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Greenkeeper puts finishing touches to Open course

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Rob Hodgetts | 12:52 UK time, Friday, 8 July 2011

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."


  • Comment number 1.

    All the best for The Open - sounds like you and your team have produced a wonderful test of golf, cannot wait for play to commence.

  • Comment number 2.

    Now that's what I call a good blog post, more of the same please. How about a piece on Ivor Robson for example?

  • Comment number 3.

    I will be there on saturday and one of the things i am really looking forward to is seeing the course. These guys are in my mind the heros of the open.

    I use to play at Walmer Kingsdown just down the road so St Georges has always been no.1 for me! I've been lucky enough to visit Royal St Georges and Royal Birkdale (twice) and i am always amazed at how these guys get the contrast between the natural wind swept rough and the Manicured fairways and Greens.

    Great job guys, trust me its noticed by all!

  • Comment number 4.

    Giggsy your a mate of mine and I wish you all the best for the weekend.

    Seems like you have done a stunning job.

    See you this weekend - Come on Rory

  • Comment number 5.

    Brilliant article , the guy explains whats going on and answers questions most of us so called golfers wouldnt think to ask. Keep it up, I particularly liked the comments regarding Ghurkas protecting the greens. well done.

  • Comment number 6.

    This British Open is wide open pardon the pun. But there are 20 players that if they won I would think...ya he's a great player he deserved it.

    But who will win the British Open....some guy called Rory for the US Open and he said by 10 that was amazing...whoever you are...who do you pick for the British Open?

  • Comment number 7.

    Please explain to me what you mean by the British Open. Are you referring to The Open Championship of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club? You wouldn't be American would you?
    Brits have the good manners to call the annual circus held in beautiful downtown Augusta, GA The Masters. Beware that some might start to refer to it as the American Masters.

  • Comment number 8.

    I call it the US Masters, because its in the US. This event is the British there is the US Open and the Spainish Open.

    Its not ment to cause any disrespect at just calling it by its name.

  • Comment number 9.

    James, I'm British and am not the least bit offended by you referring to the championship as the British Open. Ignore the pointless sniping.
    So who's your pick to win?

  • Comment number 10.

    Thank you Sapland

    Well I would love to see Luke Donald win...he derseves it and he is a genuine nice guy!

  • Comment number 11.

    Folks, I dont think anybody is disrespecting the wonderful traditions of The Open by occasionally referring to it - not maliciously - as the British Open. This is mostly done to differentiate it from the US Open. People are too sensitive on this subject, and also let's ask ourselves: do those most offended by the term "British Open" refer to The PGA Championship as "the USPGA"?! Please, folks, some understanding. It's the golf, the traditions, the wonderful courses and the hard work of people like Graham Royden that is what's important this week....bring it on!

  • Comment number 12.

    Great article. Hopefully they won't get the type of freak weather that occurred in Castle Stuart.

    I'd love to see Westwood conquering all, think he would be worthy winner.

    ref - British Open / Open..... chill out its not disrespectful to use either term.

  • Comment number 13.

    I am not sure if other clubs sometimes get the odd bit of mindless vandalism but
    I think I will recommend the 24 Ghurkhas scenario to our greens committee . Wouldn't you love to see the vandals faces as a fully armed and uniformed Ghurkha rose from the bunker . Priceless !!!

  • Comment number 14.

    The best course in England, in my opinion, and it sounds as though it will be in great condition for the best tournament in the world.

  • Comment number 15.

    "Brits have the good manners to call the annual circus held in beautiful downtown Augusta, GA The Masters. Beware that some might start to refer to it as the American Masters."

    Quite right Jin, there are standards to uphold after all. Next thing you know they'll be calling a certain event 'British Wimbledon'.

    Great article by the way, who knew so much work went into getting a course ready for 'The Open'.

  • Comment number 16.

    I think Britains Luke Donald will win the British Open.
    Also its a pity Britains Colin Montgomery isn't playing, first time in 22 years he has missed his home countries Open.

  • Comment number 17.

    Yes we will all really miss Monty's cheery demeanour , smiling face and bionic hearing on the golf course.......NOT !

  • Comment number 18.

    It's still The Open - after all it was the first ...

  • Comment number 19.

    I remember going to my first Open (yes, golf, in Britain!) at Sandwich in 1993 - distant memories of a splendid occassion - pretty windy and wild - and a certain Mr Nicklaus getting shirty with (professional) cameramen who were in his line of sight on the 17th tee. I'm not a golfer but for a man at the top of his sport I thought he was a bit "heavy" on them - maybe he'd had a bad round - can't remember that sort of detail - a great occassion nevertheless.

  • Comment number 20.

    In the modern game Colin Montgomery and Nick Faldo were the 2 best British golfers and only 1 won their national Open.

    Now its time for Lukey to step up!

  • Comment number 21.

    Along with tedious jingoistic pedantry, Kenneth Jesset and Jim Hacker no doubt also promote other antique golfing snobbery like long socks with shorts, restricted golf availability for 'the ladies' and a strict 'no-tie-no-pint' clubhouse policy.

    As to The Open, it's always good when it ventures occasionally south. I predict Westwood's first major.

  • Comment number 22.

    Good interesting article but unsung heroes? I have no doubt they have done a fantastic job and congratulations to all concerned but at the end of the day, they are just doing their jobs and there are thousands of greenkeepers in golf clubs throughout the country doing jobs just as well.

  • Comment number 23.

    Good interview Giggsy, all the best for the tournament and make sure you get that Butler character pulling his weight. Will be following play avidly from here in Mannheim, Germany. Fordy.

  • Comment number 24.

    21 - Henry. A sweeping generalisation and pointless comment on KJ and JH's own comments.
    17 - Cotlands etc whatever sarcy comment about Monty. you've been reading too much Daily Mail. In the wind and rain of Thursday morning at The Open 2008 (Royal Birkdale) Monty was the only player that morning to shake everybody's hand on the tee and to wish his fellow players to "have a good game". It's an old debate I know, but a shame Monty will not be there. Time for the new masters (not the Masters).

  • Comment number 25.

    an excellent blog and a big up for one of the unsung heroes of the open weekend
    the green keepers do a fantastic job on these courses under extreme pressure and i think it is brilliant that the gurkhas are camping out ont the course to protect it.
    anyway all the very best for the weekend and i will be avidly watching on the tv

  • Comment number 26.

    Im so excited for the british Open to kick off...only 1 day now. I have to say that apart from the Masters and Players Championship the british Open is the best tournament to watch. I love linx golf courses, they are so different to those in the USA.

  • Comment number 27.

    #22 Agree with you, BeamishXA. Greenkeepers all over the country are unsung (and badly underpaid - I should know I am married to a retired one) heroes. The BIGGA volunteers are lucky that they have good employers who allow them time to work on the course - it is very good experience. Despite working on a Kent course, my husband was never allowed to volunteer when the Open was at Sandwich.

  • Comment number 28.

    I bet the Big Ulsterman aka DC "the Prince" appreciated it !


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