Casper Erikson of Denmark shares his month long experience during the FEGGA Greenkeeper Experience programme in partnership with Textron Golf at Le Golf National
This is my story about the Ryder Cup journey I´ve been on from early June when I first heard from Dean Cleaver from FEGGA and until the end of the Ryder Cup in late September. Enjoy!
It´s Saturday June 2nd 2018, and while I´m playing a match play event at my local golf club, my phone starts to beep (as a phone does when an email is incoming) and quickly I apologise several times to my opponent. I get hold of my phone in the pocket to switch off the sound, and I see that the email I just received was from Dean Cleaver, and the subject was “FEGGA Greenkeeper Experience Programme, in partnership with Jacobsen”. I quickly read the email, which said that I was shortlisted and he had some questions for me. From that moment, the rest of my match, my golf was pure S…! (In case you guys wonder how my match ended.. I LOST BIG TIME!!)
The next couple of days I was over the roof from excitement, it was the freaking Ryder Cup on the line here! All kinds of questions came to my mind, like, how can a guy from a very small town (600 residents) in little Denmark be shortlisted to help the greenkeeper team at the Ryder Cup Venue! In other words I couldn´t quite understand that I was one of 5 left.
I answered the questions that Dean asked, and we scheduled a Skype call to have a chat. I waited 4 days from when I answered his questions and until we had arranged the chat on Skype. During these days I was afraid my head was going to explode, I can´t describe how excited I was for that Skype call! The day of the chat arrived and until he called me I was really really nervous. Once the chat was over, I was surprisingly calm, now there was nothing more I could do, other than wait for Dean and the guys to decide which of the 5 they choose.
I was told by Dean that I would get their decision on the next coming Monday. It was some very very long days of waiting for that message to come. But earlier this year in January 2018 I was selected by the Danish greenkeeper association to attend the Danish edition of FTMI. During that stay I accidentally (we had to guess a guy’s birthday in a specific month, and the guy who hit the right date or came closest would win) won a 2 day trip with the mentors to Le Golf National to play the course and to speak with Alejandro Reyes about how he manages that course. It just so happened that the trip I was going on to Le Golf National was during the day we would get the answer on which of us 5 guys they chose for the FEGGA Experience programme.
The day arrived, and we started to play. The first 3 holes were played in such hard rain it was like a shower. Normally I HATE playing golf in the rain, but that day all I cared about was the email I waited on!! The guys I played with knew that I was waiting for the answer, and during 14 holes they all mocked me about it, mostly because my golf was s… again (Let’s just say it was because I was waiting for the answer and not because that golf course was by far the most difficult course I have ever played!) On the 15th hole, a short par 3 over water, my ball just got over the water and onto the green and a 50 feet putt was waiting for me on the green. While we where walking towards the green, I saw Alejandro coming towards the green from the back side. I honestly didn´t think twice about it, during the entire match there had been greenkeepers all around the course working, so of course he would be there. He approached me when I was on my way to my ball, and he asked what I thought of the course, and if I liked how the greens reacted and played, and then suddenly he said, “Casper I also have a message for you from Dean Cleaver. You are the one we have selected to attend the FEGGA experience programme, if you would like to”. If I would like to?!! In my head I thought, of course I would like that, but what I actually did say to him, I really can´t remember! I was lost of words and my hands were shaking and I couldn´t believe it was me they had selected. That moment I´m sure I will never forget. (If anyone wonder: I hit my putt 15 feet short, with Alejandro and the guys I was playing with laughing!! Drained the par putt and made par on 16, 17 and 18. Obviously it was a message like that I needed to be able to play acceptable golf again.) After the round, Alejandro was waiting for us to come in, and we had a short talk about what I could expect on my stay there. I really looked forward to be going to Le Golf National, that guy is really something. If any of you guys ever get a chance to work for him, never hesitate, just go and do it, I promise you, it will be worth it!
