My name is David Rieck. I was born in Speyer, a town of approximately 50,000 people on the west bank of the Rhine about eighty kilometres south of Frankfurt. At the age of twelve I started to play golf and, from early on, I was hooked on the sport and the natural surroundings that the sport is played in.
When I finished my schooling I only ever had one goal; to be a greenkeeper. So I completed an apprenticeship and got the chance to work as a greenkeeper at St. Leon-Rot Golf Club, situated on the east side of the Rhine, about twenty-five kilometres from my home.
After five years, I graduated as a qualified greenkeeper through Deula Bavaria, a college based in Munich. Now I wanted to see more of the golf world and began working as an assistant greenkeeper at Golf Son Gual in Mallorca. That was certainly an interesting experience, as the economic situation in Spain, even back then, was not so good. So, after fifteen months, I decided to look for something new. My former boss at St. Leon-Rot, Klaus Peter Sauer, and my then boss at Golf Son Gual, Gareth Anwell, pointed me in the direction of The Ohio Program.
The programme manager, Mike O'Keeffe, has an impressive network of people in the global golf industry. The programme aims to help young greenkeepers between the ages of twenty and twenty-seven progress their careers through internships at some of the best golf courses in the USA, coupled with an education programme at the university.
This sounded like the perfect opportunity for a young greenkeeper with a thirst for knowledge and experience so, supported by the German Farmers Association, I made contact with Mike. He first explained that it was important to have a good grasp of the English language - something we Germans are quite good at - and that I should be prepared to work hard, very hard!
It wasn't long before my visa arrived and I found myself heading out to Columbus, Ohio, home of The Ohio State University, to begin my adventure.
Here, interns were introduced to the programme, especially legal and health issues, and I found it exciting to meet other participants, along with the entire office staff who run the programme so efficiently, including Mike O'Keeffe for the first time in person.
The office personnel are from eight nations who, between them, speak five different languages and are, consequently, able to place interns from all corners of the globe. The induction was very interesting for me. I felt really welcomed and each employee wished me good luck. I immediately felt that every one of them was doing their utmost to make my time in the US as successful as it could possibly be.
After the official launch, we were given a tour of the university. It is hard to believe that there are twice as many students as my home town has residents. We were shown the impressive stadium, the library, the sports centre and the Jack Nicklaus Museum. We also visited the famous Scioto Country Club where a young 'Golden Bear' honed his golfing skills, and a course that will host the 2016 US Senior Open.
This was my first experience of an American golf course and I was immediately impressed with its excellent condition, something I had only previously imagined through watching golf on television.
My initial thought was that I would have loved to be placed there, but Mike said that, where I was going, was even better and that my new friends might well be jealous of me.
And, so it was that I headed for the Broadmoor Golf Resort in Colorado Springs, one of the most exclusive golf resorts in the United States. Mike is very thorough in his appraisal of potential interns and works very hard to marry the requirements of the programme with the ambitions of the intern.
I was to live and work for six months in Colorado Springs, which would include working on the US Women's Open.
The Director of Golf Maintenance at Broadmoor is Fred Dickman. I had already spoken with him, and his secretary, Heidi who, fortunately for me and testament to Mike's care and attention to detail, comes from Germany, and emailed them a number of times so that I could find out everything worth knowing about my future workplace and residence.
After, what was, a long journey I was warmly welcomed by Fred and Heidi.
In the first few days I had the opportunity to get know the area a little. Located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado Springs has a particularly moderate climate. The city has 416,000 inhabitants, many of whom are connected with the United States Air Force base in some way.
The Broadmoor has three golf courses. Each one is unique in design and location. The site of the US Women's Open, the East Course, was built in 1921 and was originally designed by Donald Ross. Numerous USGA tournaments have taken place on this course, including the US Senior Open 2008. It was redesigned in 1952 by Robert Trent Jones, but still has the old greens from 1921. In recent years, it has had various 'tweaks', with improvements to the irrigation system, new tees and bunkers and several more aesthetic alterations to bring it up to date.
As on every golf course, the greens are the heart of the East Course. They consist predominantly of Poa annua and, as stated earlier, have not changed since 1921. What immediately struck me was their superb condition and, with the many undulations, would certainly test a golfer's putting.
