The R&A - Working for Golf

Olympic effort by volunteer greenkeepers in Rio de Janeiro

R&A Scholar Damien Coleman, has been working as a greenkeeper at The Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro during golf’s historic return to the games.

Damien, who studied at Myerscough College, works at Galway Bay Golf Club, and is the Vice President of Golf Course Superintendents Association of Ireland.

Here he gives an insight into preparing the Gil Hanse designed course at the Reserva de Marapendi – and the experience of a lifetime working at The Olympics.

Getting to grips wit h the Olympic Golf Course.
Getting to grips wit h the Olympic Golf Course.

We are now two full weeks into our volunteering experience at The Olympics in Rio and it has been nothing short of amazing. There are 46 volunteers from many different countries, mostly South America, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Chile, USA, Ireland, UK, Spain and South Africa.

We are working with grasses that I have never encountered in my career. On the greens we have Seashore Paspalum and everywhere else is Zeon Zoysia. The Paspalum is producing superb putting surfaces. One thing that is also interesting is that we have only two cuts, one for the greens and one for everything else. All tees, fairways and green surrounds are maintained at the same height. I’ve been mowing greens each morning as part of a team of 12. In the afternoon Eloy (R&A Scholar and volunteer) and I have been cutting tees and Gary (R&A Scholar and volunteer) has been cutting fairways.

The biggest challenge has been working two tournaments back to back. Come Saturday the 20th August we will have worked at least 14 hours on 16 consecutive days. Whilst this is exhausting, it has been an unbelievable experience and something I would not change. The weather has been difficult at times, but not posed any major problems.

Eloy and I have been working long hours over the past two weeks - but I wouldn't change a thing.
Eloy and I have been working long hours over the past two weeks - but I wouldn't change a thing.

Because our hours are quite tough,  we are getting up at 3.30AM each day and not returning to our accommodation until after 7pm most nights, trying to get to other Olympic events has not been easy. We have managed to get to the Olympic Park a couple of times and we watched some water polo before the pool turned green! We also got to see some handball, which was very enjoyable. We’ve obviously managed to see some golf too!

A visit to see the Olympic handball competition was really enjoyable.
A visit to see the Olympic handball competition was really enjoyable.

Because it is such a relaxed format here we have had a great opportunity to meet players and caddies. This tournament is not like any I have worked before. The access we have had to the players has been great. We have met some of the best players in the world such as Fowler, Stenson, Willett, Kaymer and Harrington. However, meeting the Irish golf team of Padraig Harrington, Seamus Power and Paul McGinley for me has been the highlight. The guys were so accommodating to me and Eamonn McCarthy (volunteer) who is also Irish. They spoke to us countless times over the first week of play and made us proud to be Irish men. 

Meeting Team Ireland was an amazing experience!
Meeting Team Ireland was an amazing experience!

One of the biggest benefits from working at The Olympics has been the networking opportunity and the chance to make new friends from all over the world – that is a major benefit. I have met people that I am sure I wouldn’t have otherwise, and working with guys like Mark Johnson from the PGA Tour has been very rewarding. He has a wealth of tournament experience and that has shone through in these past few weeks. He really keeps us going with his motivational talks each day.

The realisation that I am working at the Olympics  probably didn’t sink in until the first day of the men's competition when the crowds started rolling in and we saw some of the best players in the world putting on surfaces that we had prepared.

Lots of new friends in Rio!
Lots of new friends in Rio!

The most impressive part of the Olympic Golf Course has without doubt been the design. Gil Hanse has done an unbelievable job in creating a course that is challenging, exciting and very different. The bunkering, short par fours and reachable par fives have made the course a potentially low scoring one, but the native areas between holes are the course’s natural defence. Golf Course Superintendent, Neil Cleverly, has then superbly turned Hanse's vision into a reality and the two combined have meant that golf will surely become a permanent fixture in the Olympics. 

Damien

Olympic Golf Course, Rio de Janeiro

The Olympic Golf Course is unbelievable.
The Olympic Golf Course is unbelievable.