The Open at Royal Liverpool was deemed a huge success by all concerned, with the greenkeeping team singled out for plaudits by many in the media. There was even a British winner to add to the overall success as Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy lifted the Claret Jug. But what were the Course Manager's views? In this Q&A session, Craig Gilholm explains how he prepares for the tournament and what needs to be done once the course is returned to the club
PC: Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself; how long you have worked at Royal Liverpool, how you came into the industry etc.?
CG: I have been passionate about golf since the age of sixteen. I worked my way up from apprentice to second in charge at Muirfield and applied for the top job at Royal Liverpool in 2005, and got it.
How far in advance did you know that Royal Liverpool had been awarded The Open?
I had known for about four years.
Does that press a panic button or are you comfortable with all the media attention the course will get?
No panic button to hit. The course was already in excellent condition. Although a huge occasion, it was still just another competition in our very busy schedule.
What relationship do you have with the media?
Very good, although I'm not keen on having my photo taken! I did loads of adverts, interviews on radio and TV and I am now quite experienced and comfortable with it.
What relationship do you have with the players?
Honestly? None - I rarely came into contact with them.
Was this your first Open?
This was my second Open in charge and fourth all together.
When do you start setting up the course for the Open?
Nothing changes in our routine as the standard of the course is as good as it can be anyway. Two weeks before the tournament, we bring in extra staff to ramp up the general tidiness. Primarily, it's grass cutting all the areas on and around the course.
What input do the R&A have?
There is a three way co-operation between us, the R&A and the STRI. The R&A visits once or twice in the year running up to the Open to look at the course and discuss minor changes, if required. Confidence in the course is already high and we have members of the R&A at Royal Liverpool who are very familiar with the course. A week before the championship, there is a lot of activity between the three parties checking all the details.
Are you involved with the positioning of spectator areas, camera towers etc?
The R&A are very experienced in managing this side of things and I have very little involvement. They consult me if they have any questions about any of the camera positions.
Prior to their construction, do you do anything to protect the grass or just let nature take its course?
To maintain the ecology of the golf course, we move any nesting birds or wildlife which could be endangered by the constructions. We try to strengthen the grass as much as possible in the construction areas and where the greatest footfall occurs to encourage a rapid recovery.
What additional support staff do you get and who arranges for them?
The R&A send a number of their scholars to gain experience and all the other Open courses send one member of their team as well. During the week of the championship, around twenty additional staff, including volunteers from golf courses around the world, arrive to help out for the week.
Were you responsible for their work schedules?
Yes. I am responsible for all the work schedules which consist mainly of grass cutting and general superficial maintenance.
What time did you start each morning?
What work is done the previous evening?
We cut every morning, so there isn't a lot to do the night before, unless a general bit of tidying is required.
Which suppliers and manufacturers supported this event with machinery, product, support staff etc?
Our two main suppliers are Toro for turf maintenance and Andrew Cornens from BMS for course furniture. They are always available during the tournament if anything is required. The same goes for Hunter Grinders who are on call for additional grinding, if required.
What remedial work do you have to undertake after the event?
Very little. It's mainly aeration, to alleviate compaction from foot traffic, and overseeding.
Were there any specific areas that suffered excessive damage?
Not really. The course is a lot stronger than when I took it over nine years ago. Also, the R&A are experienced and make a conscious effort to minimise the impact of the event. Any damaged areas took only a few hours to fix. The worst affected area was under the grandstand on the 18th. It was the first to go up and the last to come down.
Is post championship work undertaken by your own staff or do you get additional assistance?
There really isn't any major work to do, so we can do it all in-house.
How long does it take the course to recover?
Within a couple of weeks the tee to green areas are back to normal. On all other areas, we will let nature take its course when the growing season starts next year. I expect everything to be completely back to normal within eight to nine months.
When do you hand it back for public/members play?
Two days after the finish. Just like any other major competition.
The greenkeeping staff were roundly praised by both the media and players; that must make you very proud?
Yes, extremely proud. When something is a success we can all celebrate. It was a real team effort. All the lads got on very well and are now good friends. They enjoyed the experience and saw the results of the hard work.
Did the course meet your expectations?
NO! It won't ever meet my expectations. It can always be improved. It was a success, so that was good, but next year I expect the course to be better still - and the year after that. That's what gets me up in the morning!
Thank you for your time.