Following my trip to The Solheim Cup, I wanted to reflect on the tremendous achievements of the Gleneagles greenkeeping team and its partner, John Deere, in preparing and presenting The PGA Centenary Course, the stage for a truly memorable win for Team Europe.
Gleneagles has become the only venue in Europe to have hosted both The Ryder Cup and The Solheim Cup and is currently ranked ‘#1 Golf Resort in the UK & Ireland’ by Golf World magazine.
My visit afforded me the opportunity to go ‘behind the scenes’ of this incredible event, meet several members of the greenkeeping team and senior John Deere representatives, all of whom played a significant role in the success of The Solheim Cup.
Gleneagles’ three championship golf courses - the 850-acre estate also boasts The King’s and The Queen’s, both designed by the legendary James Braid - used to be managed as separate entities, each with their own greenkeeping team.
This management structure evolved when South African, Craig Haldane, was appointed as Golf Courses Manager in 2018. Craig’s experience blended perfectly with that of Director of Agronomy and Estates, Scott Fenwick, and together they created a new central hub for all greenkeeping operations. These fabulous facilities now include modern showers, comfortable and well-equipped drying and locker rooms, a staff canteen and lounge, as well as the service and maintenance area.
Scott has 38 years of tournament expertise at Gleneagles and is their longest-serving member of staff, having joined as a 16-year-old apprentice greenkeeper. His first tasks in those early days were raking bunkers and learning how to operate machinery for cutting grass, and he now leads Gleneagles’ 55-strong greenkeeping and gardening team. Under Scott’s leadership, the Perthshire estate is proud to have hosted a professional golf tournament every year, apart from two, since 1987.
Scott highlighted the significant investment made by Gleneagles to centralise the maintenance facility and how they operate a full fleet of John Deere equipment from this central compound, perfectly positioned to allow easy access to all three golf courses.
He commented, “Greenkeeping is not just about cutting grass, it is a complex science and a serious art. Presenting championship courses demands great skill, knowledge and tremendous attention to detail, to create the firm and fast conditions that the modern day golfer expects.
“It is very hard work, but it is also rewarding to be part of a one team, delivering courses that are respected the world over, and to the results of our hard work on the TV screen during such a big tournament as The Solheim Cup.”
Fifty-three volunteers – including eight women alongside Gleneagles’ own Laura Campbell – joined the existing team for The 2019 Solheim Cup. Support staff from John Deere and local dealer, Double A, also added to the team. The volunteer force increased by more than 25%, compared to the 2014 Ryder Cup, and 50 extra machines were provided on loan for the week, to supplement the existing fleet. The extra staff and machines were needed not only to prepare The PGA Centenary Course for tournament play, but also The King’s Course for The Junior Solheim Cup (won 13-11 by Team USA) as well as The Queen’s Course, which remained open for VIP visitors and members.
Scott added, “The wet weather during the previous week meant a lot of cutting by hand to achieve the required green speeds, while also producing a smooth putting surface. We worked within parameters set by the LET’s agronomist but we also have our own squad who checked each morning to see if additional cuts were needed to maintain the correct and consistent speeds, 10 to 10.5 on the stimpmeter for The Solheim Cup.
“The quality of cut we get with the John Deere 220S hand mowers made a big contribution to the success of the tournament, and we also appreciate the efficiency and cost savings being achieved by our new Pro Gator mounted sprayers, using the latest GPS mapping technology.”
Scott was keen to express how the art of greenkeeping had changed in the last 40 years, and how we now rely heavily on the development and choice of new intelligent and precision machinery and the need to encourage a new breed of greenkeepers to deliver the expectations of tournament golf.
Eight women greenkeepers were working at this Tournament and during my visit, I was able to catch up with Laura Campbell, a full-time Gleneagles employee. I asked her how she got into greenkeeping and what her future ambitions are.
What made you choose a career in Greenkeeping?
Since the age of 10, I’ve been a keen golfer and played in the junior section at my home club. The club was looking for a junior to help out on the course during summer holidays. Later that year I was looking to leave school, so after doing my work experience on the golf course I asked to be taken on full-time from the start of the season. I was put through college and did most of my learning out on the course. I love golf and being outdoors, an office job certainly wasn’t an option for me.
How long have you been working in the Greenkeeping industry?
It’s over 12.5 years now.
How did you get the job at Gleneagles?
I was made redundant from my previous position at a small local course, just before Christmas a few years ago now. At this time Gleneagles were advertising for seasonal staff for the coming season, so I applied for that, as well as sending out my CV to other local clubs. Seasonal wasn’t what I wanted at the time, but I knew it was a great opportunity and that there may be a chance of getting a full-time position if I worked hard. Before the end of my seasonal contract I was offered a full-time position and jumped at the chance.
What qualifications are you taking? Which college are you attending?
When I started out, I did my SVQ level 2 Sports Turf qualification through Elmwood College. Since completing that I have added spraying certificates and various machinery competence certificates through Lantra.
What are your current duties and responsibilities at Gleneagles?
I am currently a Senior Greenkeeper based on The Queen’s Course. My main role is to train new and current staff, as well as leading smaller teams on projects. Along with the assistants and other seniors, we ensure machines are set up and ready to go each morning.
What do you particularly like about working in this industry?
I love being outdoors and being active. I really couldn’t imagine working indoors every day. I have a passion for golf so working on a golf course all day and doing everything I can to present it to the highest possible standard is something I take a lot of pride in.
What are your aspirations for the future?
I love central and highland Scotland, so I‘d ideally like to stay in the area. I want to progress as far as possible at Gleneagles and move on to a deputy position at some point.
What work and tasks were you performing during The Solheim Cup?
During tournament days I was hand-mowing greens with Amanda Dorans, a volunteer from Dundonald Links in Scotland.
What have you learned about tournament preparations?
We were on the front nine greens and would often single cut greens before they were stimped. We would then get the OK, and move to the next green, or be asked to give the green another cut if it fell short of the parameters we were seeking. It was interesting to watch the stimping of the greens each morning and witnessing the changes in speeds being requested from the beginning to end of tournament week.
What have you enjoyed most about being involved in The Solheim Cup?
Having volunteered last year in America at the USPGA Championship, the last men’s major of the year, it’s been great to experience a tournament at home. For it to be the biggest women’s tournament in golf and having so many female greenkeeping volunteers was extra special. The atmosphere on the Sunday was amazing, and it made all the hard work and long hours worthwhile.
What are your ambitions for the next few years?
I want to continue to progress at Gleneagles. I’m excited to see how I can help with developing The Queen’s course, especially, over the next few years. I am really happy here and, for me, that is the most important thing.
I’m sure the experienced gained by Laura and her fellow women greenkeepers at The Solheim Cup will be invaluable and help them further their careers in greenkeeping, I personally would like to see more women working in our sports turf industry.
There have been a number of articles in recent years discussing this issue, the last one I read was in a fellow industry magazine, that gave an insight into the lack of women working in the industry and what could be done to attract more into this unique, diverse industry.
The R&A unveiled a new ‘Women in Golf Charter’ in May 2018, as part of the organisation’s global drive to increase the number of women and girls participating in golf, and to encourage more opportunities for women to work within the golf industry.
The ‘Women in Golf Charter’ intends to inspire an industry‑wide commitment to developing a more inclusive culture within golf around the world and enable more women and girls to flourish and maximise their potential at all levels of the sport.
The role of a greenkeeper and grounds professional has changed dramatically in recent years, mainly due to the advancement of technologies and new machinery. I am sure with the right publicity, pay, and career opportunities, we can attract even more women to this ever changing sports turf industry.
Pics courtesy Glen Blackburn