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TurfNet on Tour: Irish Open 2016

Jon Kiger: Final thoughts on the Irish Open

Posted in Reflections 16 June 2016 · 2,635 views

"You know it's been an amazing week when you start getting regular texts from Mossy in the Netherlands, Paddy in Mullingar, and Josh in the UK..."

It has taken me a nearly three weeks (and getting over a nasty cold picked up over there) to compile my thoughts on just what our week of work at the Irish Open meant to me. It greatly exceeded my expectations on so many levels.


First -- I have the utmost respect and admiration for Course Manager Gerry Byrne. He and his team had to do so much in advance of our arrival that I can't imagine how the months leading up to the Irish Open stressed and demoralized the regular staff.  Even after we volunteers arrived and the staff swelled to 25 or so there was still so much work to get done in advance of the Wednesday Pro-Am. Gerry brought out the best in us. I personally worked harder that week knowing how hard the in-house staff worked before we got there.


Gerry, Jamie and Philip provided steady leadership for many of us who had to learn our way around the golf course (or in the case of the contract labor learn ABOUT a golf course.) There were few tense moments but then I realized that these crew leaders didn't have that much recent experience organizing a large staff.


Second -- I had always heard about the monotony of certain tasks around the golf course, but that week I gained a real appreciation for how the monotony challenges your motivation. Keeping a staff motivated and having them take ownership of their work must be a constant challenge.



Third -- I learned that this profession really is meant for people who can accept that their performance will be judged by many factors that are out of their control. Weather is the primary factor, but sponsoring organizations, owners and other factors are all part of the challenge.


"These friendships were forged in the bunkers and the canteen but will be nurtured over many years to come..."


Fourth -- Responding to these outside forces and challenges helps people rise to a level of performance that they didn't know was possible. Working under these conditions also brings people together. Teamwork, bonding, friendship, and appreciation are all byproducts of being focused as a group on the tasks at hand.


Fifth -- It was confirmed to me that the golf maintenance industry is made up of some of the nicest and friendliest people one is ever going to meet. I was certainly looking forward to getting to know Team TurfNet/Irish Open a little better during our time together, but came away with so many more new friends from a variety of locales. It's great waking up to a text or instant message from Mossy in The Netherlands or Paddy from Mullingar. These friendships were forged in the bunkers and the canteen but will be nurtured over many years to come. Seeing Josh from The Belfry post photos of his son being born was especially meaningful after having gotten to know him over the course of the week.


Finally, thanks to everyone who played a role in this "Week of a Lifetime". I am indebted to our hosts, my fellow crew members, family and co-workers who carried on my absence, and of course our blog sponsors who supported the project. The only remaining question is, "Where do we go from here?"


Rory McIlroy poses with the greenkeeping staff after winning the Irish Open for the first time. 


Dubai Duty Free Irish Open flag signed by the 2016 greenkeeping crew at the K Club. Note: Liam Neeson was NOT on the crew (Irish humor)






Mike O'Keeffe: reflections on the Irish Open

Posted in Reflections 27 May 2016 · 1,181 views

It's hard to put into words my final thoughts on this past week, not knowing where to start. The words "icing on the cake" come to mind.

All the hard work, all the long hours, all the frazzled nerves and frustrations with the weather were washed away in the rain.

Knowing that we were all a part of history made it very special. Reading the Irish newspapers the day after, really brought it home that we were a part of that.

For me it was even more special as three of my students were on the green with me. And I had an integral part in each of them being there.

Joe Carthy just returned from the States where he was interning at Pebble Beach. He mentioned to me over a week ago,  that he had applied for a job at the K-Club but had heard nothing. I made a quick phone call to Gerry and bingo, his first day of work was the Monday of the tournament...


Three Ohio Staters: Joe Carthy, Nate McKinniss and Graham Walsh.

Nathan McKinniss, reminded me I talked him out of going to Torrey Pines to come to Ireland. Graham Walsh told me he never would have plucked up the courage to volunteer before I helped him volunteer for FOUR tournaments while on the Ohio Program.

Again, it was the icing on the cake to share this victory with some great people.

