Behind the scenes at the Solheim Cup

I, along with several other members of the trade press, was duly invited by John Deere to attend the first two days of the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles this past weekend to witness the investment, logistics and dedication of the John Deere Tournament support team and the greenkeeping staff at Gleneagles to ensure the course was presented and set up to deliver a fair challenge of golf for both the Europe and USA women teams playing at this year’s competition.

The 16th edition of the Solheim Cup between Europe and the United States began on Friday, 13 September at Gleneagles, Scotland. The event follows the same format as the Ryder Cup, with fourball and foursomes matches on the first two days followed by 12 singles on Sunday.

Team USA have won 10 of the previous 15 contests and were attempting to claim a third on the trot after winning four years ago in Germany then defending the title on home soil in Iowa in 2017.

This is the third time the Solheim Cup has been staged in Scotland, with Europe winning on both previous occasions.

The first Solheim Cup was staged at Lake Nona, Florida in 1990. The US were comfortable 11½-4½ winners in the inaugural match but a Laura Davies-inspired Europe claimed victory two years later at Dalmahoy, near Edinburgh.

Arriving at Gleneagles the trade press group were greeted by senior John Deere mangers who welcomed us to Gleneagles and the Solhiem Cup.

Gleneagles now holds a unique position in golfing history by being the first venue in Europe to have hosted both The Solheim Cup and The Ryder Cup (in 2014).

John Deere was the official golf course and turf maintenance machinery event partner to Gleneagles for the 16th biennial edition of The Solheim Cup. The company has a long association with professional golf, having been a title sponsor on the PGA Tour, official supplier to the PGA Tour for over 25 years, official supplier to the Ladies European Tour and a partner at numerous Solheim Cup events.

In addition, John Deere has provided additional golf course maintenance machinery and ancillary equipment for use across all three Gleneagles championship golf courses during the event.

After a quick lunch and walk around the John Deere stand, we were taken on a behind the scenes tour of the greenkeeping facilities to get a glimpse of the sheer size and scale of the task of preparing the course for each day’s play.

We were introduced to Scott Fenwick, director of agronomy and estates, who has worked at Gleneagles for the best part of 40 years. Scott gave us a unique insight into the work that goes into managing the three courses at Gleneagles and explained the vast investment, some half a million pounds that has been made by the club to provide a state of the art greenkeeping mess room, repairs and storage facility to house the forty four plus greenkeeping team and the vast array of John Deere maintenance machinery.

He said it is not just about the supply of the various mowers and tractors and vehicles it is really about the after sales service and technical back up you get from John Deere. “Their tournament support team have been outstanding and helped us achieve our aims and objectives at Gleneagles,” said Scott.

Scott was keen to point out the excellent planning and attention to detail being driven by the courses manager Craig Haldene. Since his arrival he has been crucial in ensuring Gleneagles is ready to deliver a playing surface that meets the demands of the Solheim Cup.

Scott then went on to explain the work that had gone into preparing the course for the tournament especially having to deal with over thirteen days of consecutive rain leading up to the start of the tournament. They in fact closed the course for three weeks prior to the event to allow it to recover and enable them to increase agronomic practices to bring it up to tournament standards.

In the week leading up to the Cup, an additional 52 volunteer greenkeeping professionals joined the team to help prepare and maintain the course during the event.
Scott was keen to point out that eight of the 52 volunteers were women, who had joined their own Laura Campbell and BIGGA’s head of membership services Tracey Maddison to help with the course preparations. “It’s fitting that we can showcase the equal role women play in our industry, especially during The Solheim Cup,” said Scott.

Tournament days start early with greenkeeping staff arriving around 4.30 am with the aim to undertake a whole course maintenance programme, usually the mowing of tees, greens aprons, fairways , rough, semi rough bunkers raked and hole changed before the start of play.

As for green speeds these are monitored daily to meet the criteria set by the tournament officials a programme of rolling, cutting and grooming will be tailored to achieve the desired speed required for the day’s play. Throughout the day the performance of the greens and the course will be monitored with relevant information fed back to the greenkeeping teams.

Provision had been made onsite to provide two bedroom accommodation pods to accommodate over 70 members of the greenkeeping team, to ensure they get a good night sleep and be ready for these early morning starts.

During the walk around the facility, Carlos Aragones, John Deere European turf sales & marketing manager, was keen to mention that, “The Solheim Cup is one of the biggest events on the 2019 sporting calendar and we ( John Deere ) are delighted to be a part of it. We are also proud of our collaboration with Gleneagles in helping to prepare the course for such a prestigious tournament.”

He also went on to say that during 2019 John Deere and its dealers will be or have supported more than 10 major tournaments in the UK and Ireland, every month from the Betfred British Masters at Hillside Golf Club in May to The Solheim Cup at Gleneagles and the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth later in the month. “”e will have provided specialist support staff and more than 150 machines including walk-behind and ride-on greens mowers, tees & surrounds, fairway and rough mowers, compact tractors and Gator utility vehicles to ensure the success of these events,” said Carlos.

To conclude the day’s visit we were able to experience the golfing village and see what was on offer to the thousands of supporters who have turned up to see this sporting spectacle.

There is no getting away from the fact that major golfing tournaments bring the best out in people, with so much banter going on between both sets of fans.

At the end of the first day’s play Europe where leading 5 and half to 4 and a half.

The next day we were allowed to go our own way and sample the experience of watching Europe battle it out with the USA, finishing the day with both teams on 8 points going into the final day on the Sunday. with all to play for in the 12 single matches.

For me it was great to see the vast commitment being made by both John Deere and the greenkeeping team to deliver consistent playing surfaces throughout the three days of the Solheim Cup. It had taken the best part of five years of planning to prepare the course for this unique opportunity of hosting the competition.

Having returned home, Sunday was spent keeping an eye out for the results of the singles matches. Such a close match between two competitive teams, it was always going to go to the wire - which it did with wildcard selected Pettersen sealing a dramatic win for Europe with the final putt of the match on the 18th green.

A tremendous finish to an exceptionally organised Solheim Cup at Gleneagles. I would like to thank personally John Deere for inviting me and allowing me to witness one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments on British soil.

Laurence Gale, TurfPro editor

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