With a single tee start at 7:50 AM our last reporting time was again 5 AM. Bernard captured the final day rollout of equipment and personnel. After seeing/filming these for many years I was finally included in one! Rain was forecast for later in the day and started briefly for about an hour during our Sunday duties.
The leaders after three rounds were Daniel Im from the USA and Jon Rahm from Spain. They were set to tee off with the final tee time at 1:10 PM. This meant the tournament would end sometime around 5 PM.
David, Dana and I had already decided that we would leave after the morning shift in the hopes of getting settled in Dublin in time to watch the last few holes on television there. Marty was headed back with volunteer Mike Brennan from Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links as our car was again at capacity.
Our morning rounds were completed efficiently and the equipment was stored for the final time that week. The combined group of Portstewart greenstaff and volunteers gathered for our final meal together -- the now familiar hot breakfast.
Tee mowing team leader John O'Brien of the Portstewart Golf Club staff after his last shift of the week. He walked over 140 miles while mowing since the previous Sunday.
During the breakfast we were joined by Miguel Vidaor, tournament director for the European Tour. David captured the following video of his remarks. He declared the tournament and our work a success and thanked us for our efforts. Tour consultant Eugene Hennessy added that we "were a tribute to the profession and we always did our jobs with a smile."
All smiles on the final morning of tournament prep. (L-R) Portstewart Deputy Course Manager Brian McConway, European Tour Consultant Eugene Hennessy, and Damien McConway from nearby Castlerock Golf Club. (Portstewart's Jonny Hemphill with the photobomb in the background!)
We said our goodbyes (or "cheerios" as they say locally) and realized that like a last gathering at high school graduation we would likely never have this same group assembled again in the future. A quick stop at the house to pack up and we were on our way.
On the road out of town we stopped at Dunluce Castle. Originally built by the MacQuillan family in the 1500s, the castle has a rich history and is in outstanding shape for its age and exposure along the Antrim coast. An extensive visitors centre and good signage told the story of this piece of Irish history. Bringing our trip full circle was the fact that stones brought from nearby Giants Causeway were used in construction of the castle.
Dunluce Castle on the Antrim coast.
The drive to Dublin was mostly motorway and we arrived into the area in about three hours. Dana checked into his friend Sean's BnB in Portmarnock while David and I headed into the Castle Lodge BnB in Malahide. We also made a quick stop at Malahide Castle, ancestral home of the Talbot family since the 1100s until being turned over relatively recently to local authorities for preservation.
It was early in the afternoon and David and I were able to reserve a tee time for nine holes at Portmarnock Golf Club. We watched the last few holes of the Irish Open in the bar of the club.
David with Ireland's Eye over his right shoulder at during a nine hole round at Portmarnock Golf Club.
Spaniard Jon Rahm won the tournament by six shots finishing at 24 under par with a total score of 264. Those staff and volunteers who were around for the award presentation (we weren't the only ones to get on the road early) posed for a photo with Rahm and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open trophy. It goes without saying that this practice should be adopted more broadly across professional golf circuits worldwide.
Irish Open Winner Jon Rahm of Spain poses with his trophy and the remaining greenkeeping staff.
Sunday night David rested up for his flight while Marty and I met up with Malahide resident and retired greenkeeper Eddie Donlon for dinner and a few pints. With a more normal wake up hour the next morning, there was finally time to reflect on our amazing week together at the Irish Open in Portstewart.
There was some drama in determining the cut at the end of Friday's second round. The drama belonged to England's Nathan Kimsey who birdied the Par 4 18th hole with a very long putt as part of his second round. By carding a combined 140 instead of a 141 over the two rounds he effectively knocked out 15 other players who came in at 141. We all imagined that he wasn't very popular around the Players Lounge Friday evening.
With the field reduced to 65 for Saturday and Sunday, play would be only off the first tee for the first time all week. The first starting time was 7:50 AM so we were given a later reporting time for Saturday morning. Some chose to use the extra hour in the town of Portstewart Friday night. With fatigue setting in we chose to put it toward an extra hour of sleep.
After our customary continental breakfast at 5:00AM we were all clear of the maintenance facility well before 5:30. Assignments had been posted the night before and everyone knew where they were headed and what they were doing. This was clearly going to be the best weather for the week so we were sure to make the course look as good as possible for the expected large crowds. We were also determined to see some golf being played.
Team TurfNet heads out from the maintenance facility to watch some golf on a beautiful Saturday afternoon (above). Below, on the 18th hole on Saturday afternoon. Portstewart Golf Club clubhouse in the background.