Nate McKinniss, reflections on the experience

Posted in Reflections 27 May 2016 · 1,112 views

All finished now with last week's volunteer experience at the 2016 Irish Open. The week flew by. However, the early mornings until the late nights made each day seem as long as a week. And each day held its own adventure.


Through each adventure, the greenkeeping crew became closer. The crew was made up of many great individuals in this industry whom I am grateful to have met. Each person brought key skills and characteristics to the group creating a well-rounded and very entertaining atmosphere. I have heard nothing but compliments from golfers and spectators about the quality of the golf course.


I got a chance to meet, make friends with and learn from many people, including Dana Chase, one of Team TurfNet's equipment technicians from the Boston area.


The weather conditions which Ireland is known for plus the fatigue felt from little rest created a tough challenge. The whole crew, though, was ready for the grind and even though the days were hard we had plenty of good craic (laughs) literally from sun up to sun down. This will be an experience I will never forget.


I do not want to say I called Rory Mclroy winning... but I did! His final holes were phenomenal. The greens crew's satisfaction of the successful event might just be as satisfying as Rory's finishing two-foot putt.


I want to thank K Club head greenskeeper Gerry Byrne for providing so much during this extraordinary experience, Jon Kiger and the TurfNet team creating this opportunity, and last but not least Mike O'Keeffe - I would not have taken part in this experience without them.


Check out my photo/video montage: https://splice.gopro.../v?id=AV1o7Bl1L

Jon Kiger, Sunday: Time to Kick Back and Watch Some Golf. Not so fast…

Posted in Craic, Tournament time 23 May 2016 · 2,520 views

Sunday brought a 5 AM start and a quick spin around the course. A handful of groups would be out at 7:30 starting on 16. We raked 18 first as a large group (as we had done each day) and then split into our smaller groups to work through the back nine.


As we finished up at 15 the players were arriving on the 16th tee so I decided to catch a few tee shots. After breakfast at the K Club employee canteen we returned to Lucan to rest up and watch the tournament when coverage started.


The storms of Saturday had cleared, and Danny Willett (in red) tees off to finish his third round.


I was thrilled to hear Gerry Byrne and the greenkeeping staff mentioned on the broadcast at least three times, including once when they mentioned the help he received from a group of Americans (that's us!). I haven't watched that many golf telecasts in the US, but I suspect the superintendent isn't mentioned nearly as often.


Rory McIlroy was leading by a shot or two for most of the day, but could never fully shake those in the hunt. We decided to head back to the course around 12:30 to catch the last half of the tournament. As we arrived at the maintenance facility, a group was already headed out to squeegee greens. Rain was coming down and play had been suspended. Just when you think you can kick back and enjoy the afternoon, Mother Nature makes other plans.


A few more stops and starts (including one for hail on the greens) and we headed with the rest of the crew to the 18th green. Rory's approach shot on the 16th was one for the ages. It was particularly memorable to watch as I had spent 6-7 hours on that hole (between bunker raking and filling divots) during the week.


I was thrilled to hear Gerry Byrne and the greenkeeping staff mentioned on the broadcast at least three times, including once when they mentioned the help he received from a group of Americans (that's us!).


There was nothing like being at the 18th green with thousands of fans as we all welcomed the winner of the tournament. Rory didn't disappoint as he hit another great approach shot with his three wood from 253 yards away. The ball landed two feet from the pin and was an easy tap in for eagle.


Fans line the 18th green as they (and we) await Rory's arrival.


During the awards ceremony many mentions were made and thanks given to Gerry Byrne and the staff of greenkeepers. Rory said the course was phenomenal. He also posed with us immediately after receiving the trophy. I didn't even mind that he walked across a bunker I had raked several times during the week.


Rory during his speech: "To the greenkeeping team - the course was phenomenal. We will be back."


No worries, Rory. This is one of the many bunkers I raked this week.


Post-event, Mike O'Keeffe, Dana Chase and Pete Williams celebrate a job well done for the week.


Gerry Byrne sharing his thoughts, thanks and goodbyes with the crew Sunday night at the Lucan Spa Hotel.


The crew got another serving of traditional Irish music from the band Home Brew, this time with Mossy Daly from The Dutch sitting in on bodhran. 