The day of my trip to Le Golf National arrived, I was super excited, finally the day had come that I had been waiting for for 2 and a half months. Ready as ever I boarded the plane ready to go.
I arrived at the airport in Paris, and when I walked to the arrival hall, there was a guy there waiting for me with a sign with my name on it. Just for a couple of seconds I felt kind of important, but quickly the taxidriver said to come with him. We needed to go pick some other guys up, and they were already waiting for us. Damn! I guess I’m not so important after all! But what a welcome to receive, from day one and throughout the entire month the guys at Le Golf National was nothing but good to me and all of them made me feel very welcome. We picked up the other two guys, an Englishman from Manchester, and a guy from South Africa. Two very nice guys I got to spend the month with.
The drive from Charles de Gaulle to Le Golf National was a little more than an hour, and depending on traffic it could be a lot more, but before I new it, all I saw was signs showing the Ryder Cup, and it hit me: I was really here now. The first thing I saw on my way to the course, was a really big hospitality tent. I had never seen such a big tent before, and as we drove by we could see the grandstand, and I started to realize how big it was. We turned to the right in the following roundabout and before we could get inside the fences, armed guards had to clear us first. Armed guards around a golf course a month before a big tournament, I really started to realize how big this thing was. I wasn´t even inside and on the course yet, and already I had just lost my jaw and seen the wow factor from the outside. Now I just wanted to get in and get started. A guy came out to the gate, we waited one second after he talked to the guard, and then the taxi drove us inside and dropped us off in the middle of the yard just outside the greenkeeper shed. Finally I was here, and what a place! The size of everything, the excitement, the buzz, and all the machines that were lined up. Wow, just wow!
The fairway mowers ready to go to work!
The guy who got us inside the gate came along and welcomed us to Le Golf National. He was important, it was the guy who had spent the last two years helping organize all the workers that was going to be there for the tournament. And for approx. 180 guys where 150 of them where coming in from all over the world, there was a lot of planning for him to do. He showed us around the place, found some clothes for us, and showed us our accommodation, which were some small houses, like a little vacation home. The accommodation was just outside of the greenkeeper shed, and it was all we needed. A room with a bed, a small kitchen, a small living room, and a toilet. As a bonus we lived alongside with a lot of the full-timers there, so very quickly we got to know them, which I am sure was very important to make the month there a great experience.
I lived in the house right behind the white car. At first with a young guy from Morocco, and the last two weeks with a Spanish guy. We had about an hour to check out the place and the course before we had to check in to the afternoon shift. The time arrived, and we were introduced to the team and the team got to know who we were, and where we were from. Finally it started.
From day one I got to learn a lot. These guys have an insane eye for details, and within two hours I was already learning a lot, and I loved it. Every morning we were told, that we should always remember to take our time to do our job perfect, no matter how much time that might be. At my home club on a normal day we are 5 people including the Course Manager to take care of the 18 holes golf course, and the practice facility. When we arrived at Le Golf National, there were approx. 30 people to take care of the course, and the practice facility. And to observe how the Course Manager and First Assistant handled all these people was magnificent to see. These two and the team leaders really showed how important the right kind of communication is. A small thing such as which language to speak was a big thing to deal with every day. We are in France, but there are people from France, Spain, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, Denmark and lots of other countries. Even though I think I speak quite good English, it was hard to do all the communication in English, and you do use a lot of energy on the language part. Thankfully I also learned a great deal with it, it´s hard to describe, but you learn a lot when you are forced to speak another language other than your birth language every day. No matter how much the Managers had to attend to, the communication stayed the same, and it really inspired the entire team to come together and work as one unit. No matter when and how many times us new guys asked the same stupid questions they just answered them over and over again like every time was the first one. A lot of the evenings when we were done with work, because we lived alongside a lot of the staff, we hung out with these guys, and I think that meant a lot as to how they reacted on us during our stay.