We returned to our rental home for a few hours of sleep but decided to return to the course long before our 5 PM reporting time. In what has become a tradition for me, I purchased a Dubai Duty Free Irish Open flag and had members of the combined crew sign it. While the official uniform we were issued is a great keepsake, the signed flag has special meaning to me. Each name represents a new friend in the fraternity of greenkeeping. Whether I was assigned to work with them or just sat with them at the same table over breakfast each name on that flag holds fun memories of the groups job well-done. Bernard Findlay liked the idea so much that he got one and did the same.
David Escobedo wonders where this has been all week?!
Our return to the course allowed us to see some of the players over the holes closest to the maintenance facility. Seeing the course we were maintaining in play for the tournament was a special treat.
The Irish golf fans, fearing rain on Sunday, came out in droves for Saturdays round. Many of them just sat out and enjoyed the sometimes elusive sunshine (below).
Before our evening shift we had the pleasure of being visited by the Captain and Lady Captain of Portstewart Golf Club -- Mr. Paul Hewitt and Mrs. Julie Corbett. The captains are elected by the membership and serve as figureheads in all club golf and social matters. In addition to singing the praises of Bernard Findlay and his in-house team, they thanked us for our work around the course and told us to thank our families for understanding our need to be away for the week. Given the many responsibilities of the two captains, we were honored that they took the time to visit with us.
Portstewart Lady Captain Julie Corbett (center) and Portstewart Captain Paul Hewitt (right) congratulate Bernard Findlay (left) and the combined crew on a job well done before our Saturday afternoon rounds.
As expected and given his duties as host of the tournament, Rory McIlroy stayed onsite and used much of the day to practice. The crew assigned to the chipping green were lucky enough to grab a photo with him before his trip to the clubhouse.
A larger than normal crowd at the chipping green as Rory hones his short game in advance of next weeks Scottish Open.
A larger security detail sticks close to tournament defending champion and host Rory McIlroy.
Last year Rory took a photo with the entire greenkeeping team after winning the Irish Open. This year it is a smaller group at the chipping green since he missed the cut.
Our duties were complete by 8:15 PM so we decided that a short visit to catch up with the rest of the crew was in order since it was our last evening in the area. It was determined that most of the gang was at Shenanigans so after a short taxi ride we headed there. A large crowd was even larger due to a waterfront fireworks and the bar was packed to the gills. It wasn't unusual to have to wait twenty minutes at a bar that was three deep just to get a beer. We reflected that in the States a bar in a similar situation with anticipated crowds would have had auxiliary bars on the patio to handle the larger than normal crowd and to keep the cash register ringing, but they do things differently here.
Some of the greenkeeping staff out on the town at Shenanigans on Saturday night.
The club did have a nice band (I thought it would be the case when I saw a banjo as they were setting up) and we stayed for a set before heading home to pack up for our departure on Sunday.
Friday was another early morning 4 AM arrival at the course and a quick rollout to stay ahead of play. The players would be out for another two-tee start (1 and 10) at 7:50 AM and we not only had to be ahead of play on those first tees but well out of the way of those first few tee boxes on each nine.
Several teams of the crew can be seen in this early morning photo on Friday. The River Bamm borders the clubs Riverside Course which was used for infrastructure.
My specific duties in the morning are to clean up any litter around the clubhouse and then do the same on each tee complex. With a full complement of spectators on Thursday the clubhouse cleanup took longer than previous days. The main culprits were cigarette butts, empty water bottles and candy wrappers. I used a litter picker (claw style) and a small bucket for the rounds, emptying the latter into a larger bucket on my "buggy". I had an apt comment for one of the security staff who approached me and put his cigarette but directly into my bucket: "Thats one way to cut out the middleman!" Humor is essential at 5:00 in the morning.
Litter collection at European Tour events is on a much smaller scale than at American venues.
There isn't much in the way of food wrapper litter for a couple of reasons. First the food areas are restricted to three specific areas on the course: the tented village near the clubhouse, near the practice range and between holes 4, 5 and 6. Second, sports fans in Europe tend to focus on the event rather than spending time and money on the many food options we're used to. The only wrappers to be picked up were from protein bars that were distributed to the players and caddies throughout the week.
Spectators are generally here to watch the golf, not eat their way through the event. But the food areas do have a variety of options, such as this pig roast.
We all made it back to the maintenance facility for our "second" aka "hot" breakfast and then it was back to the house. I took about a two hour nap and then prepared for a special interview. Portstewart has the distinction of having four generations work on the course in the maintenance department. I had been working on the crew with the fourth generation -- Jonny Hemphill -- and he suggested that his father Robert would be a good person to interview about the family's history of service to the club. Robert stopped by at 1 PM for what was to be a 30-45 minute interview. An hour and a half later we were still chatting. Listen to the podcast here.
Robert Hemphill during our interview on Friday.
