STRI consultants Richard Windows & Adam Newton lift the lid on what went on at the 147th Open at Carnoustie before the crowds descended on the famous course.
The Open is undoubtedly the highlight of the year as an agronomist and it is always a privilege to be working for The R&A in the delivery of such a major global sporting event.
As part of our role for The R&A, during The Open, The Amateur Championship and now The Women’s British Open we have the privilege to be part of expert and enthusiastic greenkeeping teams who are true masters of their craft.
None more so than Sandy Reid (Links Superintendent) and Craig Boath (Head Greenkeeper) who we had the honour of working with for the 147th Open at Carnoustie. Sandy and Craig, alongside their superb team, deserve absolute credit for the way in which the course was presented but also the way they delivered such excellent conditions given the challenging weather in the lead up to and throughout the Championship.
The role of the STRI Agronomy team at The Open is two-fold and involves the collection of objective performance data from the greens, approaches and fairways, combined with assistance and input in the decision-making process regarding the daily set up of the course.
The performance data is collected twice daily and discussed in daily briefing meetings with Martin Slumbers (Chief Executive of The R&A), Clive Brown (Chairman of The R&A Championship Committee) and Grant Moir (Director of Rules at The R&A) alongside the venue greenkeeping team of Sandy and Craig, with weather forecasting input from the onsite Met Office team.
A plan for evening maintenance and morning set up is discussed and formulated, and then subsequently executed by the greenkeeping team. Although plans are formulated, it is often a dynamic process with changes made in relation to altering weather conditions or in the light of subsequent information gathered following play that evening. Turf often has the habit of delivering the unexpected!
The data collection process itself is ongoing at all Open Championship venues with two visits per year to all courses on the rota. As a venue is announced, often four or five years before the Championship, the number of visits increases to at least four per year. This information helps tailor the agronomy and greenkeeping programme to achieve the desired targets for the Championship in the most sustainable manner possible.
In the months approaching the Championship, regular visits are made to inform the final operations. The STRI team then commences the Championship testing on the Tuesday of Advance Week, which is 10 days before the start of the Championship.
To ensure accuracy of information, a large amount of data is collected in a standardised way to ensure any variabilities are due to changes in surface performance rather than how the data was collected.
For example, with green speed, spots are marked on the greens from which Stimpmeter readings are taken from the same direction each time. A technique has also been developed using a simple plastic tunnel to ensure the wind does not affect the accuracy of the reading taken. This is used even when there is very little wind to ensure the process is always standardised.
While this can be more time consuming, it is very important as light winds of even 5-10mph have a significant impact on the green speed values obtained. Surprisingly, the effect of wind on ball roll during putting is something even professional golfers seldom factor in!
During morning set up, green speed measurements are taken to inform the intensity of mowing required to achieve the target speed. Some greens require a single cut, some a double and occasionally some greens may need a triple cut.
Green speed measurements are taken after each operation to ensure targets are achieved but this of course may mean multiple measurements to each green during morning set up. In addition to green speed, measurements of firmness, smoothness, trueness and soil moisture are taken each morning during set up and again after play.
As the Carnoustie course was so firm due to the very dry weather, it was important to extend firmness measurements more widely to the course, with six fairways being measured in addition to the greens and green approaches.
When the data collected is added up it becomes rather considerable, as shown with the statistics below which illustrate the amount of data collected during morning set up over the four days of the Championship:
- Between 38-72 Stimpmeter readings are taken during each morning set up equating to 228-432 ball rolls each morning. Over the course of the four Championship days 912-1,728 ball rolls were completed
- At least 351 Clegg drops were taken each morning and over 4,200 for the four days of the Championship
- 840m of the greens are measured each morning for smoothness and trueness and 3.4km during the four days of the Championship
- 171 measurements of soil moisture each day and 684 during the Championship
The volume of data collected is necessary to provide accurate information to inform the decision-making process, with the key objective being to deliver turf that makes for an authentic, challenging and controllable golf course for the Championship.
So, the science of data collection and agronomy is blended with the art and skill of greenkeeping, and the strategy of course set up by The R&A is to deliver a links course which will challenge the best golfers in the world and place a real demand on their extraordinary talent.
These are the hard skills if you like. But, of equal importance, are the softer and more human skills of teamwork, trust, communication and of course plenty of banter! All of which are necessary to deliver a successful Championship.
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