During the first two weeks we were a part of the normal greenkeeper team. We helped them with whatever they had to do. A normal day at Le Golf National the time I was there contained a morning shift and an afternoon shift. The first two weeks was a lot of final preparations on the course. All the bunker edges were hand seeded, like you take the tip of a knife with a couple of seeds and put it inside the ground where it is needed. Some of the bunker edges were returfed, we changed small pieces of grass around the greens where the grass was bad. Everything was with an insane eye of details because, as they said, the television shows everything! The passion the greenkeepers showed in fixing every little piece of bad grass was impressive, no areas were left out. We also used an entire day with 30 guys handpicking weed from the rough, all the rough, no areas were left out. At first I thought why? But when we were done and saw the areas from a larger distance, I could see why. Again, it was the details. That was exactly that they were looking for in all aspects all over the course: Perfection.
For a guy who normally comes from a total of 5 guys managing an entire course to be a part of such a large team, was a really great experience. Every day the course had to be moved a little bit closer to the perfect condition. That means that every day one guy measured everything on the greens; moisture, firmness and greenspeed both in the morning and in the afternoon. They didn´t take any chances, they preferred to know by the numbers where they were.
One of the first days I was told that we need to cut the greens surrounds, and we were 8 guys appointed. I remember thinking, why 8 guys? But I found out why. All areas on the greens surrounds were to be mowed with a normal Honda lawnmower, like the one everyone has to mow their grass in their own garden. The areas are large, really large, especially when you need to mow it with a lawnmower. So I actually went from “this is a nice little job where I really get a chance to talk to the guys”, to “ohh boy I´m tired and going directly to bed, see you tomorrow guys!” Tired? Yes. Hard? Yes. Learnfull? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely! I’m not used to do a lot of the cutting part with lawnmowers and single cutters. It’s just a different experience, like you are closer to the grass, and see a lot more details on how the grass behave. It’s kind of hard to explain if you haven´t tried it, somehow I got to learn something about how the grass is cut, and what difference it makes when you cut it with a lawnmower vs. a larger machine.
When the first two weeks were over, we were finished with repairing all the areas and we started to train for the larger tasks. For 2 weeks I was a part of the fairway team, again I thought it was going to be simple. But when there are 12 fairway mowers and they must mow in a specific way on a specific route and finish within a specific time on a specific hole, it wasn´t so simple. Actually it wasn’t simple at all! One could think that when there are so many guys doing the cut, you could just relax, but not at all! Everything, every little detail had to be perfect. Small things as the overlap from the one in front of you, the distance to the one in front, the awareness on your own and the other machines and to top it all, it was 12 guys who had just met each other. Luckily the most important language we spoke with each other was common; greenkeeping! And I was actually surprised by how similar greenkeeping is all over the world. Yes people do of course have their different opinions and ways they get the job done, but everyone gets how it is to feel their machine and when everyone is eager to get the most perfect job done, it always works out, no matter how many different ways people would have done the job. I can´t say this enough, the communication was by far what I learned most about.
When we got to the Ryder Cup week, we were split into teams, and every team was responsible for a specific area on the course. The team I was on during that week was responsible for the holes from 8-12, this included everything except the fairways and the approaches. This included cutting the tees, cutting the green, the 2nd cut and raking the bunkers. All bunkers were raked by hand and then paintrollers, yes paintrollers! First all the edges were watered and then hardened with a large roll, then the entire sides were “painted” with a 6 inch wide paintroller, and finally the bottom was raked from the pin position to the center of the bunker.
The final guys who left the hole before it was ready, was the two guys who walked around with backpack blowers and blowed all the areas around the greens and bunkers, so the grass all the people had been walking around in, was standing up in the right direction. If the greens surround, tees surround and rough were about to be mowed, it was done during the afternoon/evening when the players were finished for the day. The course was setup like this every day of the week, and everyone did an amazing job taking part in delivering an outstanding golf course. One of the highlights of my journey, was being able to actually work at The Ryder Cup. This is so unique and has its history and legacy to it. When you are there, you can feel and sense its very special and warm atmosphere.