We returned to the course at 4:00 but play had taken longer than expected so we had a more leisurely afternoon meal and headed out closer to 5:30. My evening shift duty is helping to clear the practice range of divots. The range gets smaller each day as the practice line moves back, but that means a larger area to clear each evening. We also have to wait until the last golfer is off the range before using the blower. Fortunately the golfers were clear of the range by 8 PM and we were done collecting the divots by a little after nine.
Blowing off the practice range had to wait until the final golfer was done practicing. In this case around 8 PM.
The biggest news of the day was that tournament host and defending champion Rory McIlroy missed the cut and wouldn't be continuing play on the weekend. That will impact the anticipated crowds, but will also give the security officers/police a break as he has a larger following and as expected a large security detail following him.
A couple of motorcycle police parked near the maintenance facility. We shared a "canteen" - aka food hall - with the police security detail during the event. High visibility clothing on emergency personnel is much more the norm in Europe than in the States.
We all opted to stay in Friday night in anticipation of another long day on Saturday.
Thursday we had our usual 4 AM breakfast followed by a 5 AM start time. The pros had a split tee start off 1 and 10 at 7:50 so we all knew we had to get out ahead of play. You can tell that everyone knows their way around the maintenance facility and the course as the staging area was clear much sooner than early in the week.
Dew whips made in-house and carried by each greensmower operator.
Flymoing tee banks.
It was another great morning weather-wise so we all made good time around the course. It was exciting to see the pros and their caddies arriving at the tees and we could even hear them being announced on the 1st and 10th tees from the nearby tees we were working on.
The 10th tee awaiting its first golfers.
In anticipation of a later finish to the day we were told to report back at 5 PM for dinner and a 5:30 PM start for the evening shift. All of us wanted some rest so we welcomed the later reporting time.
The extra time also allowed us a chance to visit Graeme Beatt just up the road at Royal Portrush Golf Club. The club is gearing up for the 2019 Open Championship. It will be only the second time The Open has been played outside of England or Scotland. Royal Portrush also hosted The Open in 1951.
Graeme took the time to show us the two new holes that were under construction when TurfNet played the course as part of our 2015 Members Trip to Ireland. There is also a 90 meter (approx. 200 feet) player tunnel that was constructed at the request of the R&A. To top things off, Graeme has a new maintenance facility that opened earlier in the year.
Graeme Beatt with David and Marty on one of the new greens that was constructed on the Dunluce Course for The 2019 Open Championship.
Graeme shows David one of the new holes on the Dunluce Course. All turf was translocated (moved) from other parts of the course.
For me it was fun to see the work completed after seeing it under construction in 2015. We also had a brief chat with Portrush's Secretary/Manager Wilma Erskine. Wilma was instrumental in getting The Open to Royal Portrush and it is hoped that the club will eventually be on a regular rotation for this major.
Thursday night we decided to have dinner out in Portstewart. We ate at Amici an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of town. Our taxi driver took great delight in explaining, "you'll love the location of this restaurant. It overlooks a golf course!" On cue we all jokingly groaned at that distinction!
The only logistical snag to dinner outside of town was the lack of taxis for the ride home. There were so many visitors in town for the tournament that all the taxis were booked up for other fares. We ended up walking for nearly thirty minutes to get home.
-- Jon Kiger
With the average tenure of a US golf course superintendent at one course is between four and five years it's hard to imagine one family being employed by an individual club for four generations over 100 years, but that's exactly the case with the Hemphill family and Portstewart Golf Club. Jonathan "Jonny" Hemphill is currently a greenkeeper on Bernard Findlay's staff and his family has a rich history of service to the club.
In this audio interview we visit with Jonny's father Robert Hemphill who worked for fourteen years at Portstewart Golf Club before leaving to ultimately work a municipal job maintaining bowling greens in the area and helping to grow in/maintain a nine hole executive course. Robert's father, uncle and grandfather all worked at Portstewart Golf Club.
Jonny Hemphill, fourth generation greenkeeper at Portstewart Golf Club;
with Dana Chase, out on the course, below.
Here Robert discusses the Hemphill/Portstewart family tree and explains ways of maintaining the course that seem primitive by today's standards. He shares his insights into the evolution of greenkeeping and even explains that rabbit trapping was a way to protect the course while providing food to families in the area and additional income for themselves.
Portstewart Golf Club takes this legacy of service seriously and has a large (3 x 5 feet) photo of Robert's father James and his uncle Robert. Robert's grandfather James Hemphill started at the club in the early 1900s when they acquired additional property and developed what is now the Strand Course -- the host course for the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
James Hemphill (left- Robert's father) and his brother Robert (right - Robert's uncle) in a large photo in the Portstewart Golf Club clubhouse.
