The Open Championship – Course Set-Up
At 6:30am on 17 July the first tee-shot will be struck at this year’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. Grant Moir (R&A Director – Rules) gives a brief insight into the preparations required to make the course a fitting test for the world’s best.
Dating back to November 2012, there have been five formal course reviews at Royal Liverpool involving representatives of The R&A, the host Club (including Craig Gilholm, the Course Manager) and a consultant agronomist from the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI). The aim is to provide a quality Open Championship venue that tests the ability of the world’s best players to play true links golf. This means that we are looking for fairways and greens that are firm, dry and finely textured. If there is a request for significant work to be done, such as fairway realignment, restitution of bunker faces or construction of new tees, the Course Manager needs plenty of advance notice. Looking back at our notes from the visit in 2012, we agreed on widening some fairways to ensure that the run ins to bunkers were at fairway height and to extend some of the greens (simply by mowing out at green height) to allow for certain hole positions to be used at the time of The Open.
Quite often when we return to an Open venue a few new tees have been introduced that may extend the length of the hole. We want to ensure that those tees are usable in the majority of weather conditions, so we check that the ‘carry’ to the fairway is not too long. Generally we try to ensure that the carry is not much more than 200 yards. Despite the distances that the longest players hit the ball, if there is strong wind and rain (not uncommon at The Open) it is possible that some players might struggle to carry the ball more than 220 yards. At Royal Liverpool we had a few fairways extended back towards the tees to ensure that they can be reached from the back tee in all but the most extreme weather conditions.
Of course the principal aspect being looked at during our visits to the host venue is the condition of the course itself. There have been no concerns in this regard in the build up to the championship at Royal Liverpool. Craig and his staff have worked tirelessly since the last Open at Hoylake in 2006, and the course is in excellent shape.
During these course reviews we also plan for the staffing numbers that will be required to cope with the demands of the week prior to The Open and the week of the Championship itself. Many of our Open venues have a relatively small number of permanent greenstaff, and so outside support is required. We plan the work that will need to be done before play each day, and the amount of staff and machinery that will be required. For example, as we want the course to have as natural a look as possible, we have the fairways cut in one direction to avoid stripping, but of course this takes twice as long, so takes twice as many people and machines! If additional support is required then this has to be sourced and will often come from other local golf clubs and the other Open venues.
Practice facilities are very important to the modern player, and considerable time has been spent on the facilities at Hoylake to ensure that they are of the standard required. Royal Liverpool’s practice ground, situated in the middle of the course, is not suitable for The Open, so we are using part of the adjacent Hoylake Municipal golf course for this purpose. Craig has been carefully nurturing a large practice tee on the course, with the objective that it provides the same conditions as will be experienced on the fairways of the championship course. During our visits a close eye is also kept on the short game areas and the practice putting green, all of which will be heavily used during Open week.
As we draw closer to the Championship, we look to protect certain areas of the course. On areas of fairways that could be damaged by excessive play in the run up, players have been asked to use mats for several months rather than hit off the turf. In addition, we have assessed the areas of the greens that are likely to be used for hole positions for The Open and asked the Club to use other parts of the greens in the two months leading into championship week.
The course closes two weeks in advance of the first day of official practice. However, it has become quite common for exempt players to visit in advance of official practice and play one or two rounds. So that the pristine championship tees don’t get damaged, we will put tee protection netting down on par 3s and other tees where irons are likely to be used. As we never use the very backs of the tees during the championship due to the two club-length requirement in the Rules, we put the tee-markers for practice very close to the backs of the tees. Players don’t need two club-lengths when they are practising and this allows them to play the course at its full length, while still protecting the areas that we will use for the four championship days.
The week before The Open sees the final refinements being made to the course. When official practice starts our objective is that the course is playing very similarly to how it will be when the first players tee off on Thursday morning, although one thing we cannot control is the weather conditions that they will face!