The Albatros course at Le Golf National is an 18-hole golf course in France, near Paris. Designed by architects Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge, in collaboration with Pierre Thevenin, it is located in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, southwest of central Paris.
Construction began thirty-one years ago in July 1987, and it debuted over three years later, on 5 October 1990, opened by Roger Bambuck, Minister of Youth and Sports.
Le Golf National hosts the Open de France on the European Tour, the oldest national open in continental Europe. It was first played there in 1991, and has been every year since, except on two occasions (1999, 2001).
As well at the Ryder Cup, Le Golf National is scheduled to host the Olympics in 2024. It has a capacity for 80,000 spectators. The Albatros (Albatross) is the main championship course, par 72 at 7,331 yards (6,703m). The other courses are the Aigle (Eagle), par 71 and 6,224 yards (5,691m), and the short nine-hole Oiselet (Birdie) course, which is a par 32.
Alejandro Reyes is the Golf Courses and Estate Manager and, in this question and answer session, he gives us the lowdown on his career to date and Ryder Cup preparations.
Pitchcare: Tell us a bit about yourself …
Alejandro: I was born in Spain and studied agronomy on an academic level, both in Spain and in England. After that, I worked in the south of Spain for some years on several Jack Nicklaus courses. I began as a greenkeeper but, when the recession came and many greenkeepers lost their jobs, I became responsible for several courses as a superintendent overseeing a team of fifty-five greenkeepers.
How did a Spanish national end up working in France?
In 2011, I was ready for a move and looking for a change - a new opportunity. I had applied for couple of different jobs in Europe when a good friend and colleague said The French Golf Federation was looking for a golf course and estate manager for Le Golf National - capable of bringing the course up to standard for the Ryder Cup. As you can imagine, I thought no way, not for me. I don't have the profile or the experience. He said they are looking for someone with experience in golf course construction who can speak French. I thought I had nothing to lose so applied and, to my surprise, the federation wanted to meet me.
When did you hear that Le Golf National would be hosting the Ryder Cup?
Like everyone in my profession I knew this before my interview, and it was the purpose of the position being offered to create a Ryder Cup course.
Were you filled with excitement or dread, or did you feel ready for the challenge?
At my first interview, I was more scared than excited. I had little real confidence. They had a hundred people applying for the job - it's not going to be me I thought. I was no more confident when I came out; I knew I could have done better in the interview. Two or three weeks later, I get a call and I'm on the short list of five people, with the second interview three months later in October.
Now I knew I could do it. I knew there was just one other French speaking candidate which might swing it away from me, so I looked for a French teacher and studied every day for three hours a day. In October, I said I wanted to do the interview in French. I felt I gave the best interview of my life. I felt young and very confident. I wanted this opportunity.
When did you begin work at Le Golf National?
I was appointed in 2013. The challenge was to install new drainage and complete all the renovations between the two French Opens, with the object to grow the fairways back and in for the 2016 French Open. We worked incredibly hard to heal all the trenches, always prioritising the key areas of play to ensure they were presented to tournament standard. Even if the overall course presentation was improving daily, two weeks prior to the tournament (mid-June) we were still turfing large areas and I wasn't sure how the result would play out.
Following this, we still had 2017 to get through which would see the HNA French Open in June, integrating the Rolex Series, the European Senior Tour Paris Legends Championship and the 'year to go' celebrations in October.
Would you say this was the highlight of your career thus far?
The highlight for me has been achieving the changes to the Albatros course; with 200km of trenches and the course already closed for nine months, in time for the 2016 French Open. I will always remember the first day of the Open when our tournament director announced that the tournament would involve playing the ball as it lies. I was stimping 13 on the green and I won't forget that moment. One of the biggest successes of my life.
What changes to the course have you had to make to accommodate the Ryder Cup tournament?
The course was closed for nine months in all. During that period, the drainage and the irrigation underwent major alterations, as did many greens and tees. Lake edges were reconstructed as well, bunkers installed with Capillary Concrete, and a full drinking water pipe system to accommodate the 60,000 plus expected crowds.
