The British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association and John Deere have revealed the six members of the association who will be heading to Ponte Vedra Beach next March to help prepare the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass for THE PLAYERS Championship.
The successful BIGGA members who have been selected to join the John Deere TPC Sawgrass Volunteer Programme 2019 are:
Scotland: Darren Skinner, Castle Stuart Golf Links;
North: Jon Gamble, Welshpool Golf Club;
Central England: Matthew Shaul, Cleethorpes Golf Club;
South West & South Wales: Mark Simmons, Kingsdown Golf Club;
South East: Andy Copeland, Chesfield Downs Golf and Country Club;
International: Niels Sorensen, Randers Golf Klub, Denmark.
John Deere will also select another volunteer from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of Ireland.
Each spring TPC Sawgrass is home to THE PLAYERS Championship, with the event returning to its traditional March timing after 12 years of being hosted in May.
The shift has been necessitated due to a shuffle in the PGA Tour calendar and will see the greenkeeping team in 2019 undertake a very different challenge to that of preparing the course in May.
And with the capacity to host 36,000 fans each day and THE PLAYERS considered by many to be men's golf's unofficial fifth major, all eyes will be on the condition of the course.
Whereas by May the harder ground and Bermudagrass makes for a very different playing style, in March the course is overseeded with cooler-season rye to ensure good playing conditions. Preparing the course earlier in the year will be just one of the challenges the six BIGGA members will face as they join the home greenkeeping team and a volunteer course maintenance force of over 90 volunteers.
Each of the BIGGA members underwent a rigorous application process, consisting of an online application, submission of a short video and an interview with BIGGA and John Deere representatives.
With 4am starts each morning, the BIGGA members are expected to work hard in exchange for the privilege of joining the team. They will completely integrate with the home course maintenance team in exchange for an insight into the preparation of TPC Sawgrass' Stadium Course, where more of the world's top players will compete than at any other venue throughout the year.
In 2018, Webb Simpson secured the $1.98m first prize with his tournament victory after tying the course record with a 63 in the second round.
Nicholas Thorley of Little Aston was selected to join the programme in 2018 and he said: "It was absolutely amazing. My favourite point was actually seeing the course for the first time. I have seen it on the television so many times, that to actually be there and see it live was incredible. There were around 20,000 people there each day and 30,000 on the Sunday. You felt like a bit of a superstar when you were out there and everyone is watching you do your job!"
John Deere Limited Turf Division Sales Manager Chris Meacock said: "I would like to congratulate all this year's successful BIGGA and GCSAI members for winning through the selection process and earning a place on what will be our fifth annual TPC Sawgrass Volunteer Programme for 2019.
"The quality of applications that we receive each year is a true reflection of the high standards of greenkeeping and course management throughout the UK and Ireland. I know from the comments of past volunteers that this latest group will benefit greatly from the experience of being part of such a large, well-organised international greenkeeping team involved in the preparation of one of the world's top golf tournaments."
BIGGA Chief Executive Officer Jim Croxton said: "BIGGA has grown into a hugely international association and it's fantastic that the expertise and professional of our members is recognised around the globe. I am certain that the BIGGA members who have been invited to join the team at TPC Sawgrass will once again do us all proud, while at the same time benefitting from this outstanding career development opportunity.
Notes to editors
The British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association was created in January 1987 due to an amalgamation of the British Golf Greenkeepers Association, The English and International Golf Greenkeepers Association and The Scottish and International Golf Greenkeepers Association.
Today BIGGA has around 5,900 greenkeepers and turf professionals as members.
BIGGA is dedicated to the continuing professional development of its members, and in serving their needs will strive through education and training for standards of excellence in golf course management throughout the greenkeeping profession.
BIGGA also publishes Greenkeeper International, which can be viewed online here.