To be part of such a team was a great experience. All the guys from all over the world, and everyday talking greenkeeping and sharing experiences was to me a privilege, and I sucked in all the information possible from everyone. And just being at the centre of such a big event for that time period, living side by side with such highly skilled people and to talk to them and having them sharing their knowledge and see and feel their passion has been an extreme joy and motivation for me. Hopefully I get to see some of the people again someday!
Finally, I just want to say a big thank you to FEGGA for giving me this valuable opportunity. I also want to say a big thank you to Jacobsen for supporting this educational experience, which for me personally has been a career changing opportunity.
Featuring the same advanced technology as John Deere’s award-winning A Model family of fairway, rough and trim & surrounds mowers, the new 6000A Series PrecisionCut fairway machines will be launched at BTME 2019 in Harrogate next January and will be available from UK and Irish dealers in the spring.
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All three models utilise a powerful 24.7hp (18.4kW) diesel engine, and boast several other premium performance and comfort features. Just like the existing John Deere A Model range, these latest mowers offer exceptional cut quality, even on slopes, thanks to the standard LoadMatch system, while the innovative eHydro transmission eliminates linkages between the foot pedals and the hydrostatic pump.
Cutting widths are 2.03m (80in) on the 6080A and 2.54m (100in) on the 6500A and 6700A, with a choice of 46 or 56cm (18 or 22in) QA5 5in or QA7 7in diameter cutting units depending on the model. In addition, the 8mph (12.9kph) mowing speed allows operators to cut larger areas in less time.
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Bulgarian Golf Greenkeepers Association hold its Annual Conference at the Club House of Pravets Golf Club
On 16th of November 2018 the Bulgarian Golf Greenkeepers Association held its Annual Conference at the Club House of Pravets Golf Club. There were 40 people participating from 8 different countries which is a great success for our Association. The program was very diverse. There were many new members from golf courses and football pitches. Outfield demonstrations were taking place on the back of the biggest double green on the Balkans – 3200m2.
The conference started with the speech of the chairman of BGGA – introducing his own vision and ideas about the organisation and how it became a leading educational touchstone in the industry. Then the microphone was given to Dean Cleaver (Executive Officer FEGGA). It was very inspirational to listen for the future opportunities and for the willingness to develop the strong relationship among FEGGA and BGGA.
The next lecturer was Simeon Liljenberg (ESL Group, Sweden). It was a great honour to have him on our conference and share with our members and guest how one football pitch facility can be run on a highly professional level and make a profit. It was very interesting to know how so many events can be combined in literally no time between them – from football to race track to horse riding to concerts.
The word was given to James Whittick (Velvit Ltd., UK) after that. He introduced the fertiliser manufacture company to the Bulgarian market. The technology and the professional approach of its products were more than impressive.
The 19th hole was a real storm during the first coffee break. The guys were very excited and inspired from the seen so far. It was great pleasure to sit back and watch what was happening and BGGA team felt very satisfied and pleased of the organisation.
Straight after our members had the opportunity to see outside demonstration there was a presentation of Sjoerd Broos (Slectline, Holland). He introduced the high quality marking paint and gave us a great comparison why they are one of the best on the market.
Just before lunch we had the privilege to listen to Teodor Dentchev (Toro Company). Our main sponsor has always been part of the events and the support through the years has been huge. The know-how and the innovations in the machinery were more than welcomed from the guest and members. The future is always brighter with the sponsors as Toro and co-thinking people as Teodor.
Later in the afternoon we were honoured to listen the experienced Russian superintendent of Skolkovo Golf Club, Russia – Denis Koltykhov. He shared his knowledge and challenges that he has in his work place. Our members became very exited from what was presented and found a friend and good colleague in Denis`s face.