On top of the regular drainage, diagonally, there is 140km of shallow slit drainage: 22cm deep slits, filled with coarse sand which help the rainwater to drain quickly, where it is further transported through the main drainage system.
The irrigation figures are impressive too; 1500 sprinklers, connected by more than 50km of slits, containing 32-315mm diameter HDPE pipes, controlled by a Toro Lynx irrigation computer.
Have you had much agronomic help?
Microdochium nivale control on the greens is our main agronomic challenge. Spray contact fungicide is not allowed in France, so our management approach combines both best practices of considering the environment and using a systemic preventive programme: Aqua-Aid Oars PS, Marathon Golf, Matrix, Melstar S and the complete Melgreen range were used during construction and maintenance of Le Golf National.
Our programme objectives are:
• Use of biostimulants, phosphates all year and even oxygenated water in winter as curative solution
• Control the amount of N on greens. To avoid nitrate as an N source and favouring ammonium
• Tissue K testing throughout the active fusarium periods trying to go under two per cent on leaves
• Reduce mowing throughout the active fusarium periods as much as possible, keeping quality by frequent rolling
• Implementing a maintenance programme on greens to increase the creeping bent / poa annua balance on greens which is working very well
• Keeping the organic matter content under control, where we want to be
• A fungicide preventive programme from September using systemic active ingredients
• Sending disease samples to the laboratory and inoculating them with the few active ingredients available to study the percentage of tolerance to each ingredient
• To ensure the use of the active ingredients on the plus efficient possible manner: regular spray equipment calibration, choosing the right nozzles regarding the droplet size and quality, and always choosing the best possible environmental conditions
For the future, so not affecting the Ryder Cup conditions, we are also developing a control programme with SGL in collaboration with Vienna University using a UV-C light equipment, adapted for golf greens, to combat microdochium nivale. We hope to have this in place by next winter.
What additional crew have you had to take on for the big events?
We have a regular team of thirty. In the case of the French Open this increases to eighty, but for the Ryder Cup it increases to a total of 180. These are drawn mainly from Europe, but also the USA, North Africa and the Middle East.
When did you begin to prepare for the tournament, when will the building of hospitality units, villages and viewing galleries begin and are your team involved in this process?
The French Open needed only an eight week window to the tournament, but the Ryder Cup is much more demanding. So, construction began on the 9th April. One of the strengths of the course when it was being considered for the Ryder Cup was that all the play areas are in low positions and the standing areas in the rough in elevated positions, so part of the renovations was building kilometres of roads between every hole and the mounds, so the tracks are moving between the holes without disturbing play. This means that the construction companies handling all the hospitality units and viewing galleries, can access all the sites via this network of roads.
Has the course remained open during this time?
Yes. We will close on Monday 4th September; twenty days before the first practice day.
Cabling for TV is often an issue at large events. Have you had any input into this?
No, I've not been involved much, but the company doing the early constructions installed the cabling for the 2016 French Open. It is all completely hidden. 9km of ducts were connected to accommodate the cables and buried at the same time as the renovations. I anticipate them staying in place for future competitions.
Have you had to consider the local ecology, and did you work with any environmental groups during that process?
Definitely! We are in partnership with the Paris National Museum of Natural History. We have commissioned them to come and make an inventory of all the species of flora and fauna on the course before the Ryder Cup, including the fish. They have over 1,700 recorded species of wildlife.
The bio-diversity will inevitably suffer during the tournament, with over 61,000 expected visitors walking around the course, so our objective and the compromise made by the French Golf Federation is that by 2019 we will do another audit and will replace lost species and introduce new. It's a top priority for us. We are a Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) Certified golf course and accept this responsibility willingly.
What additional machinery has been brought in to prepare the course each day?
It's important that we have the right equipment and the correct number, which is why we are delighted to have sponsors who assist us. Our major sponsor is Ransomes Jacobsen and they supply twenty-eight additional mowers and all the uniforms for the staff to wear during the tournament too. We couldn't make it without them. It will be all orange! Other sponsors of the maintenance team, such as Melspring, Aqua-Aid EU, Capillary Concrete, Syngenta and Barenbrug, sponsor at different levels of involvement, such as meals for all the greenkeepers, housing, transport etc.
