Wrekin GC Head Greenkeeper Harry Jones enjoyed the working trip of a lifetime in May, helping out hundreds of his fellow GK’s from all around the world at the PGA Championships at Bethpage Black in New York. We caught up with him for a chat when he returned.
What was the role and daily duties?
“We had daily duties that changed around a little bit, the first few days we experienced very high volumes of rain so nothing was cut on the course until the last practice day. So the first couple of days we were mainly water hogging (using the big super soakers and moving all the standing water off the fairways and surrounds into the rough.)
Once all the nasty weather was out the way I was tasked with cutting tees, using a Toro pedestrian mower. My tees were holes 10,11,12& 6 – although four doesn’t sound many there were four or five tees on each hole and some of these were big areas. In the evening I was on tee repair, which involved divoting the tees, repairing any damage, and generally giving them a good check, making sure they were in pristine condition for the morning.”
How much attention to detail went into the work?
“Amazing amounts, everywhere you turn the attention to detail was just amazing. There was a group of staff being sent out every morning and evening just to “fluff” the rough up. As the rough was so thick, parts of it would lie flat after golfers or caddies had walked on it so groups were out there just getting the 3.5inch rough to stand back up. The second day of the tournament I had just finished cutting the 10th tee and a TV cameraman came over to me to discuss the 11th fairway. The issue was that from a raised position looking down the fairway you could pick up very slightly the odd pine needle here and there, the next minute we had six of us blowing the whole fairway off with backpack blowers until there wasn’t one pine needle in sight.
But it’s not just that, the detail that goes into every job is unreal, hole changing, tee positions course set up, mowing everything has to be 110% correct, that’s why we had so many staff to make sure nothing was a rush so every job could be carried out as close to perfection as possible. (apart from a couple of wonky lines on the tees)”
How many hours a day?
“We were working split shifts, we were picked up from our accommodation at 3.30am and driven into the greens compound arriving there at 3.45am for a quick coffee before the daily meeting was carried out at 4 am. Once all the jobs had been delegated it was straight out to work on the course for 4.15am and you would then be out working until around 9 am depending what job we were doing. Then it was back to the yard for breakfast before the day was yours to do what you wanted, as long as you were back in the greenkeepers tent by 3 pm where dinner was served. Then an evening meeting at 4.30pm before going out onto the course around 4.45pm for the evening shift which would normally end around 9 pm.”
Were the weather conditions helpful?
“Like I previously mentioned the first two days we were there we experienced a serious amount of rain. I’m sure the 1st day was two inches (50mm) and water was standing everywhere on the course. Andrew and his team didn’t seem too worried about this when we asked them as they said the course drains extremely quickly. Well, they weren’t wrong as by the next morning there was only the odd puddle here and there. ”
Following on from these two days the weather got better and better as the week went on which was brilliant for the tournament. The wind conditions were not too bad, the ground conditions were drying out every day, with the greens getting quicker also. Looking back I would say they had the perfect conditions as the rain at the beginning of the week kicked some growth off again, the rough became so thick from the moisture and the rest of the course didn’t need any watering during the whole tournament as the moisture was already there in the soil profile which was great.”
What did you learn about the experience – Any good tips to bring back that will benefit Wrekin going forward?
“You can’t help but learn from every aspect of the trip. You are learning on the best possible stage, at one of golf’s major competitions. The one thing Andrew Wilson (Superintendent at Bethpage Black) said to me at the start of the week was make sure you talk to as many people as possible, we have some of the most well-respected people from the whole of the states here this week. Pick their brains, ask about experiences, technical information etc. I was so glad Andrew said this as I made a big effort to do that and it’s amazing the people you get talking to, trying to take everything in. Everyone working there wanted to help each other out and learn off each other.
Of course, you can’t bring everything back and copy the way they work as we had 160 staff on 18 holes and a budget that would beat most, but there were lots of little bits that will stick with me. I’m happy to say I already feel these have made a difference here at Wrekin GC on and off the course with the team. We have some bunker renovation work planned for the back end of this year so let’s just wait and see if we copy a few of the special bunkers from Bethpage.