Backing track for the audio interview, Escaldarium/The Greenkeeper by Northern Ireland traditional band Connla, used by permission.
Wednesday was the Irish Open Pro-Am, a two-tee start with the first group out at 7:30 AM. Everyone on the greenkeeping staff received their assignments the night before and after a short continental breakfast we headed out on the course with the goal to be out ahead of the first groups.
No flat-screen job board here!
There was an amazing fog and mist over the course, which provided both navigational hazards and incredible photo opportunities. The back nine of the course winds down by the River Bann (also the location of the club's River Course.) There was virtually no wind so we were advised to apply insect repellant as the midges would be out enforce. Those who didn't heed the warning were quickly uncomfortable.
Kevin Cavanan, volunteer from The Island Golf Club (where Marty Richardson is interning) mowing a green early Wednesday.
Mowing greens in anticipation of the Pro-Am.
The crew was intent on providing outstanding conditions for this first day of full play on the course. There was also a full complement of marshals and other volunteers onsite. After three days of having the course to ourselves these participants were a were a welcome sight. The crew successfully stayed ahead of play and we were back for "second breakfast" -- the hot one around 8:30. That allowed for our usual break in the middle of the day.
Wednesday saw the arrival of our first and only female volunteer - Melissa Minnaard from The International Golf Club in Amsterdam.
We returned on schedule at 4 PM (evening meal) expecting to be back out on the course at 5 PM. As is often the case with large groups of golfers at an outing, the competition ran long and we had to wait to start the evening shift. The good news was that this far into the week we know our duties and the best routes around the course.
I was assigned to help clear the practice tee of divots with Stephen and Ingmar (both on the staff at Portstewart). Unfortunately for us the range was open until 8 PM and several pros decided to practice after the conclusion of the Pro-Am.
2016 Masters Champion and Olympic golfer Danny Willett posed for a photo with me and Ingmar.
The work itself consisted of raking the used divots, gathering them up in piles with a backpack blower and shoveling them into the back of a utility vehicle. While we might consider using a large turf vacuum in the States, owning such a machine makes little sense for a course with literally no trees.
Clearing the driving range of divots at the end of Pro-Am day.
Despite the delay in getting started our whole group made a quick turnaround and caught up with the rest of the staff and volunteers at the Anchor Bar in city centre. It wasn't a late night as we were mindful of the first day of play on Thursday.
There's an informal contest to see if anyone can spot David Escobedo when he's NOT smiling!
He seems to have forsaken Guinness for the more familiar Corona.
-- Jon Kiger
As anticipated, rain arrived in the area Monday night around 11 PM and continued well into Tuesday morning. It started as a steady rain and increased as the morning continued. Our 4:00 AM work session included everyone suiting up in "waterproofs" -- the local vernacular for rain gear. David Escobedo had to purchase a set since there is so little rainfall in Phoenix.
Wet conditions in the morning.
Tuesday morning briefing.
Most tasks (mowing, bunkers, tidying up, etc. ) went on as planned. We were of course told to be mindful of slipping both in vehicles and while walking the course. The beauty of a true links course is that since it is sand-based it drains very well. Despite the constant, heavy rainfall the course had virtually no accumulation of water.
In honor of his American volunteers Bernard donned a TurfNet cap on the 4th of July.
We completed our morning session and proceeded to hang up our rain gear in the designated drying room. Given the amount of rainfall, drying rooms are a standard feature of most maintenance facilities. The room is basically a small room with plenty of hooks and clothes rods to hang your wet gear. After a rain event it is heated like a sauna and your waterproofs are dry within a few hours.
Given the amount of rainfall, drying rooms are a standard feature of most maintenance facilities.
Upon our return home, hot showers were the order of the day and all four of us caught up on much-needed sleep. We are in a rented house that is used as student housing for a nearby university during the school year.
When we returned for our evening shift (4 PM) the rain had cleared and the pros were out getting in some practice. David Escobedo was on bunker duty again, Marty mowed tees, and Dana worked on a variety of equipment until what was out on the course came back for inspection and adjustment. I was assigned to litter picking duty with Stephen, a member of the Portstewart staff. We combed the entire course wall-to-wall, collecting whatever had been left behind. With the Pro-Am starting the next day the course was to be spotless for the first full field event of the week.
The group before heading out for the evening shift. Roughly sixty (40 volunteers and 20 full time staff.)
Tuesday night half of our group (you'll have to guess which two) went into town to the Anchor Bar -- one of just three nightspots in Portstewart. Fortunately there were a few other members of the greenkeeping team there so we all caught up on events of the day, family, home courses, etc. We kept it tame since we realized that 3:30 AM would arrive soon enough.
We kept it tame since we realized that 3:30 AM would arrive soon enough...
