Greenkeeper puts finishing touches to Open course
Royal St George's will provide the backdrop for a compelling drama this week. Sure, the principal actors will breeze in for a few days and steal the limelight, but the unsung heroes are the stagehands responsible for the magnificent set.
The head greenkeeper is 44-year-old Graham Royden, who has been at the club for 19 years and worked as an assistant at the 1993 and 2003 Opens at Sandwich.
With the world's sporting gaze focusing on his handiwork this week he's clearly a very busy man, but he took time out to speak to BBC Sport.
Here's what he had to say:
"I'm still smiling. Actually, I'm pretty relaxed. We're in a good place. The rain has helped in the last month. The rough is on the move in a good way.
"I've tried to talk to all the players who came here to practise in the last few weeks and we've had really positive feedback. They say the course is a fairer test than 2003 when the rough was the talking point. Now, it's tough enough without being punishing but we'll be looking to keep a lid on it.
"The putting surfaces are perfect and very pure and I'm absolutely delighted with the condition of the whole course in general.
"Ernie Els called it the 'best presented course going into an Open', which is a major coup for me. I'm from Deal, just down the road and it was always my ambition to be the head greenkeeper here. To actually have achieved that goal is pretty special.
"For this week we've widened the fairways on the first, 17th and 18th because eight years ago only 27-28% drives found the fairways. They are very undulating and it was very firm so the balls were getting nasty kicks into the rough. We've put in new tees on the third, seventh, ninth and 15th to add about 100 yards. We've also reduced the fourth to a 495-yard par four from a par five, which will toughen the course up slightly.
"Work began about two years ago when we started rebuilding the faces of the bunkers - we've done 37 in all. Last year the R&A came down a couple of times and this year we've had three or four visits.
Some of the bunker faces at Royal St George's have been rebuilt ahead of the Open
"Since May the members have had to carry astro turf mats with them to hit second shots off - they've had to contend with a lot and have been very patient. And because of the recent dry weather the course has been closed to all non-competitors for the last three weeks.
"From Sunday, the alarm will go at 3am. No grumbles, though, it's the Open.
At 3.30am I'll brief the team, who are based in portacabins on site. It's not hard to motivate them, either. This is what they've all worked extremely hard for.
"I'll have my usual 13, plus 10 volunteers from local courses assisted by four more mechanics and 10 more Royal St George's permit holders, who will replace divots on the fairways every evening. And we have another 60 from Bigga (the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association) who are staying at Canterbury University and will be bused in later - 10 of whom will rake all the bunkers before play and then they will each follow an individual match.
"We're on course by 4am, hopefully looking to finish all the mowing by 9am. We'll all have breakfast together and then the team are stood down but they're still on call in case there are any last-minute adjustments needed.
"Some will go back to bed, some will watch golf or just relax. I'll be on call with a walkie-talkie but I'll also get to go out and see how the course plays.
"At 4pm I'll meet Peter Dawson and Grant Moir of the R&A and go through the twice daily tests conducted by Alistair Beggs and his team from the Sports Turf Research Institute to work out our plan for the greens.
"This is adjusted daily on the basis of height of cut, frequency of cut and whether we roll. Sometimes we look at a single cut and roll but if it's windy it could be a single cut and no roll. We'll look at the weather forecast and take into consideration the test results for green speed, moisture content, smoothness and firmness.
"For the players one of the biggest challenges is that it is not a traditional in and out course - no two holes are in the same direction so on the tee you have to take the wind into consideration. But that's also a real challenge from the greenkeeping aspect.
"We have to keep an eye on the green speed in some of the more exposed spots as we don't want a repeat of St Andrews last year where balls started to oscillate. We have had some days of flat calm recently but that is very rare. Hardly a day goes past without a gentle sea breeze, mainly from the south west though it can change direction two or three times during the day.
"On links courses we look for a speed of 10.5 to 11 on the stimpmeter but we err on the side of caution.
"The pin positions are directed by the R&A in consultation with one of my staff. We know roughly where they're going and we've been protecting the greens for the last two months. The members unfortunately have been playing to some quite nasty pins - the pros certainly wouldn't like those spots this week.
"The team will reassemble at 5pm for another briefing and we head back out at 5.30pm ready to prepare the course in the evening. We'll work through until dusk, which is the back end of 10pm.
"My biggest fear would be someone vandalising the greens but we've got 24 Ghurkhas camping out overnight on the course to protect the greens. No one is allowed on any putting surfaces unless they've got a pass. I don't know if they're armed but I wouldn't like to tackle them in the dark.
"We're then back in position on the course ready to go at the first chink of light
"I just hope we don't get too much adverse weather. I don't want the wind to blow too hard and rain for all four days. We're looking for fair golfing conditions, positive feedback and a worthy champion.
"The first thing we'll do on Sunday night is all get our photos taken with the champion and then I'll take the crew to the pub. They'll deserve a drink by then. I don't think they'll have a problem staying awake if the boss is buying. Seems only right, doesn't it."