Not unlike the England cricket team, we have 'borrowed' native Irishman, William Evans for our 'Brits Abroad' series; well he does hail from the British Isles! By his own admission, he got into the industry by accident, but has since built himself an impressive career
Troon Golf's Allegria is the number one golf course in Egypt, one of the world's emerging golfing destinations. It is a Greg Norman Signature Course situated in Sheikh Zayed City in the west of Cairo, with views of the well known Pyramids of Giza.
The Shark's brief was to design and build the first signature golf course in the country out of virgin desert. Now home to beautifully manicured fairways and immaculate putting surfaces, Allegria truly deserve the distinction of being world-class.
The 7,217 yard, par-72 course features streams, rock features, vegetation and undulating scenery. Greg Norman and his design team introduced innovative methods to utilise the greatest number of trees on the site rather than eliminate them, and the course is designed to be a natural extension of the overall community. Although a demanding proposition from the championship tees, the 18-hole course has been designed with a number of different teeing options that make the course enjoyable for golfers of all abilities.
Irishman William Evans is the Golf Course Superintendent, a position he took up not long after the course opened on 1st July 2010.
In this article, he talks about how he eventually came to be working for Troon Golf in a pretty unforgiving climate.
"Basically, I just got into the industry by accident and really liked the job. There was a new course being built - Bray Golf Club - close to my family home in County Wicklow, and I started working there for a company called Turfgrass Consultancy during the construction.
Once that was completed, I moved on, with the company, to become Academy Manager for Padraig Harrington at his private golf academy at his home in Dublin. During my time as Academy Manager, I gained a great insight into tournament preparations and a professional golfer's expectations of course conditioning. Each season, we would replicate course conditions as per the major tournaments to help aid Padraig with his preparations and practising coming into those events.
During my time, I gained great experience from Turfgrass Consultancy's agronomists John Clarken and Julian Mooney. After about two and a half years, I wanted to gain more experience and work at a course with a Tour event, so Julian put me in contact with Mike O'Keeffe and I went to the States on the OSU International Intern programme (the TOP Program) where I worked at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, which is home to the Tour Championship and, formerly, legendary golfer Bobby Jones.
During my time there, we prepared the course for the Tour Championship - FedEx Cup Final; it was a great learning curve for me and I was involved in all elements of course maintenance and also working with a large crew of many different nationalities.
The superintendent, Ralph Kepple, was extremely helpful and always willing to answer my questions. He understood that I was there to improve and learn my skills, so gave me the opportunity to get involved with all areas of tournament preparations.
After completing my internship, I went to Ohio State University to take classes with Dr Karl Dannerberger, which was a great experience and gave me the technical skills I needed to better understand plant and soil science.
Throughout my time in the States, Mike was always there to support and advise, or help with visas, housing etc. I cannot recommend this programme highly enough to any young greenkeeper out there who wants to develop their career; it is a lot of hard work, but well worth it in the end, and it allows you to get connected with so many people in the industry; just look at the list of ex-TOP Program interns that are superintendents around the world today!
Once my time in the States was complete, I returned to Ireland and got a job as Assistant Superintendent at Farnham Estate Golf Club. When I started working there, with Superintendent John Banbury, the construction had not yet started. I was there for almost three years working on all aspects of construction and grow in, from beginning to opening.
John was so helpful during my time there and I learnt a great deal about building and growing in a golf course from him but, once the course had opened, I felt it was time to move on to my next challenge and moved to become Head Greenkeeper at The Grove in Hertfordshire.
During my almost three years at The Grove, working under Phil Chiverton, he helped me greatly to developed my turf and man management skills. It was also my first time working with Troon Golf.
The Grove and Troon Golf's standards are extremely high. The course holds a lot of corporate golf days and, during my time there, I learned how to maintain a golf course to that level, whilst trying to juggle the high levels of play.
