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.
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