Rory McIlroy's win and donation of 650,000 purse to charity makes front page news in all three national Irish papers.


Final thoughts and reflections to come, but for now its a flight back and the chance to determine just how to describe this incredible week to friends and family back home. 

Jon Kiger: The inevitable rain delay on Saturday; winding down on Sunday

Posted in Tournament time 22 May 2016 · 1,742 views

After two days of relatively good weather, the rainy day we all knew was coming arrived on Saturday. We experienced two lightning warnings in the afternoon and a steady then lashing rain.


We did our best to mow fairways and fill divots when it was safe to be back on the course. It was of course, all hands on deck for volunteers and full time staff. Many hands made light work and we were pleased that all this happened during the smaller field. Fewer players means fewer divots to find and fill.


Waiting out one of the three rain/lightning delays on Saturday.


Fans heading home and equipment heading back out onto the course creates a bit of a traffic jam.


We may have Danny Willett to thank for the ultimate suspension of play as he was seen describing in great detail how the rain and darkness was so harsh that he couldnt see his ball.


Play was suspended around 8:30 PM and we were relieved to be sent back to the hotel to dry out. As is commonplace at courses and maintenance facilities in Ireland, we hung our waterproofs in the drying room and they were ready to wear this morning.


Crew drying room. Radiant heat in the floor dries waterproofs overnight so they are ready to wear in the morning.


Sunday morning we arrived at 5 AM and immediately headed out to tidy up the bunkers around the course. Most of the fairways, tees and greens were also mowed. We spread some mulch on pathways, had our breakfast and will now return to the course mostly as spectators for the rest of the day (save for one crew remaining on call for rain duty.)


One of the last calls of duty: spreading mulch on the pedestrian paths.


A handful of groups returned to complete their rounds over the final three holes. With rain anticipated later this afternoon, tournament officials announced a split tee start after 9:00 AM. With any luck the winner should be determined by 2:00 PM.


Anticipation is building as tournament host Rory McIlroy is in the lead by three shots. 

Jon Kiger: Early hours and a special bond

Posted in Craic, Team members 21 May 2016 · 2,409 views


Reporting to work at 4 AM creates a special bond. This is my friend Neil McCarrick from County Meath. He works for a construction company there but is working the golf tournament this week. Neil and I are on the back nine bunker crew so we spend the first three early hours of the day together. As has been the case with so many people I meet in Ireland we are instant friends and the craic and banter is non-stop.
Neil has four kids - three boys and a girl all of whom are involved in sports (mostly rugby and GAA Football) so we have lots to talk about as get the back nine bunkers ready for play each day. Thankfully we have had help on the back nine for the past three days and the work has gone fairly quickly. 
As you can see from his cap, Neil is one cool cat.
Neil doing his early-morning bunker grooming.


Jon Kiger: Honorary members of Team TurfNet...

Posted in Craic, Team members 21 May 2016 · 1,488 views

When we arrived to start work on the Irish Open at the K Club we were surprised to meet two other Americans in town to help with the event. John Fleck (Colden, NY) and Brian Coyne (Hamburg, NY) are longtime friends of Gerry Byrne's and worked during the 2006 Ryder Cup.

They were back to bring their many years of golf management expertise to tournament week. John is currently with Professional Turf Services and Brian is a longtime superintendent in upstate New York. They were instantly deemed honorary members of Team TurfNet.
They have been here all week, rolling (or 'greensironing' in the local vernacular) greens in the morning and then blowing bunkers and surrounds. It has been great fun sharing this international experience with them and hearing all the stories from over the years.
They bring strength, stamina, and expertise the many jobs they do around the course. They are also having a great time along with the rest of us.
Brian Coyne rolling a green at the K Club

John Fleck blowing out a bunker.


Frank Byrne (Gerry's brother and a local turf supplier) with Brian Coyne.


Lifelong friends John Fleck (left) and Brian Coyne (right) enjoying the craic in Ireland.

Mike O'Keeffe: Really neat experience

Posted in observations 21 May 2016 · 2,065 views

It's been really neat to volunteer with Jon Kiger and Nathan McKinniss at the Irish Open.


