It may have been the 15th Open Championship hosted at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent, but for the greenkeeping team headed up by course manager Paul Larsen, the 149th Open was an extraordinary and unique event.
Set in the dunes of the Kentish coastline and bisected with swathes of naturalistic grasses and wildflowers, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a nature reserve, not one of the most famous and prestigious golf courses in the world. Yet for Paul, showcasing the natural beauty of the area was a top priority.
Paul comments: “We have amazing views and a unique position as a golf course within a dune land. We made a conscious decision some years ago to move away from the typical golf course with its striped lines and focus on enhancing what makes us special. We brought it back to what it used to be – more wild and natural – and having The Open here has been an opportunity to show people what we’ve been doing.
“When you’re preparing for an event of this magnitude, for us it’s not about modifying the course, adding new holes or making changes to greens and bunkers. It’s about doing what we always do but more regularly and without room for mistakes. We take such pride in our work and were excited to showcase our product.”
Supporting Paul was his resident 16-strong greenkeeping team boosted by the help of two support teams totalling a further 34 greenkeeping specialists from other golf courses both locally and around the UK. Work started at 4am each day and the teams were responsible for hand-cutting the greens, cutting the fairways, tees and aprons and raking the bunkers, all on a daily basis.
In order to sustain such a large greenkeeping resource, Reesink Turfcare, the sole Toro distributor in the UK for golf and sports fields equipment and irrigation products, produced a loan fleet from Toro, global leaders in turfcare machinery to bolster the Toro Reelmaster fairway mowers, Groundsmaster rough mowers, Greensmaster TriFlex Hybrid riding greensmowers and Greensmaster Flex walk-behind greensmowers machines already on site.
As a Toro Total Solutions customer, the machines complement the Toro Lynx Central Control System and over a thousand sprinklers across the greens, tees and fairways.
For Paul, having the support from Reesink and Toro is something he is “so grateful for”. Paul elaborates: “There’s no blueprint for hosting The Open in a pandemic. It’s a unique experience so having the support of the extra fleet from Toro made our job easier, enabling us to double our capacity and help everyone to perform at the top of their ability.”
When asked about dealing with the pressures of hosting a major sporting event in the midst of a pandemic Paul is characteristically pragmatic about it: “There’s no doubt that the pandemic gave us some logistical challenges such as getting staff tested and managing teams to avoid social contact.
“The adrenaline does flow but there’s no secret to getting it right. We just focused on our work. We’d put all the right preparations in place so at the end of the day my view was ‘you’ve got what you’ve got’.
“The nature of our work is always reactive, and we adapted constantly whether it was to the weather or changes in regulations. We were resilient and worked incredibly hard. The players and spectators loved the course and we’ve had feedback from members of the sporting press saying it was one of the best Opens they’d seen.”
Having welcomed up to 32,000 visitors per day, the course is currently awaiting a full assessment from Paul and his team. Paul elaborates: “At the end of August when The Open is fully off site we will be able to assess the course and the extent of the damage from footfall. I expect there’ll be some areas that require reseeding or new turf. We may have to burn some areas of the rough to regenerate it but essentially it’ll be routine maintenance.”
In Paul’s ten years working at Royal St George’s, the 2021 Open was one of the highlights of his career, particularly making such a major success of the event in a pandemic.
Paul concludes: “The biggest achievement? It was definitely keeping everyone safe. It was a pleasure to welcome spectators back to the sport safely and hear the excitement from the crowd. You could feel the energy and it was a fitting end to all our hard work.”
To talk to someone about how the Toro range would suit your course, call Reesink Turfcare on 01480 226800 email email@example.com or visit www.reesinkturfcare.co.uk