.
“I went to Royal Troon last year and it was a real eye opener,” he says. “We always get plenty of experienced greenkeeping support for our team behind the scenes, though, and this year will be no different. All the Open venues send a representative, plus we have a mix of local course volunteers, R&A Scholars and our own Royal Birkdale Artisan Golfers on hand to help get the extra work done. In addition, BIGGA will be providing volunteers to rake bunkers with each match during the Open.
“There’s always a real family atmosphere around the course during the tournament, probably even more so this year as it will probably be my last Open. There will be people that I’ve worked with before at other courses, and some I’ve employed – one lad’s even coming over from Pinehurst Resort in the US, he’s from Southport originally and was a trainee here. It will be hard work, as usual, but I’m really looking forward to it, and to another successful Open at Royal Birkdale.”