The special challenges at Broadmoor are its location, the short golfing season and the quality requirements. The golf resort is situated at 2000 metres above sea level at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. There are only 400mm rain per year and around 250 days of sunshine. In addition, the area is covered with snow through December, January and February. Temperatures range from minus 7OC in the winter to 33OC at the height of summer. It is, therefore, a paradise for holidaymakers.
This weather pattern makes for very difficult care conditions, and reduces the golf season to just five months. The irrigation system, therefore, plays an important role, with three staff members permanently operating the system, checking the courses several times a day to prevent dry spots. If a problem occurs, it can be taken care of immediately. I found this part of the course maintenance particularly interesting.
The quality requirements are enormous. The complex is a five star resort, with green fees set at $200 throughout the season. Every tiny detail is 'five star' because the Americans put huge value on it.
The short season offers little opportunity for permanent employment, so there are an incredible number of seasonal workers. Many come from Jamaica on an international work programme. There were around fifteen Jamaicans during my internship. There were also twelve trainees from the US and China working on the golf courses. All these trainees had studied turf management at top universities in the USA. I have worked closely with some and lived with others. We had a lot of fun!
Foreign cultures have always been interesting to me, and a strong incentive to work abroad. It was great to communicate with the guys and interact.
What I found very special was the incredible natural diversity and proximity to wild animals. During my work I would often come across a herd of deer. I even got to see black bears regularly, but I never stood around to watch them for too long! These are experiences that you'll never forget.
My placement was on the East Course. I worked a forty hour week for most of my time there, which is unusual as most interns work on courses where a fifty hour week is the norm. Mind you, during the tournament the hours shot up to eighty a week!
Preparing for the US Women's Open was a fantastic experience. Such attention to detail. I've never known anything quite like it.
Such an event is planned several years in advance. The USGA organise this tournament and determine how the golf course should be set up. Every smallest detail is repeatedly discussed.
We began our preparations one month before the tournament by reducing the cutting heights across the course (except for the rough), topdressing the greens, cutting back on automatic irrigation, and many other steps. My main task, in addition to many outside activities, was hand watering and mowing the greens.
During the tournament, the course had to be as dry and hard as possible, which is why less irrigation was required, and only the critical areas were hand watered. That was quite a challenge, especially as, just before the tournament, we were required to hand water the whole course with specific amounts.
Special attention was, of course, given to the greens. Along with four colleagues, I had to collect and evaluate data, such as their speed, and hand water as required. The two weeks prior to the tournament were very intense.
During the tournament, everything went according to plan, except for the weather, with many interruptions due to thunderstorms, so it ran into a fifth day. Even so, it was a complete success, with So Yeon Ryu of South Korea becoming the champion following a three hole play-off.
For the second part of my stay in the US, I was given the opportunity of a placement at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona, along with two of my Chinese colleagues, Xue Jian and Zhao Kai, who were also on the intern programme and were to be my room mates.
I felt totally honoured to be working on such a famous golf course but, before that, I had to say my farewells to Colorado, which I found difficult as, on and off the golf course, I had met many great people. I remain in contact with most of them through social media.
I had bought myself a car in Colorado Springs. Jian, Kai and I drove across the plains of New Mexico and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains arriving in the Arizona desert to a temperature of 40OC. It was such a totally different landscape with cacti and rugged mountains everywhere.
To add to my cultural experience, the three of us were to share a room with Tenille, a young greenkeeper from New Zealand, who we met on site.
On our arrival, we were met by the course superintendent, Jeff Plotts, and his secretary Lisa. The two had catered for our every need and we were very comfortable in our surroundings.
Jeff's assistant, Nick Bisanz, was responsible for our development and our internship at TPC Scottsdale.
In my first week, I learned about the entire process involved at such a prestigious resort, but particularly about organisation and planning which will hold me in good stead for the future.
TPC Scottsdale is a 36-hole golf complex. The resort, which opened in 1986, is part of the Tournament Players Club network of golf courses operated by the PGA Tour. The Stadium Course has been home to the tour's annual Phoenix Open since 1987.
The second course is the Champions Course, which was designed by Randy Heckenkemper, and completed in 2007. This course replaced the original Weiskopf and Morrish designed Desert Course.
During my internship, I was to work on both courses.
