Italy is a beautiful country full of art and culture with monuments, churches, landscapes, and rich agriculture. All small towns have a castle and a story to tell especially in Tuscany and Veneto which were both gateways to my travels. It seems that in Italy art is in the blood of all architects, designers and artists both past and present generations.
Having the opportunity to experience this trip filled me with a great sense of thankfulness and appreciation for many things.
I am thankful that I was able to blog about the trip and share my experiences with other people interested in golf. I am thankful that I was able to spend so much quality time with my wife and experience so much history and culture along side her. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to explore the country of my forefathers and find my roots.
I am also extremely appreciative of my assistant, Roberto Cruz, and the maintenance crew at Southern Oaks for the exceptional job that they did maintaining the course while I was away.
Valderrama Golf Club is the most prestigious golf course in Europe. Located in the resort of Sotogrande in the Andalusia region of southern Spain, Valderrama is a members-only club that has hosted several notable tournaments through the years. Some of them include the Ryder Cup in 1997, Volvo Masters, Amex, Andalucia Masters and Spanish Open.
The superintendent of the course is Adolfo Ramos. He extended wonderful courtesy to me and took the time to show me around the whole course.
Me with Adolfo Ramos, superintendent at Valderrama Golf Club.
Golf courses in Europe face much stricter environmental regulations than courses in the United States and have to adjust their cultural practices in order to maintain the course while still operating within regulations. This course has magnificent character and provides memorable experiences on every hole. The fairways are narrow and the greens are small; the course is full of its signature cork trees and requires players to use precision in their golf game.
An interesting fact about the course is that it is one of only two clubs in Europe to be awarded full Audubon status for its nature conservatory practices. It was a genuine honor to be able to tour and play this course and definitely one of the highlights of my golfing experiences while in Europe.
Ready to tee off on the first hole.
The 18th tee.
This course, Golf della Montecchia, is located in the mountains of northeast Italy, east of Verona and close to Padua. The course has twenty-seven holes with A4 bentgrass putting surfaces, and a world renowned restaurant. The superintendent is Brian O'g O'Flaherty.
Golf della Montecchia stands apart in Italy for their long-term commitment to the environment. They have received numerous awards for environmental stewardship and have presented at many golf and environmental conferences around the world.
Me with Brian O'g O'Flaherty, course manager at Golf della Montecchia
With the trends in weather changing, they are receiving more warm weather and are experimenting with and implementing turf changes that can better handle the weather conditions. The introduction in 2012 of Bermudagrass on fairways and tees helped to dramatically reduce water, fertilizer and pesticide use. Water consumption has been reduced by 70%, fertilizer use by 80% and pesticide use totally eliminated.
Nine of the holes on the course (the "White" course) are being maintained under an innovative project called "Biogolf". This involves a maintenance and management protocol that was designed by various industry, university and governmental experts and focuses on organic practices, integrated pest management stressing minimal use of pesticides and establishing damage tolerance thresholds.
Guests are notified of this initiative with signage on the course and asked to be considerate of any inconveniences that may arrive during the process of establishing this ambitious objective.
The clubhouse at Golf della Montecchia
I found the course to be in fantastic shape. It is beautiful, with thick, towering trees lining some of the fairways. The superintendent and I really connected during this visit and we plan to communicate frequently in order to collaborate on issues facing both the golf industry and the courses we maintain. This type of building relationships and collaboration is the precise reason I set out with the goal to visit courses and superintendents throughout different countries. It is what will drive the continued success of the golf industry.
Exciting renovations have been taking place at Real Club De Golf Las Brisas in Marbella, Málaga, Spain. The Director of Golf, Rafael Gonzalez-Carrascosa, shared details with me on what has been done and what is still in the works.
Five years ago it was decided to completely reform all 18 holes in two phases. The reform entailed:
New greens (design, soil, grass)
New tees complex (design, soil, grass)
However, initially in the redesign nothing in the fairways and roughs was done. The Bermudagrass on fairways were allowed to dry for 8 months and then irrigated to come back out. In roughs the same process was used and then the area was seeded with rye grass.
The first winter, all was beautiful with rye grass in the rough and reseeding because Bermuda fairways had no density. The first summer was chaotic. The rye grass completely died due to clayey soil and water salinity, leaving only Kikuyu grass (considered a weed) everywhere. The reviews were very harsh.
