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From Singapore to Rio

What a year it has been for our Greenkeeping Scholars!

9th September 2016
Managing personnel
R&A Scholars, Gary Walters, Damien Coleman and Eloy Barranco pictured with International Golf Federation President, Peter Dawson, at the Rio Olympics.  
The R&A Greenkeeping Scholarship programme offers greenkeepers studying higher education courses at SRUC Elmwood in Scotland and Myerscough College in England a lot more than a financial contribution to help them achieve their academic objectives.  2016 has been an exceptional year for opportunities for R&A Scholars to work on tournament preparation teams, which are offered to those currently studying who have adequate on course experience and the growing alumni who maintain contact with The R&A.  Here we report on some of the experiences that R&A Greenkeeping Scholars have gained around the world.

January 2016 saw four of our Scholars, Aaron Bell, Paul Mills, Craig Harrison and Sam Steele, jet off to Singapore to assist the greenkeeping team preparing Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong Course for the SMBC Singapore Open.  Sam gave an overview of the week ahead: “Upon arrival at the golf course it was clear to see from the maintenance workshop that this was an operation on a scale that was much larger than anything I have seen in the UK. The volunteer’s role was to act as a final sweep as much of the preparation work by staff is done under the cover of darkness. We were to go along the course lifting leaves and debris from the playing surfaces, touching up bunkers if necessary and ensuring the tee box areas were clear.”  On returning to the UK Aaron commented, “I can't thank The R&A enough for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime, it was a real eye-opener, as golf in the far-east is a totally different ball game!”

Back in Europe, the tournament season involving our Scholars got underway with the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, where Jack Glover and Peteris Sadovskis represented the Scholarship Programme.  Peteris, originally from Latvia, recently won this year’s John Deere sponsored SRUC Elmwood HNC Student of the Year Award.  

June saw The Amateur Championship held at Royal Porthcawl where Ian Nichols represented us well.

Two of our international Scholars, Peteris Sadovskis from Latvia and Eloy Barranco from Spain, assisted at the Alstom Open de France at Le Golf National from 13 June to 3 July.  Eloy Barranco’s studies at SRUC Elmwood were also supported by The Royal Spanish Golf Federation, and he gave a very detailed technical report on his return from the tournament.  This included information on the renovation of the L’Albatros course, in time for the 100th edition of the Open de France but primarily for the 2018 Ryder Cup which is to be played at Le Golf National.

Damage to the course from torrential rain required repairs at Le Golf National ahead of the Alstom Open de France tournament.
So, on to the most important week of the year for The R&A, The 145TH Open at Royal Troon.  Josh King, Matthew Hogg, Andrew Keane and Tom Jacques were chosen from 14 volunteers to represent the Scholarship at the world’s oldest and most international Major Championship.  They were all very proud to stand in the guard of honour for the Champion Golfer of the Year, Henrik Stenson.

The greenkeeper’s guard of honour watch on as Henrik Stenson lifts the Claret Jug at The 145TH Open.
Every year we invite six Scholars from each college to undertake a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the Media Centre at The Open.  The tour is conducted by one of our media team and the Scholars witness the 503 reporting stations for TV and radio coverage across the world.  The area is dominated by huge screens displaying live action and scoring.  The Scholars are then, usually, invited to form part of the audience of the official R&A press conference.  With this year’s Open being played in Scotland, the Media Centre tour was dominated by the locals from SRUC Elmwood - David Perdisatt, Frank Aherne, Gavin Jones, Josh King, Paul Rourke, Paul Mills, John Reid, Andrew Keane and Matthew Hogg - with Rick Turner the lone representative from Myerscough College.

Immediately following The Open at Royal Troon, attention at The R&A moved to The Senior Open at Carnoustie where two of our SRUC Elmwood Scholars enjoyed a great week.  Sean Tonner and Frank Aherne joined the greenkeeping team and Frank reported that “Craig Boath, Course Manager of the Championship course, and his staff made us more than welcome throughout the week. Sean and I were part of a six-man team responsible for cutting the fairways for the week. We had early starts at 4.30 am and also returned at night to help with the divot squad.”  Sean’s post on Facebook summed up his feelings: “A fantastic experience at a truly one-of-a-kind course, working with a great group of greenkeepers. Thanks to The R&A for making this possible!”

The tournaments kept on coming!  Next up for our Scholars was the RICOH British Women’s held at Woburn at the end of July.  This time it was Steven Rowett’s turn for some tournament experience, something he doesn’t face in his daily work routine.

As golf returned to the Olympics after a 112-year absence our Scholars were there to witness history being made.  16 scholars added their names to the list for consideration but Damien Coleman, Gary Walters and Eloy Barranco were the lucky three to be chosen to represent The R&A Greenkeeping Scholarship Programme in Rio.

The fairway mowing team out on the Rio Olympic course.
This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was embraced by them all, with Damien sending The R&A regular blogs and photos.    Damien told us that the experience was “nothing short of amazing”.  46 volunteers from many different countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Chile, USA, Ireland, Britain, Spain and South Africa supported the home greenkeeping team. The Scholars worked with grasses that they have never encountered before, with Seashore Paspalum on the greens and Zeon Zoysia everywhere else. The paspalum produced superb putting surfaces and, interestingly, only two cutting heights were employed across the course; with the greens understandably being mown closer than the zoysia areas.  This was an experience that none of our Scholars will forget and definitely something to tell their children and grandchildren!

What’s left to look forward to for the rest of this year?  Well, we have eight Scholars attending this year’s study visit to Askernish on South Uist.  Jon Hoole, Elliot Wilson, Gwynn Davies, Darren Anderson, Marc Baigrie, Craig Berry, Matthew Hogg and Kristian Summerfield are about to have an experience second to none.  Fingers crossed for reasonable weather as they venture to a course which is only separated from the USA by the Atlantic Ocean!

Last, but not least, right at the end of the golf season in October will be the British Masters at The Grove. This opportunity was brought to us by one of our former Myerscough Scholars, Jonathan Taylor, who is giving something back to the Programme.  On hearing the news that he had been chosen for this tournament, David Jones said “That's great news and I am over the moon to be selected to represent the R&A as a scholar at the British Masters”.  He will be joined by Gavin Jones and Thomas Freeman.  

The R&A wishes to thank all of the course managers at the tournament venues which offered our Scholars such rewarding experiences.  2016 will be a difficult year to follow!