Belgian FEGGA-student in Sweden: May and June update

Belgian FEGGA-student in Sweden: May and June update

The weather is getting warmer. Or less cold I should say, because 12 to 15 degrees isn’t that great. This is supposed to be the warmest region in Sweden, but in Stockholm (400 km to the north) they’ve hit 25  degrees already. It doesn’t make it easier at our high end club in Kristianstad, but at least the grass is growing now. We try our best to give the players a nice golf experience and we try to maintain the high position on the Swedish ranking.

Presentation, presentation, presentation.

That’s what the young Bevan Tattersal was told at The Belfry and now he’s telling it to us, the FEGGA students. There’s no time pressure but it has to be perfect. When you don’t like one of you mowing lines: mow it again. When a sign on the course looks a bit crooked, stop what you’re doing and put it straight again. And when the grass on a path is starting to get a bit thin, we take out the sod cutter and put down some new turf. These might be just details, but on a course like this they have to be perfect.

Pin positions and tee markers are moved daily. To keep the wear and tear to a minimum, but mainly to improve the experience for the golfers. People staying at the lodges like to play daily and it’s a lot more fun to play on a “different” course.

The maintenance can get quite physical around here. Greens and tees are cut with single mowers and all bunkers on the East Course are raked by hand. The bunker edges, which are mostly revetted, are cut by hand with  scissors. It’s very labour intensive but it provides an excellent finish.

To round up this little summary we’ve got the fairways. These are cut daily at a specific angle to get perfect “diamonds” on the surface. They all have to have the correct shape and point straight at the green. Clippings are always collected. To keep these fairways in top shape there’s also the divot crew. Each Tuesday morning about ten volunteers from the club fill up all divots. The members here are really proud of there club. They happily perform this task and take pride in it.

Golfer / Greenkeeper

All greenkeepers here at Kristianstad’s Golfklubb play golf, but two of them are actual professional players. Ludwig “Ludde” Nordeklint was mainly active on the Scandinavian and Challenge Tour. Here at KGK he’s also well known for his hole-in-one on hole seven, a par 4 dogleg. Ludde has always combined his professional golf with his job as a greenkeeper. That’s something he would never trade in to become a teaching pro.

Åke Nilsson also started at the Scandinavian Tour, but reached the European Tour after a couple years. He has certainly made his mark with over 30 tournaments and a couple top ten finishes. During the years before the pandemic he mainly played on the Challenge Tour, but this year he’s trying to get to the European Tour once again through the Qualifying School. Meanwhile he works as a greenkeeper at his home club in Kristianstad. He enjoys this so much that he definitely sees his future in greenkeeping.

It might seem a bit odd these days, going from professional golfer to greenkeeper (certainly for me as a Belgian), but it wasn’t always the case. The first club professionals often acted as greenkeepers as well. Old Tom Morris, widely regarded as the father of modern greenkeeping, won The Open four times between 1861 and 1876… It does make sense when I think about it: Ludde and Åke are both physically strong and they combine attention to detail with their perception of the golf game. Åke’s vision on greenkeeping: “I’d like to get the course in a state in which I would want to play it myself”. In my opinion that has to be one of the best possible motivations for a greenkeeper!

Through our national greenkeepers association in Belgium we try to get our greenkeepers into playing golf themselves. A good chef has to taste what he’s preparing, right? We’re very pleased our yearly greenkeepers golf tournament is still gaining popularity. After a Covid break in 2020 we would like to resume this tradition this autumn. I could use some practice myself, so I’m going to get my golf bag and I’m off to the practice area. Hej så länge!

A first time for everything

June was an important month for us FEGGA-students. The first of three big tournaments was scheduled this month, and it was a historic one. At the Scandinavian Mixed, which was played at Vallda G&C, men and women battled for the very first time on the European Tour for the same prize money. All of this on the same golf course with mixed flights, only the tee positions were different. It was a challenge for the organisation to keep things competitive between men and women, but they succeeded very well. After the cut on Friday the top 20 looked very “mixed” indeed. The heavy wind on Saturday however proved to be a big advantage for the men and it knocked a lot of women back. In the end Alice Hewson grabbed the 3rd place as the first woman, only two strokes behind the champion Jonathan Caldwell. Henrik Stenson, Annika Sörenstam and the entire organisation were very pleased about this successful experiment and we’ll definitely see more of this in the future.