Nathan reminded me that he initially came to me (at the Ohio State intern program) looking at going to Torrey Pines in California and I somehow talked him into going to Ireland. He is very happy I did as he will have an Open tournament on his resume and a 'pot of gold experience' as a result along with a massive network of great people in the industry.


This was Jon's first tournament also. As a result he will have so much more understanding and respect for what goes into putting on a tour event. The hours and the hard work that goes into this event are all on display when the camera is on Rory and the other players.


As I reflect on our week together, pride and endurance' are two words that come to mind. A sense of pride in every job we do, be it raking a bunker or making sure every divot is filled.



As I reflect on our week together, pride and endurance' are two words that come to mind..."


I'm sure both Nate and Jon will not forget their first tournament and I will not forget the chance to share the experience with them for the week.


Jon, Nate and Mike in front of the signature Number 16 green.


Nate and I take time for a quick photo while Nates mower is refueled.

Pete Williams: Serious trout, and longball accuracy

Posted in Downtime 20 May 2016 · 2,271 views

After several consecutive days of helping Pat in the shop, we were offered the opportunity to have a little fun Friday afternoon. I often fish for bass at the pond at Framingham CC before starting work, so I jumped at the chance to try fly fishing for trout in Ireland. Burnout Bill (the K Clubs nickname for him, not mine) mows rough, valets cars, and serves as the resident fly fishing guide at the K Club.


We took a utility vehicle up to the K Club's Fishing Lodge and checked out our gear. Within minutes I had a fly in the water. It didn't take long for me to land my first trout, the biggest catch of the day. It was also the largest trout I have personally caught. I could hardly believe that I was trout fishing at a course adjacent to where Rory McIlroy and other pros were competing, but that is the magic of being in Ireland.


Yes, they have rainbow trout in Ireland!


After an hour of fishing, I decided to watch some of the golf. Thats why Im here after all to support the tournament. Katie Stilwell a fairway mowing volunteer from England, our only woman on the crew, and a very experienced tournament volunteer  showed me around the course.


Katie Stillwell and I stop to chat with a Rules Official during our walk around the course today.


I've never seen guys hit the ball so far with such accuracy. It was fun being on the course that is being manicured by the equipment I am helping to maintain. After a few hours on the course, it was back to the shop to help get this ready for the afternoon shift.

I've never seen guys hit the ball so far with such accuracy..."

Today has been one of my best days so far in Ireland! 

Jon Kiger: Pics and observations from Tournament Friday

Posted in Tournament time 20 May 2016 · 1,130 views

With the prospect of rain for Saturday and Sunday it seemed like Friday afternoon would be the best chance to catch some of the competition. Josh Dunn, Mossy Daly, Mike OKeeffe, Pete Williams, Katie Stillwell and I decided to walk the course for a few holes. I must say seeing the crowds and players around bunkers I raked and divots I filled was a personal thrill. When youre out on the course alone its hard to visualize the end result of your work on the course during the tournament.


Every once in a while a tournament courtesy car (in this case a BMW) gets mixed in with the equipment caravan to the Palmer course.


Mossy Daly (from Co.Cork but currently at The Dutch Golf Club in the Netherlands) chats with a course marshal during competition. They see each other daily as he is coming in from mowing tees and the marshall is taking his perch for the day.

One observation of a difference between tournament golf in Ireland and the US is the primary lack of grandstands here. Golf is a walking game and spectators are expected to do the same. And this being Ireland, everyone has rain gear or an umbrella should the odd shower pop up (as they have every day so far.)


Crowds follow Tournament Host Rory McIlroy as he completes his round on Hole #9. He started Friday on Hole 10 since there was a full field.


More greenside action on Number 9 at the Irish Open.


There are more young people at this tournament than comparable events in the US. What a great way to grow the game organically by having kids see the best players around. 

There was a threat of rain coming in around 4 PM but it wasnt as heavy as expected. Had play been suspended Friday they would have had to complete this final full-field round tomorrow. That would no doubt change our scheduling in the morning. Assuming the golf is completed today, we will be better off as a crew after the cut since there will be fewer golfers out on the course. The difference with Saturday/Sunday play however will be that all players will play from the first tee.

We are halfway through the competition. Everyone is still in good spirits as we approach the halfway point in the tournament.

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