We were all looking forward to finally having golfers out on the course for the Pro-Am after three days of work on it.
The European Tour has five staff agronomists to cover events for their Pro Tour, Challenge Tour and Senior. Tour. Given the far flung venues for these events, they cover a much larger geographic area than their American counterparts. Jon Kiger caught up with Eugene Hennessy, the greenkeeping consultant assigned to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. In the following podcast they discuss Eugene's pre-tournament course visits and his role at the event this week.
A spring that started out mild in Ireland soon turned unseasonably cold and Eugene discusses the concerns and ultimate outcome on the turf at Portstewart Golf Club. HIs course visits in advance of tournament week served as helpful checkpoints and progress reports to Bernard Findlay and the staff and members of Portstewart Golf Club.
Eugene Hennessy (l) consults with Bernard Findlay (center).
We also learn about the impact of the European Tours new Rolex Series events - of which the Dubai Duty Free Irish open is one.
Sunday was basically a dry run -- a chance to 'find our feet' as they say over here. Monday morning represented our first day of reporting at 4:15 for 'first breakfast' -- a continental breakfast with tea and coffee.
The goal each day is to have everyone done with breakfast and out on the course by 5:00 AM. Since the Pro-Am was still two days away and many players were still on the road from the weekend events, there were just a few golfers on the course. This meant our work could go on without interruption.
Monday morning staff briefing. Note no large hospitality tents for the maintenance crew!
My morning assignment is to keep each tee complex (pro tees and members tees) clean and tidy. That means picking up any trash or broken tees and generally making sure they look presentable for the day. Monday morning I did this alone.
David Escobedo is primarily on bunker duty, on one team that covers all 18 holes. There are only 57 bunkers on the course. Monday morning his primary duty was rolling most of the bunker surfaces. David described the sand as a very fine, comparable to talcum powder. The roller is 12 inches in diameter. The group walked from bunker to bunker and hole to hole on Monday.
One of two Tru-Turf R52-11TC rollers in use at Portstewart Golf Club.
Marty Richardson is mowing tees this week. On Monday he took a Baroness 'pedestrian' (aka walking) mower set at 7.5 mm -- approximately 0.295". Tee and green mowers don't use buggies and trailers so they are walking their mowers between the holes. The primary utility road through The Strand Course is nicknamed 'the M1' after the major North/South highway through Ireland. It takes you most places you need to go on the course.
Marty and other staff walking their tee mowers on "the M1" (above), and Marty mowing (below).
Dana had his first full day in the shop on Monday. Bernard was trying to find the perfect height of cut and adjusted it down twice to a slack 3+ mm. His goal is to have the greens speed at 10.5 feet. Dana, Derek and Kieran spent much of the day making these adjustments. In addition they also inspected and set a variety of loaner equipment.
Some photos of Dana adjusting mowers and consulting with Head Mechanic Derek Morris. Note the clean shop! "A clean shop is a sign of a good manager..."
Monday's morning session ended between 9 and 10 which allowed us to get back to the house for some much needed sleep. The afternoon session began at 5 PM after an early dinner.
I was the only one with a different assignment in the afternoon. I was on the divoting crew. We pulled and filled mostly fairway divots throughout the course. Dana, David and Marty kept their morning assignments.
The Monday afternoon divot crew.
-- Jon Kiger
Friday and Saturday included a few more leisure/tourist activities (primarily for David Escobedo's benefit as he must return to Arizona immediately following the tournament) so when Sunday morning arrived we knew it was game time.
David's first Guinness on Friday had to be memorialized for posterity's sake!
Saturday night we stayed in the border town of Dundalk in County Louth. TurfNet members will remember Dundalk from our 2015 Members Trip to Ireland. Dundalk is about an hour north of Dublin which positioned us well for the trip into Portstewart in Northern Ireland.
Dana Chase flew overnight Saturday from Hartford on Aer Lingus and arrived at 5AM. After a short bus ride to catch up to us in Dundalk, the three of us were on our way.
Our fourth team member, Marty Richardson, was catching a lift from another volunteer, Mike Brennan from Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links -- a venue familiar to TurfNet members who have been on our recent Ireland trips.
The drive into Northern Ireland is a breeze and you hardly know you're in a different country except for the change from kilometers to miles. That's in stark contrast to the hard border that existed for many years.
We made very good time, which allowed for a quick stop at Giant's Causeway, a World Heritage site and one of the most popular attractions in the area. Giant's Causeway is made up of over 40,000 interlocking hexagonal basalt columns which resulted from an ancient volcanic eruption -- or were stacked there by a mythical giant named Finn McCool -- depending on which story one believes. The rocks are unlike anything you'd find in North America.
We made a stop at Giant's Causeway on the road to Portstewart.