For me personally the Scandinavian Mixed was also a milestone. It was the first time I was at a big, international tournament as a greenkeeper. I’ve visited the Belgian and Dutch Open in the past as a spectator. To be part of it as a greenkeeper however let’s you see the course from a different perspective. On Sunday prior to the tournament week we were welcomed by course manager and former tour player Johan Axgren and his assistant Niklas Andersson. As I wrote last month in my blog, Swedish tour players find their way into greenkeeping more easily after their playing career than what we’re used to in Belgium. Obviously that’s a big advantage if you’re in charge of the maintenance of the course during such a big event. During the welcoming speech and the subsequent tour I immediately noticed the relaxed atmosphere. The expectations were high but with over 30 greenkeepers we were well prepared to tackle these challenges without too much stress.

Vallda G&C, Valhalla for fescue

Thirty may not seem that many for a big tournament like this, but Vallda is a very particular golf course. It opened quite recently in 2009 and was designed by Martin Hawtree, who found inspiration for this course in the Scottish heathland courses. It was seeded wall to wall with red fescue. The maintenance is done in a sustainable way with minimal input, all to preserve these fine leaved grasses. Inspiration was found in the ideas of Jim Arthur, who wrote them down in his book “Practical Greenkeeping”. Do we have to fertilise now? Should we irrigate now? Is cutting necessary now? In doubt: don’t do it. Regarding the fine leaved grasses that we love on our golf course, the wrong maintenance could cause a lot more damage compared to not enough maintenance.

Because of this low input strategy there is a lot less cutting to be done, even during the tournament week. The biggest challenge was not letting the greens get too fast. Considering the open environment and course design, the ideal stimp reading was 10 feet. Faster speeds on these hard fescue greens could be troublesome, especially during windy weather. Three to four times a day the moisture content and surface hardness were measured on the greens. With this data and considering the weather forecast the daily maintenance was determined. During the tournament week all greens were cut on Monday morning and Saturday evening. On Tuesday only 6 specific greens were cut and another 5 on Wednesday. If you compare this to the average golf course, you’ll see that 30+ greenkeepers is plenty. This also meant that we could focus on the finish of the bunkers and the overall presentation of the golf course. As Eddie Adams, Director of Agronomy of the European Tour, told us: “the difference between good and great is in the details”.

On Sunday Eddie Adams was very pleased about the maintenance during the tournament. Needless to say the atmosphere among the greenkeepers was very good that last day. We all could watch the conclusion of the tournament in a laidback atmosphere, and that’s more remarkable than it seems. Because of Covid there were only a couple hundreds of spectators allowed on the course. That meant that we, the greenkeepers, had front row seats when Jonathan Caldwell gained his first victory on the European Tour. The Northern Irishman praised the golf course and talked about how it reminded him of the courses back home. Vallda is the kind of golf course that I really like myself, so I agree with him completely: it was a great week on a beautiful golf course. I’d like to thank Johan, Niklas and the entire team at Vallda once more for the hospitality and the amazing experience!

A new goal

Of course a lot more has happened this month. We visited Malmö FF for instance, the biggest football club in Sweden, where we got an excellent tour by head groundsman Johan Kellerman. There was also the confirmation that the Creekhouse Open (LET) will take place beginning of September at Kristianstad’s Golf Club. Because of Covid it was unclear for a long time whether spectators would be allowed or not. Now that we’re certain the tournament is on, we have a nice goal to work towards. I am done for the day however. It’s Midsommar here in Åhus, home of the Absolut distillery, and that means vodka and pickled herring. It would be rude to ignore these local traditions, so I’ve got no choice but to take part… Hej så länge!

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