Home and Away – A Greenkeepers Experience – James Cleaver, Assistant Greenkeeper at the Belfry

Home and Away – A Greenkeepers Experience – James Cleaver, Assistant Greenkeeper at the Belfry

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.

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