Giant's Causeway in Co.Antrim.
David Escobedo, Dana Chase and me at Giant's Causeway.
Once back in the car it was a short twenty minute ride to the Portstewart Golf Club clubhouse for our introductory dinner ('lunch' back in the States) at 2 PM. This was our first chance to meet up with Bernard Findlay, his in house crew of twenty, plus the other volunteers from around the world.
Course Manager Bernard Findlay and Deputy Course Manager Brian McConway
The dinner and service were excellent and we can see how much the members at Portstewart must enjoy the club. Each person introduced themselves and I made a short explanation of our blog and our activities in the area. Many attendees said they would send a link to the blog to their family and staff back home.
We were presented with a thorough guide to maintenance at the tournament and were shown to our respective rental homes for the week.
Later that afternoon we returned to the course, received our uniforms and went out to learn our way around The Strand Course. The course is in outstanding shape and our role this week is to keep it that way.
Dana Chase meets Head Mechanic Derek Morris (center) and Assistant Kieran McConnell (left) on Sunday night.
David Escobedo learning the preferred technique for raking bunkers at Portstewart.
I join Davids bunker crew for this stunning photo of the Strand Course.
At about 9 PM we returned home for the night, baked a few frozen pizzas, and turned in while anticipating our 4:15 arrival at the course.
-- Jon Kiger
After our visit at Lahinch Golf Club on Thursday, we drove about five miles north to the famous Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs vary from 400 to 700 feet and are located in the most southwestern part of the Burren region of County Clare. Over one million visitors per year walk along the cliffs and view O'Brien's Castle. The Cliffs of Moher are also accessible by ferry from the nearby village of Doolin.
The Cliffs of Moher with O'Brien's Castle at the top.
We drove a very scenic route north to Galway and arrived at Galway Bay Resort. As you'd expect it is on the bay outside of Galway City. Course Manager Damien Coleman had arranged for us to play the course that afternoon. Despite some fatigue setting in, we settled in for nine holes of golf on the course's back nine.
The rain held off but the wind was a real factor. While not technically a links course Galway Bay certainly has a "links feel". After an early dinner in the village of Oranmore, we turned in early at the Maldron Hotel.
Damien Coleman at Galway Bay Golf Resort.
Friday morning we returned to meet Damien Coleman at the course. I hadn't seen Damien since the 2016 Olympic Golf event in Rio de Janeiro where he was a volunteer on the crew and I covered it for TurfNet. Damien is the current president of the GCSAI and was delighted to know that we were on our way to volunteer at Portstewart. Galway Bay is sending Enda Keane to volunteer and we met him out on the course.
We left Galway Bay and headed up the road to Roscommon in the Midlands region. My friend Frank Scott gave us an exceptional tour of the Roscommon Castle, which was built in 1629 by the Normans. The castle had a checkered history and was finally burned down in 1690. Today is accessible as part of the adjacent Loughnaneane Park and Playground - a 14 acre recreational area.
Me with David Escobedo at Roscommon Castle.
David listens to Frank Scott explain the history of Roscommon Castle.
Frank has a degree in archeology and gave us many insights into the castles rich history. After our visit to Roscommon we drove about two hours into Dublin to take in a few activities there before reporting to Portstewart.
The stonework at Roscommon Castle dates to the 1600's. Of course we have nothing like it in the States.
I'm a firm believer in getting to your overseas destination a little early. In addition to being able to adjust to the time zone, I planned to show David Escobedo a little of Ireland before we were stationed for the week in Portstewart.
This past Wednesday afternoon David and I met at New York's JFK Airport for our 10:45 PM overnight flight to Shannon. The flight was just over 5 1/2 hours which left little time for sleep once we were settled in... plus David had already had a 5-hour flight from Phoenix to JFK, so we were running on fumes.
Thursday morning we went straight at it, picking up our "hired" car (an Opel Insignia) and driving immediately to Lahinch Golf Club in nearby County Clare. We met up with Head Course Manager Brian McDonagh at the maintenance facility. Brian hosted our TurfNet Student Intern Eric Bruening in 2015.
Just after we arrived at Lahinch, Giles McDonagh (no relation to Brian) from Tacit Golf arrived in response to Brian's request. Giles' van is best described as a mini-Lesco truck. It housed a variety of commonly used accessories and samples of flags, etc. David even had a look at their innovative Shole Hammer Hole Cutter.
David checks out the Shole Hammer Hole Cutter as demonstrated by Giles McDonagh.
Brian took David on a tour of the golf course at Lahinch, which just celebrated its 125th anniversary. He was excited to see a true links course near the ocean. It was truly carved from the sand dunes in the late 1890s with very little changed in the overall layout. Some surfers were even braving the cold waters in the requisite wetsuits.