The second nine holes were renovated next in the same way that the first were done, with a few changes made to adjust for what was learned the first time around. The addition of a 12cm layer of sand to the fairways and rough, and Bermuda sod placed wall to wall was done to kill the old Kikuyu and control it from the start.
The cart paths were redesigned to integrate more into the course and with better design for drainage. The areas where there is no irrigation were mulched with wood chips.
All of the results and feedback have been positive since the second phase of the redesign and people are happy.
Now they are going back to the first nine holes to use the knowledge gained through the process to correct some of the issues that initially occurred. Also in the plans is to redesign the driving range/practice areas.
Learning about the process that this course has been going through reminds me that the golf industry has many connections and parallels, and to remember the importance of building relationships with my fellow superintendents in order to remain as knowledgeable as possible.
Real Club de Golf El Prat near Barcelona, Spain, has 45 holes designed by Greg Norman and has hosted the Spanish Open (Open de España) ten times, most recently in 2015.
The property covers 550 acres and surrounded by 32,000 acres of national parkland. The 45 holes can be split up into five 9-hole courses, giving a combination of up to 9 different courses. Each tee box has seven different markers, ranging from black to pink, for all levels of play.
It also has a driving range with covered stations and huge, two story clubhouse with banquet rooms, corporate areas and lots of places to rest and relax.
The course is in great shape and tournament ready. The superintendent, Jose Gonzalez, was a gracious host during my visit.
The greens are A4 bentgrass while the tees and fairways are Pennway (Seaside II + Penneagle + Penncross) bentgrass. The Toro SitePro irrigation system utilizes recycled water with desalination and disinfection treatment. Respect for the environment on all levels is one of the clubs key principles, resulting in compliance with ISO 14001 certification in recognition of its commitment to sustainability.
Jose is experimenting with developing a pure A4 turf in the courses nursery. He has covered the area with plastic and then applied a layer of sand and then seed. This is allowing him to keep all unwanted grass and weeds out of the growth area while growing healthy, beautiful turf.
Jose invited me to play the course after our tour. I played the Open option and it was a true pleasure to experience.
Finca Cortesin is a private 18 hole course located in Cazares, Spain on the Costa Del Sol. I was met by the superintendent Ignacio Soto and his assistant Antonio when I visited. They provided me with top notch hospitality and were eager to show me their course and the exciting things going on.
Me with Ignacio Soto and his assistant, Antonio.
Finca Cortesin is the first golf course in this area that is trying to convert their greens from Bentgrass to Mini Verde. The plan is to complete the conversion within two years; however, the issue is that there is no certified grass available.
Ignacio searched in the United States for a certified grass that was approved to import into Europe but could not find any. He is currently working with the University of Pisa to obtain certification for a specific Mini Verde. He asked me if I knew of anyone with knowledge of Mini Verde and I gave him a few different contacts. The course has conducted testings with Tifeagle Bermuda and it is working well with the conditions in their region. The focus is more on Mini Verde because it has fewer problems with disease and needs less chemicals and water to maintain.
Sprig of Mini Verde.
After a very informative visit I was invited to play golf with Ignacio and Antonio. This was a fantastic way to get hands-on exposure and feedback to things that are happening on the course. I was pleased to be able to share experience and knowledge. After a successful visit I was invited to dinner with both gentlemen. We enjoyed tapas, wine and rich conversation.
The Costa del Sol ("Coast of the Sun") is a golf-rich region in the south of Spain along the coastline of the Province of Malaga.
On July 25th and 26th I visited Real Sotogrande Golf Club in Sotogrande, and met with Patrick Allende, Ignacio Soto and his assistant, Antonio. The course has recently undergone reconstruction. The Bermuda 419 is superb and the fairways and greens show high quality. In the afternoon I was invited by Ignacio Soto and his assistant Antonio to play the course. Part of the reconstruction involved changing all of the surfaces of the greens. After seeing and playing these greens, I contacted the University of Pisa in Italy which has researched the materials and am going to investigate further.
Real Club de Golf de Sotogrande
With Patrick Allende at Real Sotogrande Golf Club
On the 27th I visited Valderrama Golf Club (also in Sotogrande and only a few miles from Gibraltar) and met with Adolfo Ramos who is in charge of maintaining the course. The course has recently had all 18 holes renovated and is spectacularly maintained. iI has a challenging design with narrow fairways, lots of wooded areas and small greens and tee shots. This course is for members only but definitely creates memorable experiences for all visitors.
The 13th hole at Valderrama Golf Club
Me with Adolfo Ramos at Valderrama Golf Club.
