Tournament preparation - those two words can cause fear or excitement on the golf course. At the very least they mean long hours for everyone, very early starts and, for me personally, very late finishes, as I'm usually the last to leave. It has been known for me not to leave at all, preferring to sleep in my truck ready for the next day's early start.
Patrick 'Cal' Callaby is Workshop Manager at the Celtic Manor Resort in South Wales. Whether it's a full on televised tournament or just a 'special event' a heightened level of care is required on the course. In this article Cal explains how Celtic Manor staff operate during the Wales Open.
They also mean 'Teamwork'.
Here, at Celtic Manor Resort the last three years of The Wales Open have been comparatively 'easy' due to the extensive refurbishment and reconfiguration of two of our golf courses. That meant The Wales Open being held on the Roman Road course, a compact course that 'polishes up' very easily in a short time and is closer to the maintenance complex than the other two.
Tournament is a grand word. It conjures up pictures of fluttering bunting, TV cameras and miles of cable everywhere. Then there are the marquees, crowds, professional golfers and their entourage, flash courtesy cars zooming about with important people inside etc. etc. and that's the way it is for large events.
Perhaps a more useful term for most small golf courses is 'Important Event'. It might not be a 'Tournament' in the strict sense of the word but it is important to the club to have a heightened level of care, and that will directly impact on the resident technician. Preparation time could range from a couple of day's intense activity for a small club to a month-long closure for a major televised tournament at a large club, but always with the intense activity.
For those who have an annual tournament (or more often) it never really goes away, everything that's done on the golf course has to be considered carefully before going ahead. For those in the workshop it doesn't have quite the same effect, we are more fortunate in that respect. But, tournaments do have a huge impact on workshop activity, both before and after, so let's start by looking at the preparation period.
I suppose that detailed preparation begins 3-4 weeks before the first practice day. We grind everything in sight; get down all the fairway and trim mowers grass boxes, ensuring they are undamaged and that they fit correctly. Then make lists of when machines may need re-blading before the tournament.
I check the bulk fuel tank and arrange a delivery as close to the tournament as possible so we don't have a fuel tanker manoeuvring in a compound full of machinery. Hired vehicles need the correct specifications for our purposes, i.e. 4WD crew cab with ball hitches but no canopies, as well as a crew bus. We also arrange for extra skips/bins for specific golf course and general waste.
We have a workshop vehicle that is comprehensively kitted out for breakdowns but, for the Tournament Support' role, I take the time to have it checked over thoroughly and include other 'stuff' such as 20 litres of diesel, 5 litres of petrol, 10 litres of antifreeze mixture, 10 litres of hydraulic oil and various funnels.
It is important to ensure the compressor receiver is charged up to maximum, the airline and inflator are in place and the batteries for the 'zip' gun are fully charged with the correct sockets all present in the case. I also replace any lost or unserviceable tools and previously used spare parts etc. It's a long list but I like nothing left to chance.
As the tournament gets closer and the heights of cut are moving downwards, blade attitudes are altered as the range changes and a close eye is kept on bedknife wear. Worn blades are changed to the ones most appropriate for the height of cut at that time, but this also depends on how close the tournament is.
If we change to 'tournament' or 'micro' blades too soon they wont last. Leave on the high-wear blades and the machine will 'swim' on the next height of cut change. It's a matter of timing and, at this stage, economy of blades (for me anyway) does not come into it, only the playing surface. 'Salvage' can be addressed later.
A week before the tournament we sharpen all fairway and trim mowers and grind all the pedestrian tees mowers at the end of that week.
The final height of cut on the greens is now getting close and any problems will soon make an appearance. The pedestrian greens mowers are tickled on the grinder after each use and their performance on the greens is carefully monitored, every mark is scrutinised, diagnosed and addressed.
Practice Day 1 is upon us; the compound is a hive of activity at 4:30am as the greenkeepers get in the starting blocks. Everything has been prepared the day before so it's a "jump in and go" type start. Early tee-offs make every minute count and a great deal of organisation regarding the route each individual operator must take to their work place has occurred. If mistakes are going to be made, or the plan has to be modified, then now is the time.
Some 15-20 minutes after the greenkeepers commence mowing our tournament support truck leaves the compound and the duty technician trawls around the course, mobile phone and 2-way radio at the ready, parking occasionally and looking at greens to see if there are problems looming.
My team of three take turns with this. I depart 30-40 minutes later and drive around the course stopping at each green that has been cut, keeping an eye out for any problems, with my mobile phone, 2-way radio, prism, macroscope and kneeling board all in my vehicle.
Hopefully the work progresses without incident and, when all the tasks are completed, the greenkeepers on their various machines assemble with the Course Manager, his Head Greenkeeper and our support truck and all travel in together in a convoy. This ensures that seasonal people, not totally familiar with the estate, do not get lost and all machines take the same route to keep away from the golf action.
