As Royal St George’s prepares for its 13th Open, Neil Metcalf, Head Greenkeeper, and his team are putting together the final touches for the big event.
Preparations began four years ago. Throughout that time, Neil and his team have been able to rely on the support of STRI, working as official agronomists to the R&A Championship Committee, to ensure that golf courses used for the Open are in excellent agronomic condition.
Stuart Ormondroyd, STRI’s Official Agronomist to the R&A Championship Committee for England and Wales, has been working with Royal St George’s and outlines the changes and preparation for the Open 2003. Here is his report.
Royal St George’s are the hosts for the 2003 Open Championship and this year’s venue is situated just outside the pretty town of Sandwich on the Kent coast. With two of the four Final Qualifiers close by (Prince’s and Royal Cinque Ports) the area is steeped in golfing history. This will be the 13th Open Championship in the club’s history and will be played from the 17th to 20th July.
The Golf Course – A New Challenge
Many of the pros returning to St George’s will find a number of changes to the golf course, including a new 14th green beyond the old position and tucked further in against the out of bounds fence. Additional bunkers have been sited on holes like the 13th to challenge the longer hitters, but perhaps the biggest test will be in respect of the nine new Championship tees: at the 2nd 4th 6th 8th 10th 11th 12th 13th and 15th. For the Open the course has not only been lengthened by 246yds but the tee positioning in deep rough adds another degree of difficulty in respect of changing the line of play, including the angle across the carry to the fairway. The par for the course is now 71 with the difficult 4th hole increasing by 29 yards and the total yardage being 7,106 yards.
Another major improvement has been the upgrading of practice facilities, including a purpose built level practice tee which is in such pristine condition it is almost a shame to allow the golfers to use it! The practice putting green has been doubled in size to accommodate a practice bunker facility and there is also a defined chipping area too.
The Course Management Team
Playing quality, definition and presentation are at the core of successful management and the improvement to the Open Championship from year to year. The Head Greenkeeper, Neil Metcalf and his team are on course to produce the high standards demanded, aided by a recent major upgrading of the Maintenance Facility Complex and surrounds. Along with machinery improvements Neil and his staff now have the best possible base to maintain the current level of playing quality, yet always looking to achieve higher standards.
Investment in a new fully integrated irrigation system allows for improved irrigation of the course, including using water more effectively and establishing enhanced consistency, particularly on the very undulating fairways. Attention has also been paid to rough management and especially reducing the coarse grass content. This element is tied in with the ecology management plan and STRI’s Ecologist carries out a pre and post inspection of the course with the aim of fulfilling the remit for the Open to take place, yet protecting ecologically sensitive areas. After the Open all parties work to complete renovation whilst maximising ecological development.
Like all Championship links venues the effect of the wind plays a major part on the scoring. Nevertheless, whatever the weather we can all look forward with anticipation to the world’s best golfers battling against the course on the real test of golf that is Royal St George’s.
STRI at The Open
As the Official Agronomists to the R & A Championship Committee the STRI specialist agronomy team visits all 9 Open venues twice a year every year and the 4 Final Qualifiers twice per year when the associated Open venue comes on to the rota (usually 4 years in advance of a Championship). We also visit all the Regional Qualifiers once per year when they are on the rota .
This will be my first Open at Royal St George’s following on my involvement at Royal Lytham (2001) and Royal Birkdale (1998), as well as the Amateur at Royal Porthcawl/Pyle & Kenfig (2002) and this year the Walker Cup at Ganton. My colleagues and myself are delighted and consider it to be a privilege to be associated with what undoubtedly is the best championship in the world.
We hope you will be visiting the Open and do take the opportunity to avail yourselves of the STRI contact point which will be in the BIGGA marquee from 17th July. For further information see www.opengolf.com , www.stri.co.uk or www.royalstgeorges.com
By Stuart Ormondroyd, STRI’s Official Agronomist