The only other additional machinery is fifteen additional rotary mowers from Honda and a few extra blowers to keep the course looking clear. We have some magnificent Oak trees on the course, but leaves are not an issue for us generally.
What time will the crew be starting and finishing work each day?
We normally start at 6.00am and work until the afternoon. But, during the tournament, we will be starting at 5.00am and back to the compound around 8.30am, and again on the course when the last player has finished each day.
What's the weather generally like in this part of northern France in September?
We can't worry about the weather. We would like the Ryder Cup to be played in beautiful late summer sunshine, of-course, but can only wait and see.
The drainage is now very good. Le Golf National is a clay-based golf course and used to be very difficult to play in winter, even the trolleys had difficulty negotiating around it. So, we have vastly improved the drainage and irrigation systems and have been sanding and changing the soil profile and structure, to maximise the aeration and filtration.
How soon after the tournament do you expect to be able to hand the course back to the members?
15th November is the target date. It is daunting to think that it took five and a half months to build up and we have only six weeks to reinstate after the Ryder Cup. It will be a challenge, particularly if it rains during the tournament. Over 60,000 visitors a day will have a massive impact on the turfed areas, but we are very confident we will be able to hand the course back on the date agreed.
Will you be taking a holiday after the event?
No long holidays this year. I'm not even thinking about it. We have this amazing moment happening. All the team and myself are working very hard. We want to be out on the golf course every day, it's exhilarating, and on the Sunday when it's all over it will be strange and a bit sad, but right now it's enormously enjoyable!
After the event my priority is to give holidays to my assistants - my team. I will be here full time until the last truck has gone and will take a break at Christmas.
Thank you for your time.
Alejandro Neyes - Career progress
Golf Courses and Estate Manager
Company Name: Le Golf National
Dates Employed: Jan 2013 - Present
Employment Duration: 5 yrs. 5 months
Golf courses maintenance and renovation to host the 2018th Ryder Cup. Home of the HNA Open de France.
Golf Courses Superintendent
Company Name: Selprats
Dates Employed: Dec 2011 - Dec 2012
Employment Duration: 1 yr. 1 month
Supervising the maintenance of 3 Nicklaus golf courses (2 Nicklaus Design; Mar Menor and Saurines and 1 Nicklaus Signature; Condado de Alhama).
Company Name: Alhama Signature Golf
Dates Employed: Nov 2009 - Dec 2011
Employment Duration: 2 yrs. 2 months
Maintenance at the highest quality on a Jack Nicklaus Signature course.
Company Name: Nicklaus Golf Trail
Dates Employed: Jul 2007 - Nov 2009
Employment Duration: 2 yrs. 5 months
Construction of Condado de Alhama Signature course. Complete experience such as growing manager and course pre-opening at a Jack Nicklaus Signature standard.
Company Name: Nicklaus Golf Trail
Dates Employed: Jul 2007 - Oct 2008
Employment Duration: 1 yr. 4 months
Managing a nursery to produce sprigs and sods getting the maximum production in the shortest time in adverse climate conditions to plan two golf courses.
FEGGA programme; at the Nicklaus Design courses.
Company Name: Polaris World
Dates Employed: Apr 2007 - Apr 2008
Employment Duration: 1 yr. 1 month
• La Torre Golf Resort. Post-opening stage
• Hacienda Riquelme: Construction and planting stage
• Mar Menor Golf: Maintenance stage
• El Valle Golf Resort. Preopening stage
Irrigation Association. USA: Certified Golf Courses Irrigation Auditor
The University of Georgia: Certified Turfgrass Professional
Elmwood College, Scotland: Professional Development Award in Golf Course Management
Cranfield University: MSc Field of Study Sports Surfaces Technology
Universidad de Almería: Ingeniero. Field of Study Agronomia y Jardineria
EFA Campomar: FPI & FPII. Field of Study Gardens and Agriculture