The following article comes to you courtesy of turfmate.com, an Australian internet publisher based in Victoria, which supports the turfgrass industry across Australasia and beyond. This article was originally published on 23rd December 2014 and was written by their in-house journalist Amy Foyster.
The Australian Masters, which took place at Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne from 20-23 November 2014, were a sight to behold, so turfmate caught up with superintendent Glenn Stuart, to discuss tournament week and the lead up to it.
When the tournament was first confirmed to Metropolitan in March 2014, Glenn and his team were already in the midst of preparations, having heard whispers back in January that the club would be hosting the Masters. The main aim for Glenn in those early months was to position the turf to be in as healthy a state as possible going into the autumn.
“We had the view that if we went in really strong with our turf in autumn and protected it during the winter months we would come out in spring really strong. The tournament was in November and a Melbourne November is always very tricky for a tournament because you don’t know what sort of weather you are going to get.
“If you look at 2013’s November, it was a long stretch of cool and wet weather leading right into the event with temperatures well below their average. Royal Melbourne hosted this same event at the same time and it was a very difficult task for them to get the turf to their level of expectation due to the weather. The sandbelt* golf courses don’t typically shine that well if the spring weather conditions in the Melbourne area are not favourable.
“So, we prepared for the worst by doing lots of things; we cleaned every drainage system out on the golf course, we set the turf in a really good position in case we got intense frosts and a cold spring, so we would give ourselves the best chance to present our major asset, being the golf course, in the best possible state that we could. And fortunately, all those things that we did worked well and we didn’t get that really cold spring we had the previous season; the spring was actually quite reasonable.”
A lot of the processes Glenn and his team used to ensure the course would be in prime shape come tournament time involved putting the correct nutrition in the ground as well as renovating areas of the course. Most of the renovations were undertaken approximately three months before the tournament commenced and these included coring greens and verti-draining some fairways and tees to allow water to move through the profile successfully. Protectants were also used through the winter months to prevent any issues with frost and cutting heights were raised on mowers to protect the turf throughout autumn and winter.
Metropolitan Golf Club have a strong relationship with Jacobsen and used a range of their cutting equipment in the lead up to the tournament.
“They are lightweight mowers with a five inch cylinder instead of the typical seven inch cylinder that most other clubs use and we have just found them to be fantastic.
“Jacobsen, particularly for the cutting equipment and the resulting quality of cut side of things, has been exceptional for us.
“From a superintendent’s eye, it is just that difference in quality of cut that we see, because these mowers are a bit lighter they are able to mow through really intense hollows and over mounds, things that are quite challenging for a square cylinder to cut.
“We put little grooming reels on all those mowers too so we could actually find the leaf blade on all the turf and that just worked exceptionally well. We believe it is some of the best cutting equipment you can use on turf.”
Glenn says that when players first arrived during tournament week, he was delighted to hear some of their comments praising the quality of the course.
“There were a number of players quoted saying that these were the best fairways in the world and the best greens in the world, so our club was really proud of that. That comes down to a whole lot of things and we are really proud as a club and a maintenance group to achieve this praise.”
Aside from the course looking pristine, the bunkers and tree line plantations were also a big priority for Glenn, as he believes they should reflect the quality of the turf and provide a lasting experience across the whole course.
For the majority of this year, a dedicated group of 15 or so members have helped maintenance staff at fortnightly working parties, designed to rejuvenate and assist the course staff in the plantation areas.
A month prior to the tournament, a couple of larger working parties with around 50 members in attendance were held, to finish off smaller jobs like divoting fairways with greens sand and removing branches and other debris in the tree lines to clean the course for play and ensure that television cameras would project a clean appearance of the course.
Glenn says that aside from the invaluable help from the Metropolitan members, 15 to 20 volunteer grounds staff from a number of other golf courses (Royal Melbourne, Victoria, Kingston Heath, Huntingdale, Yarra Yarra, Woodlands, Long Island Country Club, Patterson River, The Dunes) were present to help in the final stages of preparation.
“From a month out we had people from other clubs coming to volunteer for us as well, so we had an average of four extra staff a day to ensure we kept ahead of our scheduled program in case inclement weather hit or an unforseen challenge arised.
“We have 15 full time staff that includes myself and a full time mechanic, Euan Muir, and that team swelled up to 40 on the mornings of the tournament. All those people volunteered their services or other clubs were prepared to lend us staff for that period.
“Around 450 man hours were given from other clubs to help with the work, so it was a pretty intense little build up. It just shows the magnitude of the work that goes on behind the scenes to deliver a tournament to the professional players.”
During tournament week the hours were long and exhausting for everyone involved. On the practise round days (Monday and Tuesday) the maintenance staff worked from 6 am to 8 pm, while on the Pro-Am day they started at 4 am. Pro-Am days have two shotgun starts, so they worked from 4 am until 9 am, then from 5 pm until 11 pm.
“Then the tournament days from 4.30 am till 9 am and some guys went home whilst others stayed to be on call, then everyone would be back from 4 pm to 10 pm,” says Glenn wearily.
“A lot didn’t leave during the day because of the 65 km north winds, so seven or eight guys were on stand-by, blowing leaf litter off greens. But all-in-all it was hugely successful Australian golfing tournament run by IMG and showcased to a worldwide audience on a great traditional sandbelt golf course at The Metropolitan Golf Club.”
(*Note: In the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne is a rich vein of sandy loam subsoil upon which are situated eight of the best golf courses in Australia and known throughout the world as the famous Melbourne Sandbelt. These Clubs have played host to countless great championships including Australian Opens, Johnnie Walker Classics, Australian Masters, the World Matchplay Championship, Australian Women’s Opens and the President’s Cup.)