From there, I got the opportunity to come to Egypt to become the Golf Course Superintendent at the newly opened Greg Norman designed golf course, The Allegria, part of the Troon Golf portfolio. The Allegria is set within a housing compound with villas all around the course.
Working in the desert, and an emerging golf market like Egypt, brings daily challenges. We have a big crew of fifty-five staff, eight of whom are dedicated to irrigation. We operate a twenty-four hour irrigation shift to ensure someone is always on site should any issues arise during irrigation programmes. We have over 2,200 irrigation heads within the forty hectares of turf, so many issues can arise. Therefore, it is important to have staff on site 24/7.
We also have a workshop manager with a staff of four in our workshop, who look after all agronomy equipment and the Club Car fleet for the golfers. They undertake all servicing and grinding.
Additionally, we have sixteen operators who have various skill levels, whilst twenty-four greenkeepers focus on detail works such as edging, bunker raking, divot repair and maintaining and pruning landscape areas.
All staff receive training as needed for their job role and it is linked to a skills matrix which enables progression though the ranks as they become more skilled.
When I first arrived, the course had only recently opened and there was still lots of construction work going on within the surrounding development but, with the support of Troon's agronomist for the region, Robin Evans, and the hard work of the crew, the course obtained the ranking of number one in Egypt in 2013; it continues to hold that honour.
The summers are hot over here, with temperatures reaching highs of 40OC on a daily basis. During the winter, the Sea Dwarf Paspalum turf goes dormant and we carry out overseeding on greens and tees to give all year round, actively growing playing surfaces.
Egypt has gone through its difficulties during my time here and this has caused challenges to maintain the golf course; power outages, fuel shortages and curfews have all been commonplace. Despite this, it is a great country to live in, with lovely people and fantastic weather, and it has been great for my personal learning and development, which will only make me stronger for my next adventure, whenever and wherever that will be.
That is the great thing about working for Troon Golf; it opens up opportunities for travel and movement within their portfolio of courses around the world.
The soil profile here is native sand with some select areas of clay. The greens and tees were constructed out of the native sand. The Sea Dwarf Paspalum is sensitive and needs regular, but light maintenance.
The weather here is fairly stable, so it makes planning works slightly easier. For example, on average, it rains twice a year! The Paspalum turf areas do go dormant in winter (December through to the end of March) and temperatures can reach as low as 5OC at night. Due to this winter dormancy, and the weather patterns here, most of our renovations works takes place between May and September.
Sand storms are common in February and March, which causes bunker 'sand blow' and the course gets covered in a dust/sand layer. We have to water bunkers during these sand storms to try and keep the sand in place; after it has passed over, we have to perform a large clean up operation to blow debris and sand off the course and also to replace some of the bunker sand.
We are also subject to heavy fog in late autumn and early spring.
As for general presentation, our cutting heights are as follows: greens are pedestrian cut with the Toro 1000 mowers to 2.75mm; tees are pedestrian cut with the Toro 1600 mowers to 6mm; fairways - 11mm using Toro 5410s; surrounds - 10mm with Toro 3250s; rough is kept at two inches using Sidewinders, 3500s or 4500s.
Every part of the course is presented to Championship standard as per Troon Golf requirements.
Due to the weather and our overseeding programme, we have a year round playing season here, however, the winter months are less intense as we only overseed greens, tees and practice areas for now. So, during these months, we carry out bunker renovations, irrigation alterations, alter cart-paths and replace/revamp landscape areas.
Pests and diseases aren't a big problem due to the dry climate, so it is not too big an issue, although Army worms and grubs can be an issue over here. Our pesticide programme and timing over the past seasons has given us good control.
On the ecology and environment front, we are currently trying to gain certification from Audubon. We do a lot of work with the Department for Agricultural by carrying out trials on turf products etc., in an effort to get more environmentally friendly products registered for us in Egypt.
I think that the industry is going to continue to struggle to attract young people into greenkeeping, which will eventually lead to a shortage of qualified people within the industry. Overall, I feel that golf is also going to struggle to attract young players, unless it can become more affordable and less time consuming to enable it to fit into people's modern and busy lives.
