Ask Alejandro Reyes, the 35-year-old course superintendent at Le Golf National, for the three most important things he needs to get right for this year’s Ryder Cup and his answer is simple: “Drainage, drainage and drainage.”
When we last met for a face-to-face chat on the day before the start of this year’s Open de France in late June, Reyes was already a man very much in demand and that situation has only increased with every passing day as Le Golf National’s most important ever tournament approaches.
Obviously, Reyes is enormously proud of the course he took charge of in 2013. “It is a fantastic challenge,” he said. ““I’m looking forward to Sunday afternoon of the Ryder Cup, once the last putt has been made. Everyone will be happy with the set-up and, hopefully, we will have a good week. The main thing is that our staff, the organisation and the players are all happy and proud of the job that we have done – that will be the most rewarding thing.”
And there is no reason why Reyes’ wishes will not come true because the reaction to his course set-up for the Open de France was hugely positive. US PGA champion Justin Thomas called it “spectacular”.
“We have done so much work on the course over the last five years and I have no great worries,” Reyes said. “Now we are in the final few weeks and in the middle of a very hot and dry summer, but that is condition that we can manage.”
Hand watering to protect the course from burning out is preferable to batting against a biblical rain storm and it’s ironic that the majority of this summer’s weather in northern Europe has been the opposite of the most-feared conditions that Reyes planned to conquer when he first got this job.
A meteoric and unusual rise
Reyes became Le Golf National course superintendent in June 2013, two years after the Ryder Cup was officially heading for Paris. It has been a meteoric and unusual rise for the man who attended a high school for agronomy when I was just 13-years-old. “It was quite atypical when all my friends went to the normal high school and I was the only one taking this decision,” he remembered. “But I knew that I wanted to do it. The course (EFA Campomar) covered the more practical aspects of agricultural engineering and, once finished, I went to Almeria’s University, in Spain to do a degree in Agricultural Engineering.”
Reyes’ degree covered a wide range of topics including environmental science and technology, economics, graphic design, cartography and landscape technology. “I started to work for a short period on agricultural lands and then it was clear to me that I wanted to specialise in sports turf grasses.”
From there, he stayed in his native country becoming grow–in manager at the Nicklaus Golf Trail and, at the same time, joined a FEGGA (Federation of European Golf Greenkeepers Associations) programme, completing one year of maintenance and construction work on four different Jack Nicklaus golf courses in Spain. That was followed by five years as course superintendent at Condado de Alhama golf resort in Murcia and, for one year from 2011, he was director of agronomy at three Murcian courses including Condado de Alhama. Then came the interview for Le Golf National, more than a decade and a half after he discovered his career direction.
Reyes has said in some media interviews that he originally thought the job would be too much for him. “But a close friend of mine said ‘Alejandro, send in your CV because you have to try. They are looking for a young guy with construction and tournament experience.’”
Drainage, drainage and drainage
And so the young Spaniard and France’s premier golf resort became a perfect fit. The first day he started, Reyes knew that the course with its clay-based soil needed to be renovated with a host of new drainage. That was the top priority in his interview, to convince the French Federation that he could oversee a comprehensive plan to ensure that Le Golf National could cope with the nightmare scenario of biblical rain storms, so the 7,331-yard Albatros course was closed for 10 months to re-construct on the 1st and 16th greens; put sand slits and massive amounts of sand on all 18 fairways; and the drainage. From July 2015 to May 2016, Reyes worked with general manager Paul Armitage (who had taken up his position in 2014) to also put in things like fibre optics and waste management facilities for the record daily crowds of around 55,000 people.
“I was the works director for all the golf course reshaping and overseeing the lake edgings, the storm water ponds, the irrigation and new drainage system, the roads and the building platforms such as for hospitality units and the merchandise tents,” said Reyes. “Also, all 18 greens were re-constructed on massive sand bases. We needed to guarantee the golf course could drain and be open within three hours. We didn’t have the best of weather over that winter, but it went very well.”
The bulk of that work was completed two years ago, but there was still much to do including one of the last jobs -building a new bridge between the second green and third tees, work which only started after the Open de France. With a month to go, the course will be closed to the public and Reyes will be able to spend those last few weeks making everything as close to perfect as possible.
Naturally, European team captain Thomas Bjorn will want the course to be just right for his players, but it is tournament director David Garland of the European Tour who talks directly to Reyes about the set-up. Garland and Reyes have the same working relationship at the Open de France every year.
“Having the same tournament director is an advantage when we put in place all the various programmes and the tournament set ups. The Open de France is not all exactly the same as the Ryder Cup, but it is all good practice. It means we can learn from mistakes and improve all the time,” said Reyes.
One significant strategy that Reyes has stood behind during his time at Le Golf National is to be a leader in course technology which is highlighted by the course’s work on sustainability in order to achieve GEO Certification. Reyes oversaw a rigorous process of control on management of fertilizers and sprays; water consumption; and mechanical prevention methods for disease. “It’s important for French golf that we are leaders in these kinds of developments,” said Reyes. “We try to investigate all the new products and technologies that come to market.”
So, as Ryder Cup week looms closer, Reyes’ main responsibility will be to manage his team of 180 greenkeeping staff, a number which includes 140 volunteers, most of them greenkeepers and course superintendents themselves. This team, under the watchful eyes of Reyes, will undertake the final stage of the five-year, €7.5 million project to put Le Golf National firmly on the global golfing stage as a destination course.
And, if you think that’s the end of the story for Le Golf National and Alejandro Reyes – whose full title is now golf courses and estates manager – then consider this: Paris will stage the 2024 Olympic Games and it’s only six years away.
Follow Alejandro Reyes’ work at Le Golf National on Twitter @Reyes_golf
This feature was compiled with the help of Jacobsen www.ransomesjacobsen.com