As a last speaker the Annual Conference presented Guy Stewart (Dennis and Sisis, UK). An outfield demonstration was made of a Dennis mower and a Sisis scarifier. The members and guests did not mind the cold weather and showed a great interest. Inside the presentation continued with some background and type of the products on the market. The best of it was the understanding of everyone that the variety of attachment units and tractor mounted units would be of high interest and well accepted in the turf industry in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian Golf Greenkeepers Association set very high standards with the passing event. It was very well accepted and highly attended. The feedback was very positive and definitely encourages the board members to keep up the good work.
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The I-80 is available now. Learn more at hunterindustries.com.
When I first applied to be part of the volunteer team at the 2018 Ryder Cup my only objective was to get an answer from Le Golf National. I knew that there would be hundreds, if not thousands of applications being sent to be part of the volunteer team and the only thing that I was certain of was that if I didn´t apply nobody would be coming to Estonia to offer me a position. So in the spring of 2017 I made my initial contact with Le Golf National about volunteering at the 2017 French Open with the long term goal of helping out at the Ryder Cup. Unfortunately for me, I was told no. But again, „no“ was an answer and at least I applied.
As luck would have it, in February of 2018 I saw that FEGGA, along with Capillary Concrete, had posted an opportunity to be part of ten greenkeepers that they would be sending to the Ryder Cup. Eventhough I had been turned down applying myself, there was no reason I couldn´t apply through FEGGA. I knew that they wanted to have as many countries represented as possible, so the only reason I had to be optimistic about my application was because I was the only person applying from Estonia. The greenkeepers from England and Germany, for example, had much stiffer competition.
The good news arrived on March 28, 2018…….“ After careful consideration of all the applicants, we are very pleased to offer you place with the FEGGA team of ten.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I must have read that email at least twenty times, because I was sure I had missed something, or somebody was playing a practical joke. But I had actually been accepted to be part of the volunteer team at the 2018 Ryder Cup! Prior to the Ryder Cup I had no experience volunteering at any European Tour or PGA Tour events so I had no idea what to expect. I spoke with several friends who had volunteered at various tour events who shared insights with me and what I might be able to expect, but they all said that the Ryder Cup experience will be at a whole different level.
Entering the Le Golf National grounds for the first time, seeing that massive grandstand behind the first tee, and walking towards the maintenance house I knew that I was in for something special. Then getting acquainted with the maintenance facility was unbelievable, because there was equipment everywhere! I knew there were going to be upwards of 180 greenkeepers working this event, which means you need equipment for everybody, but I couldn´t imagine what so much equipment actually looked like in real life.
The first two days of Ryder Cup week were really special for one reason: no spectators on the course. During those days we were able to get familiar with the golf course, take A LOT of pictures in areas that we probably wouldn´t be able to access once spectators were out there, and get a bunch of finishing touches done on the golf course.
Once practice rounds and Celebrity Ryder Cup matches began we started to have a lot more down time during the day. Many of the team who had been there for the weeks, and months leading up to the Ryder Cup were taking well deserved naps in the staff area, but seeing as I was there for only a week I wanted to make the most of every opportunity. A friend of mine even joked that when a staff member from Le Golf National asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to help do something during the day, I had my hand up before I even knew what I was volunteering for! On Thursday and Friday I was able to match rake for both European and Team USA practice rounds. Being so close to the best players in the world and seeing how they practiced and executed their shots was something really special to see up close.
I was also fortunate enough to have my name pulled out of a hat to match rake on Saturday morning. Walking the golf course for over four hours with Ian Poulter, John Rahm, Jordan Speith and Justin Thomas was something I will never forget. Watching these four athletes go shot for shot was just incredible to watch from so close. The passion and emotions that these men showed was just amazing. It must be said though, my one disappointment from the week happened during this match- it ended on the 17th green. I was really hoping to be able to walk down the 18th fairway towards that giant grandstand and see and feel what it would be like to have thousands of people cheer the players on. A view like that would be something very few people get to experience. But if not being able to walk down the 18th is my only disappointment of the week, I would have to say it was a great week!