Once back at the maintenance compound our workshop staff then get busy to prepare for the after-play cut. Greens mowers are washed off and refueled by the greenkeepers, and brought to the workshop for a few passes on the Express Dual grinder and any height of cut adjustments the 'boss' decides are necessary.
Fairway, trim and tees mowers are also checked for cut, adjusted as necessary and any problems addressed.
We will next turn our attention to the other two courses, although work on these is minimised for the duration of the tournament.
Machines from a different fleet have been prepared and are dispatched, they are usually back by lunchtime and then the staff restaurant is attacked by ravenous greenkeepers, where hotel workers can be trampled underfoot and the servery left bare, apart from the odd wisp of steam.
By this time the workshop has come to the end of its work until the after-play cut is completed. It is now time for the technicians to have some lunch. Each year we hire in a couple of pool tables, darts board, putting 'green' and a ping-pong table. This keeps the greenkeepers amused between work periods for the first part but, towards the end of the week, everyone will be getting tired and bodies are crashed out everywhere, arguments arise from nothing and all are getting irritable. The end, however, is in sight.
It goes without saying that good forward planning is essential if the tournament is to run without a hitch. An example of this is the greens 'squeegees', which have previously been checked over and are now put out ready for use as, this year, there is the threat of rain. The crew bus is washed to smarten it up and any unwanted greenkeeping paraphernalia is removed, the squeegees are installed ready to go at the drop of a hat. Fuel is checked and topped-up (mustn't run out in front of the whole world). In view of the weather forecast meal breaks are rearranged and an alternative meal-time rota, previously planned, is pinned up for all to see. Those greenkeepers not on meal break will be dispatched in the crew bus to various strategic points around the course to take up standby duty.
As the afternoon golf draws to a close the people are in place to make the earliest start on the evening cut. Trim, fairway, tees and greens mowers are all set to go as soon as they get the word that the golf has passed a certain point for that area, i.e. out of sight and out of earshot.
Once the evening cut is completed, and the operators make their way back to the maintenance complex, they will be met by the three technicians, anxiously waiting so they to can go to work and get away as soon as possible. They go into their well rehearsed routine after the machines have been washed.
One removes boxes and transport wheels and lines up the Toro Flex 21s in the workshop, another gives them a quick touch-up grind and, as they come off the grinder, the one who removed the boxes gives the bedknives a light Rapid Face, adjusts the set and checks the height of cut. They will then be refuelled and loaded back on the correct Carryall ready for the morning. The third technician is busy with the adjustments of the Toro 1600s and trim mowers. Any machine that has cutting issues will be taken to the shop for grinding last, so only one stop adjustment is needed on the Express Dual.
At Celtic Manor Resort we transport pedestrian mowers using Club Car Carryalls, which are all labelled for the tournament. The label is laminated and taped to the front cowling and contains the operator's name, the number of the machine being carried, such as Flex 21"/ CMR/3, the order of cut such as 'Greens #1, 15 & 7'. There is very little room left for the operators to make mistakes as most of the thinking has been done for them. Preparation!
The last machines to come in after the evening cut are the fairway mowers, and I listen to the operators as they wash down their machine and address any problems they report while they refuel and check the engine oil. Their machines are then adjusted for cut. The Toro 5410s hold their cut well and one or two clicks generally has them cutting like greens mowers. Then they will be parked line-astern for the quick getaway the next morning. I always attend to them myself. The workshop staff are younger (than me) and need some time at home, so I try and get them away as soon as possible after grinding the pedestrian mowers, normally between 8.00pm and 9.00pm.
We have an outside security company in the compound for the duration of tournaments, so we do not park machinery in the building overnight. Experience has shown that it is quicker to park them in the outdoor compound, loaded or prepared for a quick start.
Apart from the security guard I am usually the only one left. If necessary I will give him some instructions and beat a hasty retreat.
Then I drive the fourteen miles home and greet my wife, Maralyn, who says goodnight from halfway up the stairs on her way to bed, she has left me a meal which I'll microwave and eat hungrily.
She has also fed the dogs for me, and I will tend to them tomorrow, coming home when the tournament has started, to clean their kennels etc. and get their food ready for the evening. Then take them out for exercise for an hour, before returning to work.
That's teamwork and that's all about preparation also.
• Be prepared, you can't beat good forward planning.
• Where possible do the job (whatever it may be) during the week before the tournament.
• Make sure that you have commonly used spares in stock.
• Have at least one spare bedknife in stock for each hand mower covering Tournament and Micro ranges, as these are thin and easily damaged from a variety of sources.• Have a couple of spare bedknives for the tees mowers.
• Have at least one set of spare bedknives for the trim mowers.
• Ensure that parts and materials used from the support vehicle are replaced each day.
• Repair any punctures at the earliest opportunity, (sods law and all that).
• Most important of all: ensure you have ample stocks of tea, milk, sugar and coffee.
Pat (Cal) Callaby. A.M.I.M.I. A.M.I.V.R.
Workshop Manager, Celtic Manor Resort.