The man who led the greenkeeping team which ensured last year’s Ryder Cup was played to its dramatic conclusion has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Jim McKenzie, Director of Golf Courses at Celtic Manor, and his team of 110 staff and volunteer greenkeepers had to cope with the catastrophic effects of half the average monthly rainfall pouring down on The Twenty Ten Course during the weekend of The 2010 Ryder Cup.
Prolonged suspensions in play caused by the weather on both Friday and Sunday meant the tournament was forced into an extra day for the first time in history, but the fact it was finished at all is testament to the resilience and dedication of McKenzie and his team.
It was quite some finish they cleared the course for, as well, as Graeme McDowell clinched a nail-biting, single-point victory for Europe on the 17th green of the very last match.
As winning captain Colin Montgomerie observed at the closing ceremony: “I congratulate Sir Terry Matthews and his fantastic staff at The Celtic Manor Resort and, in particular, a superb vote of thanks goes to Jim McKenzie and his team of 110 greenkeepers who made playing here possible.
“The world was watching and Wales delivered.”
McKenzie totalled less than 11 hours of sleep over four nights as he fought to keep the elements at bay and bring the biggest tournament of his professional career to a successful conclusion.
Even wife Debbie and son Elliot joined the effort as his team worked into the night, laying tons of chip bark to keep the spectator areas safe. They also toiled through long, hard days repairing bunkers and squeegeeing water off the greens and fairways once the rain eased.
“I was gobsmacked when I first heard about being awarded an MBE,” said McKenzie. “It’s an award for the whole team really because the shift they put in over those four days was absolutely extraordinary.”
McKenzie recalls meeting Europe’s skipper Montgomerie in the hotel elevators when he was at his lowest ebb during the long delay to play as the rain kept hammering down on Sunday morning.
“Monty said there was a good chance that if we got no play at all on Sunday then the matches out on the golf course from Saturday evening would be declared halved matches and Europe would go into the concluding singles session two points down.
“He said that would be a big, big blow as we were up in all six matches when play had finished on Saturday night.
“I went back down to rally the troops. I basically just stood in front of them and told them they had a really massive role to play.
“Not only could they help get the Ryder Cup played to a finish, they could also help Europe to win the Ryder Cup. I thought I had a motivated team before, but they nearly knocked me down as they rushed for the door to get out there after hearing those words!”
Since recruitment from Wentworth Club in 1993, McKenzie has overseen the development of all the golf courses at The Celtic Manor Resort having been sold the Ryder Cup dream by owner Sir Terry Matthews.
“I thought he was mad at the time,” admits the 49-year-old Scotsman. “But he pulled it off when people gave us a two per cent chance of winning the bid.
“It was the high point of my professional career. I don’t think I’ll ever describe The Ryder Cup as the most enjoyable experience of my life, but it certainly turned out to be the most satisfying.”
The Celtic Manor Resort www.celtic-manor.com