Sunday was an interesting day for me. The entire team had gelled into on cohesive unit, executed our plan to the best of our abilities, and we were the rock stars of the event. I had only been there for a week, and I would be lying if I said it wasn´t an emotional day for me- I couldn´t imagine what it was like for Alejandro Reyes and his staff who had been working for years towards this event. I hate to use a cliché to describe how I felt that day, but the best way to describe my feelings would be: I wasn´t sad that it was over, I was glad that it happened.
When hosting any kind of big tournament, whether it is a club championship, national championship or an international event, for me the most stressful time is the months and weeks leading up to the opening tee shot. There is so much work that needs to be and it always feels like you don´t have the time, equipment or man-power to get everything done. Once the tournament is under way, that is the fun part of the tournament. You are pretty much stuck with what you have done, and you are just cutting, and maintaining during the tournament. So going to the Ryder Cup, I got to take part of the most fun part of a tournament without having to do all the work in the lead-up.
During the morning course set-up I was moving bunker boards. By no means a very labour intensive job, but it was a job that I had not done previously. The evening set-ups we much more interesting. That is where I got to see just how much attention to detail you can put into a golf course when you have 180 greenkeepers, not 180 people, but 180 trained and qualified greenkeepers, working on a golf course. It was apparent that everyone had checked their egos at the door when one evening I was divoting fairways and the following evening picking up rubbish around the golf course with two head greenkeepers from two prestigious golf clubs in the UK.
Many of my club members back in Estonia have asked me what exactly did we do with 180 greenkeepers? Cut the grass with scissors? Yes, actually! Sprinkler heads and catch basins were all trimmed up by hand, as well as some bunker edges. On top of that, green surrounds and approaches were all cut using pedestrian mowers. During the entire week I did not see a single ride-on mower get closer to a greens complex then thirty meters.
At my club we do our bunkers a few times a week using a mechanical bunker rake and rarely do we worry about the shape of the bunker, and never once have we been concerned about the moisture levels. But at the Ryder Cup we were doing bunkers every day by hand, checking depths, firmness, moisture levels, and making sure not a single grain of sand was out of place. During my entire week at the Ryder Cup, the only “are you kidding me?” moment actually came while working in the bunkers. I knew that moisture levels in the bunkers were important but I had never seen, let alone heard, of wetting agents being used in bunkers to maintain proper moisture levels. That was something that I was not expecting.
What most volunteers seemed to enjoy during the week was not having to make any important decisions. When working at our home courses we are the ones who have all the pressure to make the right decisions, and are always questioning ourselves whether we made the right choice. During the week at Le Golf National that burden was taken off of us and all we had to do was follow instructions. Sure, most people got a couple phone calls during the week asking to help solve some crisis at home, but for the most part we got to enjoy the being a young greenkeeper again doing the jobs we rarely get to do. It was really nice change of pace to be able to rake bunkers, divot fairways and edge cartpaths.
The week I was able to spend at the 2018 Ryder Cup has been the highlight of my career so far. Being able to spend a week networking, and working alongside some of the best greenkeepers on the planet will be invaluable to my career. I still like to consider myself a young man, and I still have many more things that I would like to accomplish during the my greenkeeping career, but if the week I spent at the 2018 Ryder Cup stays in the top three highlights of my career I would think I´ve had a pretty good career.
There are a couple of people I would like to thank for making this opportunity possible. First and foremost, Dean Cleaver from FEGGA and Martin Sternberg from Capillary Concrete for selecting me to be part of their delegation. It was truly an honour and priviledge to represent our industry at the biggest show on turf. Also, I have to thank Alejandro Reyes and the entire staff from Le Golf National. From the very first day you were able to create a team atmosphere. There was no “Le Golf National Team” and “Volunteer Team.” We were all part of one big team working towards the same objective. What you guys were able to accomplish that week was something really special. Organizing 180 greenkeepers from all over the world to work as one team was something amazing to be a part of.
For anyone considering volunteering at any event: send in your application!! There will be plenty of other people applying for the same opportunities as you, but the only thing you can be sure of is if you don´t apply you will not be going.