Business as usual as Royal Aberdeen prepares for The Walker Cup

This feature comes from the R&A's The Golf Course website, which provides an excellent source of information for sustainable golf course management... 

10 -11 September 2011 will see the Walker Cup return to Scotland for the first time since 1999.  For the 43rd playing of this match between the top amateur golfers from Great Britain & Ireland and the USA, the Balgownie Links of Royal Aberdeen Golf Club has been selected as the competition venue.  As enthusiasm grows for the start of play and the USA team make their way to the North East coast of Scotland, the greenkeeping team at Royal Aberdeen are calmly confident about the standards of course preparation that they will be providing.  It may be surprising to hear, however, that despite the scale and importance of the event, the level of preparation at Royal Aberdeen is following a very ‘business as usual’ approach. 

The reason for this stems from a consistently high level of attention to keeping the golf course in good health all year round.  “For our preparation for the Walker Cup, the only real thing that has been any different to a normal week is resources”, explained Robert Patterson, Course Manager at Royal Aberdeen for the last 14 years.  “The standards of playing performance that we will be offering to the world’s best amateurs this week is not really any different to what we normally provide to our members.  We will simply have more people and more machines on site to cater for an increase in mowing frequency over the duration of the match.  Preparing for an event like the Walker Cup is no problem at all if you follow the right approach to managing the golf course year on year; all that is required is a little additional ‘polishing’, in the form of extra cutting and rolling to ensure that the greens are really at their very best for the event.”

Royal Aberdeen will have the backing of a tournament support fleet from their machinery supplier, much of which utilises new hybrid technology, and their greenkeeper resource will treble to 30 members of staff for this year’s Walker Cup match.  Many of these volunteers will come from local clubs in the area, offering other greenkeeping professionals a valuable experience of being involved in tournament preparation.

“The R&A has been working closely with the course management team at Royal Aberdeen to ensure that the course provides a worthy test for the world’s best amateur players”, commented Rhodri Price, The R&A’s Assistant Director of Championships.  ‘The Balgownie Course is a classic example of Scottish links golf and delivers the characteristic firm and running conditions associated with the game here.  We are confident that the teams will enjoy contesting the match over some truly historic golfing terrain.”

Patterson and his team will have the support of The R&A’s consultant agronomist for the Walker Cup, Richard Windows of the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI), who will be on site throughout the week to provide daily information on how the course is performing by utilising objective measurement tools to assess surface firmness, moisture content, trueness and green speed.

Walker Cup“At the end of the day, you are working with nature – and that means a certain level of unpredictability as to what the weather will throw at you”, added Patterson.  “We always work with dedication to keep our course consistent but having access to the daily data from STRI on surface performance takes so much of the guesswork out of our preparations.  We can look at greens individually and take preventive action to tackle any potential issues before they arise.  This really allows us to keep on top of things right throughout the week.  Towards the end of play each day, we will make a decision, in conjunction with The R&A, as to whether or not an evening cut or roll is required.  We are anticipating that the target green speed of 10.5 feet will be achieved without the need for any additional work.”

Balgownie’s greens will be double cut daily to a height of 3.5 mm with pedestrian mowers, while green approaches will be triple mown daily as opposed to the usual of three times a week.  Tees will be mown up to five times throughout the week; fairways up to four times, as opposed to the usual of two times a week.  Daily preparation of the course will start at first light, which is now around 6 am, so Patterson and his team will be up early to make ready for the start of play each day.

As the final touches are put to the course this week and the remainder of the spectator facilities are erected, excitement is growing to see if team GB&I can break the pattern of successive USA victories over the past three playings of the match. 

To read more about the management programmes in place at Royal Aberdeen, a full case study is available here.