One of Eric Bruening's photos during his internship at Lahinch in 2015.
While David toured the course with Brian, I met with Pat Geaney of Geaney & O'Neill, Ltd. - distributors of Tru-Turf and other brands of professional turf care equipment in Ireland. Pat was originally a diesel mechanic and over thirty years ago decided to sell the products in addition to servicing them. He is based in County Cork (about two hours south of Lahinch) and had already made an equipment delivery in Waterford in the SE.
Pat has seen the makeup of golf course fleets change dramatically in the 30+ years he has been in the business. He had a front row seat for the evolution from a few tractor-driven gang mowers to the variety of specialty equipment available today. Pat estimates he works 14-hour days and works seven days a week in season. In addition to the professional lines of equipment he has a few retail lines that sell out of bricks and mortar locations in Cork and Waterford.
Pat Geaney (left) visits with Brian McDonagh at Lahinch.
I recorded a full podcast interview of our visit. Listen to learn more about operating a golf course equipment business in Ireland, and the state of the golf economy in Ireland.
After our visit to Lahinch we stopped by the Cliffs of Moher so David could see this natural wonder. He will report on his experiences there in his own blog post. After the Cliffs we continued our drive north to play some golf at Galway Bay Golf Resort. More on our visit there in my next post.
What is your background/current position/organization?
"I have over 35 years experience working in golf course maintenance. I am currently the head golf course superintendent at a 36-hole facility named Westbrook Village Golf Club in Peoria, Arizona."
Have you had any previous International travel experience?
"I do not have any international travel experience so this will be a new experience for me. Jon Kiger and I have a few days to explore other parts of Ireland before we report to Portstewart so I am looking forward to that exposure to Irish culture as well."
I do not have any international travel experience so this will be a new experience for me.
What is your previous tournament experience?
"My only previous tournament experience was as a volunteer in the 2001 and 2002 LPGA Standard Register Ping event."
Role in Ireland
"I will be on a crew raking bunkers in the morning and helping with divots in the evening."
What do you hope to experience/bring back
"I am looking forward to learning another side of turfgrass management at a true links course. Growing grass in Ireland will definitely be a different experience than growing grass in Arizona. Another thing that will be exciting for me is learning the culture and meeting new people. I have heard nothing but great things about the Irish folks and Portstewart Golf Club. I am sure Bernard Findlay will have the course in top shape for this tournament and I look forward to helping to keep it that way during the event.
I would like to thank the kind and generous members at Westbrook Village Golf Club that made all of this possible. Without their contributions and allowing me to be away this long, this trip would not happen."
What is your background/current position/organization?
"Currently I am working at The Island Golf Club in Donabate, Ireland as an intern for the summer. I have been working at this course since early May and have been working in the industry since 2013."
Have you had any previous international travel? If so, where?
"I've been to Canada, so this is actually my first trip outside North America. I am enjoying it very much."
What is your previous tournament experience?
"My first four years in the turf industry were at Hazeltine National Golf Club which in 2016 hosted The Ryder Cup. For the Ryder Cup I was a lead on a bunker crew with 6 volunteers underneath me. That was my morning job and my afternoon jobs varied between push mowing surrounds and blowing off greens."
Marty (left) with Mike O'Keeffe of The Ohio Program at the Ryder Cup.
Role in Ireland
"My role at the Irish Open will be with three others mowing tees and making them look good for the tournament."
What do you hope to experience/bring back?
"I am looking forward to seeing another links course in Ireland as well as traveling to Northern Ireland for the first time. I also hope to bring some good ideas back to The Island Club.
It will be interesting to compare the set-up of the Irish Open to the Ryder Cup, as well as experiencing the differences between actually working on staff at the course and volunteering to work the tournament.
It will be great to meet new people and experience another part of Ireland!"
What is your background/current position/organization?
"Longtime equipment manager in Massachusetts. Currently at Glen Ellen Country Club In Millis, MA."
Have you had any previous International travel and if so, where?
"I've been fortunate to travel extensively internationally."
What is your previous tournament experience?
"2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales, 2016 Irish Open at the K Club"
Role in Ireland
"I will help the existing technician at Portstewart Golf Club to maintain and set up the equipment being used during the week."
What are you looking forward to?
"Well here I am again, just over one year later and I am about to embark for a second time to assist the equipment manager at the Irish Open. This will be my third international tournament event, first one was the 2010 Ryder Cup thanks to Patrick Cal Callaby, and none of which could not have happened if it were not for the social networking of TurfNet and Golftechs.net.
Of course it takes more than just knowing people. It takes a superintendent/manager that understands the difference between 'just a job' and a 'career goal' so you can get a week off in-season, plus a little extra time for oneself to do a little personal exploring to Germany!
