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Staff who kep the green in the pink

FEW people are working harder during the Open Championship than the greenkeeping staff at Royal St George’s Golf Club.

Head greenkeeper Neil Metcalf and his 12-strong team are out from first light, around 4am, preparing the course for when the first players tee off at 6.30am during the opening two rounds. And after play they are back out again for another four hours or so, tidying up and starting to move the pin positions for the following day.

Neil, 37, who has been St George’s head greenkeeper for seven years began his greenkeeping career at Cruden Bay links golf course in Aberdeenshire, then worked at an inland parkland course for two years before becoming St George’s assistant greenkeeper in 1992.

Four years later he was promoted to head greenkeeper and now, married with two young daughters, Neil is settled in a house on the course that goes with the job.

“It’s part of my job to be freely available in case there is a problem out on the course.” he said. “I am the one who responds to it.”

The condition of the greens is of paramount importance in any major championship. Neil said: “The preparation of the greens has gone very well, but we have to be very careful not to make them too quick.

“We have a number of exposed greens on the course, and if the wind blows the last thing we want is play suspended because the golf balls are moving on the slippery greens.”

The long, meadowland grasses which will trap wayward shots during the Open are mainly of the fescue bent variety, which are indigenous to the duneland around the golf course.

Neil received exact instructions from the R&A on how the course should be set up.

“The fairways must be between 25 and 30 metres wide, and then there must be one two-metre cut of semi-rough, two and half inches deep, and then a second cut four inches deep, again two metres wide.” he said.

“A ball running into the rough will be slowed down by the second cut, but a ball flying and bouncing into the semi-rough will carry on into the thick stuff. Golf is a very precise game nowadays, even on the greenkeeping side.

“The fairways are very undulating compared to some of the other Open courses, which makes our job more difficult during a dry spell because the grass burns and goes very brown.”

But the biggest fear for Neil, apart from acts of vandalism, is that East Kent will suddenly be hit by a sudden deluge of rain. He said: “If we do get any rain we would like it to be nice, light showers, just enough to work it’s way into the soil.”

A useful golfer, judging by his three handicap, Neil will be hoping to play a bit more himself once the Open is over.

But he admitted with a smile: “The problem when I’m playing is that I can’t concentrate on my golf because I keep finding things other people haven’t done, such as replacing divots.”

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