On the 28th I visited La Reserva Golf Club and met with José María Menacho who is in charge of course maintenance. This course has a staff of about 30 people and an operating budget of 1.2 to 1.6 million/year. They lease their course maintenance equipment. He was very excited to show me the renovations that had been done on the course. The back greens have been enlarged with the consideration of having viewers in major tournaments and the necessity of wide fairways and large greens. The bunkers at this course have lots of character and are challenging to all level of players. Most of the course has Bermuda 419 and they experience issues with creeping bentgrass.
Me with José María Menacho at La Reserva Golf Club.
The first few days of my trip were spent in Madrid, Spain, and were full of relaxing and enjoying the culture of Madrid with my wife, Linda.
We began our tour at the center of Madrid at 0 km, La Puerta del Sol. Spain is rich with history. We visited monasteries, basilicas, the Palace which has housed numerous kings, Kings Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV. We have also been enjoying lots of tapas and wine!
With my wife, Linda, at the Palace in Madrid.
We then boarded the AVE, a train with speeds up to 260 km/h, bound for Granada. I look forward to our next stops and my golf course visits!
Getting ready to board the AVE, bound for Granada.
So why am I doing this? For more reasons than one would probably expect.
My family is originally from Colderu' in the North of Italy. My grandfather immigrated to Mexico in 1883 to help bring Italian knowledge of agricultural practices to that country. Having the opportunity to explore the roots of my ancestors is a great privilege. Italy and Spain have some of the richest history and culture in the world and I am looking forward to exploring and learning more. I am also excited to soak up the sun and sea!
My wife has been in Europe this summer working on her masters degree in education. I planned my visit to coincide with the end of her studies so that we can enjoy some time in Europe together. I will be in Europe for a little over two weeks.
I am interested in building relationships internationally to increase my knowledge about golf from all possible aspects and use that knowledge to grow the game of golf. In Italy I will be visiting Northern Italy, Milano, and Florence in the Tuscan region. In Spain I will be visiting Barcelona and Costa del Sol (Club de Golf Valderrama, Finca Cortesin, Real de Sotogrande, Real Club de Golf Las Brisas, and a few others) I have connected with superintendents from courses in these areas and have plans to visit with them and tour their courses.
I have a strong belief that learning about other cultures is a key to building stronger relationships, both personally and professionally, which leads to stronger business. During my visits I hope to learn about how the culture of different people and regions influences the superintendent profession, and on a larger scale, the golf industry. Water conservation, sustainable development and renewable energy are integral to the future of the golf industry. These countries face unique challenges in these areas and have a depth of knowledge that I can learn from.
Roberto Cruz with me after I received my CGCS certificate.
My assistant, Roberto, and the phenomenal maintenance crew at Southern Oaks will be taking care of the course while I am away.
Welcome to the next chapter of TurfNet on Tour! This blog series was originally established to showcase TurfNet's contributions to the maintenance team for the Irish Open at the K Club in May.
Longtime TurfNet member Jorge Croda, CGCS from Southern Oaks Golf Club in Burleson, Texas is headed back to Europe (we say BACK since he joined us on the 2015 TurfNet Members Trip to Ireland.) While there he will visit a number of course managers in Italy and Spain so it only seemed right to continue TurfNet on Tour as a way for Jorge to share his experiences from these course visits.
Jorge recently announced in his blog:
"At the end of this month I am traveling to Europe and am excited to have the opportunity to meet others in the golf industry in Spain and Italy. I will be visiting courses in Costa del Sol and Barcelona in Spain and also in Italy will be visiting courses in Toscana and Northern Italy.
I am looking forward to forging new relationships with superintendents that experience golf everyday from the viewpoint of a different culture. Being able to talk with them and learn about what accomplishments and challenges they face will help me to grow within my superintendent role.
I look forward to sharing these experiences with you, stay tuned!"
A native of Mexico, Jorge has been golf course superintendent at Southern Oaks since May, 2013. He recently achieved his CGCS status, and was a TurfNet Superintendent of the Year Finalist in both 2014 and 2015.
Jorge has a BS in Engineering from Universidad Regiomontana, A.C. in Monterrey, Mexico. He is a certified coach of the First Tee of Fort Worth, and is a passionate advocate of the game and how understanding and applying the fundamentals of the game of golf can help everyone succeed in life.
Follow Jorge's blog, The Game of Golf in Life and @jorgecroda on Twitter.