Without a doubt I must also acknowledge Tim Gordon, President at Niblick Golf, for his personal support and extremely generous contribution towards my travel expenses.
Though I have traveled abroad many times for pleasure I feel that I gain a richer and more meaningful experience when I am exposed to someone's actual work life/environment.
Though I have traveled abroad many times for pleasure I feel that I gain a richer and more meaningful experience when I am exposed to someone's actual work life/environment...
The sometimes awkward walls of socializing are fairly non-existent as everyone has a common concern of what can I do to help make this event the best!
Of course it won't be all work. Delving into the historic culture that is Ireland, partaking of local cuisine, music, breathtaking landscape and the occasional pint will round off the experience nicely.
Next stop, Portstewart!"
What is your background/current position/organization?
"Director of Media and Membership at TurfNet. I sell our advertising and sponsorships, look for ways to grow membership, help produce some of our video, blog, and podcast content, and organize our annual Members Trips... along with a bunch of other stuff as it comes up."
Have you had any previous International travel and if so, where?
"I've been fortunate to travel extensively to South America (mostly Brazil where I have family) and Europe. Much of my travel to Europe has been to Ireland either personally exploring the country with family/friends or organizing activities for TurfNet."
What is your previous tournament experience?
"I've attended a number of tournaments but mostly as an observer of the competition or the maintenance operations. I had my first stint on a crew last year during the Irish Open at the K Club where I raked bunkers in the morning and filled divots in the evening."
Role at the Irish Open
"I will be on a crew of two responsible for servicing and tidying the tee boxes at every hole as well as tidying up around the clubhouse. During the evening shift I will be on the divoting crew or helping to repair the spectator pathways."
What do you hope to experience/bring back? In other words, what are you looking forward to?
"Despite a number of trips to Ireland, I've spent relatively little time in Northern Ireland so I'm looking forward to being in Portstewart for the week.
By all measures our participation at the 2016 Irish Open last year was a rousing success. We look forward to having a similar positive impact on the event on a links course in a different part of the country. The course itself is amazing yet many times overlooked by visiting golfers so I looking forward to it being in the spotlight.
I have heard great things from Bernard Findlay about his team and know a few of the other volunteers so it will be fun to make new friends within the industry from around the world.
It will be great to have TurfNet as one of three professional associations providing tournament support for the event (GCSAI Ireland and BIGGA UK are the other two.)"
Welcome to TurfNet on Tour, the blog showcasing our US-based team of volunteers at the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club on the coast of Northern Ireland. Four representatives from TurfNet will represent 10% of the volunteer maintenance force for this European Tour Rolex Series event.
This year the tournament was moved from May to July and that presented a challenge to host superintendent Bernard Findlay. Just as in the States, greenkeepers here are needed at their respective courses in the middle of summer. We are delighted to provide course workers with a variety of backgrounds and skills to help ensure the success of this event. We will be part of a smaller combined crew by US tournament standards and will rise to the challenge of delivering and maintaining tournament conditions for the week.
Portstewart Golf Club, home of the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
During a March visit to the course Bernard explained that their course often flies under the radar compared to the other two great links courses in the area (World No. 1 Royal County Down and Royal Portrush Golf Club which is hosting The Open Championship in 2019.) What I saw was an amazing links course that will be a great stage for Ireland's National Championship. Infrastructure-wise, it will be a dry run for the area for when they host The Open in just two years' time.
Personally this is another chance for me to experience first hand the hours and hard work that superintendents and crews endure on a daily basis. My first experience last year was especially insightful and this year should be as well.
Bernard Findlay, course manager at Portstewart and our "boss" for the week.
The area around Portstewart is awash in history and attractions, should weather and time allow a few side trips. Everything from Giants Causeway to the walled city of Derry are an easy drive for our midday breaks from our duties. We'll be sure to report on those, too.
Finally, we all know that a big part of the TurfNet experience is the friendships that are made within this community. It was a pleasure to look at this year's group of TurfNet volunteers and realize that I've visited each of their courses in the past few years.
...a big part of the TurfNet experience is the friendships that are made within this community.
David Escobedo in Arizona has been featured in our Tips and Tricks video series at two different courses there. Dana Chase and I met during his first volunteer assignment at the Ryder Cup in Wales in 2010 and when he returned home I filmed at his former course in Massachusetts. Our TurfNet summer intern Marty Richardson is on loan from his summer job at The Island Golf Club outside of Dublin. His most recent US position was working at Hazeltine with Chris Tritabaugh during the years leading up to and including the 2016 Ryder Cup and it was great to see him in action there last September. I am sure the friendships will be even stronger after a week together in our modest rented "holiday home" in Portstewart, below.