The 148th Open is almost upon us and for Graeme Beatt and his greenkeeping team it has been four years in the making.
The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush is renowned as one of the most spectacular golf courses in the world and preparations are well underway to ensure it’s in pristine condition come Open week. We caught up with Graeme, the Course Manager at Royal Portrush, just three months out from The 148th Open to find out how things were coming along.
“It is really exciting and it is going to be really great to see. I can’t wait to see the grandstands go up and see them full of people. It is going to be amazing.” Graeme Beatt, Course manager at Royal Portrush
Q. How are preparations going?
Things are going well thanks. When you start to see those grandstands going up, we get a real sense it’s happening. The last few years, the work, generally speaking, has been quite heavy going. There has been an awful lot of re- turfing, repair work and things like that, whereas in years gone by, it would have been small projects where staff could take their time with.
Q. How are the team coping with the demands?
Everyone has been working pretty hard in the last few years and this winter, I was saying to myself, give everyone a wee bit of a break and concentrate on the finer detail but additional infrastructure and spectator paths has meant that we had another very busy winter. But we are nearly there now once we’ve got this last load of turf laid, we just have a few bunkers to go.
Q. How long have you worked at Royal Portrush?
I started here in 2014. It is four-and-a-half years now and it has gone by so quickly. When I started, most people knew The Open was coming back and the course change plans were in place but they were not approved yet so it was an exciting time to come.
It was about three months until I actually started here. I had to work my notice period at my last job but I was coming up and down from Sligo to Portrush for meetings and things. I was very much involved before I started.
Q. Do you play golf?
I am not a regular golfer but I play off six. My deputy, Paul Lappin, plays off three so there is always some banter there. He is definitely better than me! I enjoy golf best out of season in the autumn, winter and maybe a wee bit in the spring because as soon as the summer hits, we are just too busy.
Q. The Open must have been a draw in coming here?
Oh definitely. The agronomist that we use, Dr McClements from the STRI, worked with me in Sligo and works here now carrying out our agronomy for the Valley Links while Alistair Beggs and Richard Windows advise on Dunluce. Dr McClements sat on the panel for the interviews so it was nice to have a familiar face. As soon as I heard that Joe Findley, who was my predecessor, was retiring then I was interested. It was too big a job to pass up.
Q. And you have been preparing ever since?
Pretty much! We started work in July 2015. I think it was in the autumn that it was announced that Royal Portrush would be hosting so we have been in construction since then. We have been in it for the long haul. For the golfer, the course has changed quite a bit. The finish to the course has changed with the two new holes at seven and eight.
The general consensus is that they are a big improvement on the old 17th and 18th which were the 2 holes lost. The bunkers are strategically placed and now we have more Championship tees, the course is a little bit longer – although it feels a lot longer!
Q. Are there other minor changes to the course?
There have been a lot of changes that people will not notice, such as new roads, mains water, fibre and things like that. An awful lot of work has been done in places people will not even see but that is great. Post Open I’m sure that we will want to tweak things but the blueprint is there for it now.
Q. How does it feel now The Open is not far off?
I have always said that if we were panicking with a few months to go then we have done something wrong. But we are in a good place.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge?
Growing everything in has been a big challenge. The best players in the world will notice every difference. We just need consistency through the golf course, even though some if it is 100 years old and some of it is two years old.
Q. How long did it take to make the two new holes at seven and eight?
It was just fascinating to watch the whole thing happen. One issue we had was translocating all of the sand dune grass land and re-laying throughout the course to finish areas before we could carry out any ground works. It was important to be environmentally responsible and retain the plant species present in the sand dune grassland. We were stripping grass away for months and months, so once that was done the shaping of the sand for the fairways did not take long at all. The eighth fairway shaping was carried out by Marcus Terry in a weekend. Apart from a few little tweaks, they were delighted with it. For him it was a long weekend!
Q. What will you be doing during Championship week?
They are long days, we will be ready to go from just before 4am and out of the door for 4.15am. We will probably get home at 10.30pm once evening prep is complete. I was at Carnoustie and spent a lot of time with the guys there during the Championship last year so we all know not to expect much time at home. I would say they were sleeping three or four hours a night. I think the way they split their responsibilities was very good and we learnt a lot from our trip.
Q. How big is your team?
We have 22 full-time and then eight part-time workers. During Championship week we also have seven Open venue volunteers and then some of our own as well. They are mostly course managers and deputy course managers from elsewhere who have committed a week to us. That will work really well and they all know the course in some shape or form. We will have 60 people in all.
Q. How exciting is it that Tiger Woods will be playing on your golf course?
I just hope all the players like it! It is really exciting and it is going to be really great to see. I can’t wait to see the grandstands go up and see them full of people. It is going to be amazing.
Q. What is your favourite Open moment?
I went to St Andrews in 2005 with my wife and it was Jack Nicklaus’ last Open. He stood on the bridge and we were on the fairway and I think Tom Watson was playing with him. Jack was giving everyone a wave before he finished his round, so that would be my top moment.