The BIGGA Open Support Team battled torrential rain, winds and only the second Monday finish in the competition’s history as they went above and beyond the call of duty at St Andrews.
At times during the week it seemed that everything was conspiring against the tournament and the greenkeepers as sections of golf’s most iconic venue were flooded on the Friday – then unplayable for most of Saturday as the sun shone but high winds prevented play as golf balls began to oscillate on the immaculate greens.
More than 50 BIGGA greenkeeper members had arrived at the Home of Golf in the days leading up to the tournament from across the UK, Germany and America to assist the home greenkeeping team when required and accompany the players around the course.
30mm of rain in the early hours of Friday morning – including 12mm in a thirty minute deluge – only suspended play until 10am as the home greenkeeping team, led by BIGGA members Gordon Moir, St Andrews Director of Greenkeeping, and Gordon McKie, Course Manager on the Old Course, worked wonders to remove standing water from the links.
When high winds suspended play for almost the whole of Saturday, members of the support team showed amazing flexibility and commitment to rearrange personal and professional plans to ensure they could remain on Monday. Many incurred costs to alter flights and trains.
The team arrived at their Elmwood College accommodation the day before the tournament, and a fleet of minibuses transported them to the course on a sunny Wednesday evening. A demonstration of how the bunkers were being presented for the week followed with several team members seizing the opportunity to adjust to raking the Old Course’s large sand traps, before Moir kindly led the team on a tour of the hugely impressive greenkeeping maintenance facilities on site – described as “mindblowing” and “unreal” by some of the greenkeepers.
Members of the team then raked a total of 209 bunkers on Thursday before the elongated second round resulted in various rescheduled matches, minibuses and other plans. The final support team member left the course just after 9pm on Saturday evening, and the team raked 163 bunkers in total during round two and 70 during round three.
The BIGGA Support Team has a long history at the Open. The R&A kindly provide accommodation, food, refreshments and a smart uniform for the week. As usual, many team debutants mingled with more experienced members to sample the unrivalled atmosphere of an Open Championship.
Team member Scott Reeves, Course Manager at Leyland Golf Club, said: “The commitment shown by all the guys has been phenomenal. As greenkeepers, we’re used to being challenged by the weather so you need to be flexible, and this event has shown greenkeeping in a really positive light. It’s been a superb team effort.”
BIGGA CEO Jim Croxton said: “This has been one of the most challenging Opens the BIGGA Support Team has faced. Inclement weather led to constant logistical issues and the abandonment of the best laid plans, yet without exception they adapted superbly to two days of uncertainty and delays and the extension of the tournament into Monday.
“Many of the team put personal and professional plans to one side and paid out of their own pockets to ensure they could remain at the course on Monday, and we are incredibly grateful to them for their flexibility and outstanding commitment. We congratulate the entire team for their sterling efforts during the week, covering very long hours in many cases.
“Everyone at BIGGA would also like to congratulate Gordon Moir, Gordon McKie, the whole greenkeeping team at St Andrews and all the other volunteers who responded wonderfully well to almost unprecedented challenges to ensure an absolutely outstanding links course was presented for the 144th Open.”