Are we, as greenkeepers, undervalued? I don't think so. At the end of the day, it all depends on what you measure it from. I personally think, in general, greenkeepers pay across the board is fair for the type of industry we work in. What I do feel is that our jobs are not understood, and people do not realise how much work goes on behind the scenes at every golf course to make it playable. Most people outside of the industry just think we cut the grass!
Networking with industry peers is the best way to get your profile out there and, these days, with social media, it has never been easier to get connected.
As part of the Troon golf networks we get opportunities to attend yearly conferences and are also provided with a lot of online training and seminars."
- Daily mowing year round, with weekly grooming, brushing and/or verti-cutting dependent on needs
- Winter overseeding with Poa Triv from October to late April/early May using a Gandy dropseeder
- Hollow coring 18mm tines three times a year, followed by heavy topdressing - course closed for three days during this period - Toro ProCore and Belt dresser
- Solid tining - 6-8mm tines twice monthly in summer, once a month in winter using the Toro ProCore
- Light topdressing every 10-14 days in summer and monthly on winter overseed - Toro Workman and ProPass spinning disc dresser.
- Foliar fertiliser applications every ten days. Various mixes using the Toro Multi Pro
- Herbicide, pesticide and fungicide applications as needed - Toro Multi Pro
- A green speed of above 10.5 maintained all year round - rolling as needed, but average twice weekly using a Smithco Roller
- Mowing 4-5 times per week, with grooming, brushing and verti-cutting weekly dependent on needs
- Winter overseeding with ryegrass from October to late April/early spring using a Gandy drop seeder
- Hollow coring 18mm tines three times a year, followed by heavy topdressing - course closed for three days during this period - Toro ProCore and belt dresser
- Solid tining 8mm tines; twice monthly in summer, once monthly in winter - Toro ProCore
- Light topdressing monthly - Toro Workman and ProPass disc spreader
- Foliar fertiliser applications every 10-14 days - various mixes using the Toro Multi Pro
- Herbicide, pesticide and fungicide applications as needed using the Toro Multi Pro
Fairway, Rough and Surrounds Maintenance
- Mowing 3-5 times per week dependent on season
- Hollow coring 18-25mm tines two times per season - Toro ProCore and Verse Vac for clean up
- Verti-cutting and brushing weekly in growing season
- Foliar fertiliser applications every 14-21 days, dependent on needs, using the Toro Multi Pro
- Granular fertiliser 3-4 times per season - Lely Spreader
- Solid tining 10mm tines monthly - Toro ProCore
- Spiking and slitting monthly - Toro Multi Spike 1200
What's in the shed?
Toro Greensmaster 1000 pedestrian greens mowers x 8
Toro Greensmaster 1600 pedestrian greens mowers x 6
Toro Multi Pro sprayers x 3
Toro Sidewinder mowers x 2
Toro Greensmaster 3250 triples x 3
Club Car Carryall electric UVs x 12
Toro Workman 3300 UVs x 4
Toro ProCore 648 x 2
Toro 864 Procore
Toro MH400 fairway topdresser
Toro Reelmaster 5410 x 3
Toro Groundmaster 3500 x 2
Toro Groundmaster 4500 x 2
Toro Sandpro x 2
Kubota tractors x 4
Toro Versa Vac
Smithco greens rollers x 2
Turf cutters x 2
Toro ProForce debris blowers x 2
Flymo hover mowers x 6
Honda rotary mowers x 4
Williams turf sprayer
Chemical mixing tank
Plus various chainsaws, trimmers, hedge cutters, pole saws, back pack blowers, edgers, transport trailers etc.
Machinery is purchased outright from Hydro Turf Egypt for Toro and Clubcar.
William says he is not loyal to one manufacturer, but believes Toro has the best grass cutting machinery on the market.
A wash down area is a legal requirement in Egypt.