The team has a completely different set-up to The Broadmoor, consisting exclusively of permanent employees. Four assistant greenkeepers, two on each course, are each responsible for the detailed care. They are led by Nick Bisanz who looks after the overall organisation of the greenkeepers, with Jeff Plotts having overall responsibility. There are also specialists for machinery maintenance and irrigation.
The team consists mainly of Mexicans, so it was useful that I had previously learned some Spanish. The feeling of this place being 'very special' was something you could almost touch. Everyone was proud to work there.
At the beginning of my internship, I witnessed the whole of the Stadium course being scalped down and oversown with cool season grass. This procedure was totally new to me and quite an experience. About twenty colleagues worked around the clock in temperatures of around 30OC and, after six days, all the work had been completed. Not surprisingly, it had to be constantly watered to ensure establishment.
The course was closed for just three weeks to achieve the changeover of grasses and it was an intensive schedule that meant I worked a one hundred hour week during this period!
Immediately after this work came the preparation for the Champions Tour tournament on the Champions Course which had also had some scalping work carried out, mainly on the tees and fairways to keep them in top condition. I was involved with the overseeding, landscaping and general course maintenance.
A particularly nice touch by Jeff Plotts was an invitation to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family and friends, which was certainly a unique experience for me and a great time.
Nevertheless, despite it being December, preparations for the Phoenix Open were well under way. No golf tournament in the world is home to so many visitors, attracting over 500,000 during the duration of the event. Consequently, the construction of the vast number of stands had begun three months earlier.
Hundreds of people were working on building what was, in effect, a temporary city. My work in this period was fertiliser application, mowing, bunker maintenance and a lot of small detail work. It is the detail that makes the course what it is.
Growing conditions are not favourable, with regular frosts slowing down establishment, so I was tasked with applying regular fertiliser applications with the syringe, a task I had previously had little experience of.
The PGA Tour pays special attention to the stripes in the fairway and the precise cut.
The bunkers need much care. The irrigation causes the sand to become very hard in many of them, so we had to rake them regularly to ensure they could be played out of.
In the two weeks running up to the tournament, I had to remain very focused on my work because every little detail had to be spot on. In the morning I was mowing the greens and, in the afternoon, repaired pitch marks on the greens.
Four people worked on the greens, measuring speed and hardness and irrigating if it was necessary.
It was an amazing experience to see so many people on a golf course. The par 3 16th hole is completely surrounded by grandstands that accommodate 22,000 golf fans. They make an incredible noise, whooping, cheering and booing in equal measure as the tee shots head toward the pin - or not, as the case may be!
It is not only the most visited hole in world golf, but also the loudest. Fans describe it as a giant golf party.
Three weeks after the tournament, myself and Jian made a one-day trip to the WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championships at the Ritz Carlton Club in Marana, Arizona. It was only a two hour drive away; Jeff Plotts had kindly arranged the tickets for us.
Course Manager, Aaron Thomas, gave us a tour of the facility, followed by lunch. It was great that he found the time, especially as the tournament was in full swing. I have never taken so many pictures in such a short space of time. The course was in incredible condition and looked even more impressive than it does on television.
During my internship I also got the chance to visit to the Golf Industry Show in Las Vegas, thanks to a grant from Syngenta. At the show I was able to meet up with some of my colleagues from Colorado, Columbus and Germany to share our experiences. I also met a good number of new contacts, and one of these helped me to get a placement as one of the summer season team on the Old Course at St. Andrews once I had returned from the US; a placement I could only ever have dreamed of before my internship.
After the GIS, I worked one more month at TPC Scottsdale before going on a quick tour of a few sporting events.
My time in the United States was very successful for me. The Ohio Program enabled me to work on golf courses which I had previously only dreamed about. I have learned a lot from some incredibly talented and professional people. Besides various techniques to maintain a golf course, The Ohio Program puts great emphasis on understanding organisational structures.
I spent twelve months enhancing my greenkeeping skills, learning to communicate at the highest level and hone some of my language skills.
When you have successfully passed out of The Ohio Program, the top facilities in the whole greenkeeping world take notice. It has catapulted my career to a whole new level, and it could do the same for any enthusiastic young greenkeeper. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike O'Keeffe may be contacted via email at email@example.com