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.
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