Open all hours
Thirty minutes after Ernie Els remarkably captured the most coveted prize in golf, a large matching red polo-shirted group attracted bemused glances as they posed for photographs on the 18th fairway close to the spot where Adam Scott’s dreams finally crumbled.
The BIGGA Open Support Team 2012 wearied by a challenging week knew they had played an important part in the success of the event whilst many lasting friendships had been cemented.
As The 141st Open ended, the exhausted but happy group reflected on their vital role in preparing the bunkers each morning - a mammoth task as the famous old links boasts over 200 traps, match raking, divoting and attending to the practice areas. As the week progressed and the weather finally improved they were able to enjoy the sight of the sun rising across the course during one of their regular 5am starts, something they will treasure for the rest of their days.
The home greenkeeping team led superbly by Paul Smith consisted of his own regular crew of twelve, a further twenty or so local volunteers, four John Deere staff and six more provided by the R&A from other Open Championship venues fully embraced the BIGGA team, including greenkeepers from across the UK and as far afield as Australia and America.
The advance BIGGA team assembled on the Monday to begin bunker preparation from Tuesday onwards. The remainder were all present and correct in time for the traditional Wednesday afternoon start and their first sight of the glorious links during the R&A Briefing by Grant Moir, Director of Rules.
The course was already damp after a horrendous summer, which has left greenkeepers cursing across the land. But it was tested to the absolute limit after hours of torrential rain throughout Thursday night and into Friday morning.
Head Greenkeeper Paul Smith described watching the rain clatter down as “probably the worst feeling of my life” – but the tireless work of his extended team and the BIGGA boys and girls ensured that miraculously, play began on time on the second day.
The walkways between holes were at times reminiscent of a particularly damp Glastonbury, and the incredibly high water table meant that some of the bunkers retained standing water despite everyone’s best efforts, illustrating quite how much rain had fallen. But there was not a murmur of complaint from the players, showing what a professional job had been done.
They then trod the same meticulously prepared fairways as Tiger Woods, Tom Watson and Rory McIlroy, springing into action when a hook or slice found the sand. In many cases the divot team worked until 11pm – a whole 18 hours after the first members of the team had been on the course.
Steve Mason, from Stocks Golf Club, knew he was in for a busy opening morning when his three players all found separate bunkers with their opening tee shots on the notorious par three first – and he went on to rake 17 in total, the highest of the day.
He said: “You have to be on your toes, and I knew it would be a long day from the first three shots. But that’s what we’re there for, and it was an honour not only to walk alongside the players but also to work on The Open course.”
Some enjoyed unexpected surprises, like Miles Todd from Rhuddlan Golf Club. He was expecting a quiet final day when he joined Andres Romero and Chad Campbell’s early morning pairing – so imagine his amazement when footballer Carlos Tevez suddenly appeared as caddie for his compatriot.
Miles said: “I thought it looked like him and I went up and had a little chat with him. He was a really nice bloke and loves his golf.
“From very few spectators at the start, word quickly got round and it had become a circus by the back nine. People were calling out to him and there were photographers running around everywhere, numbers swelling after every hole.
“I’m not sure Chad Campbell was too happy about it. Tevez kept standing behind him as he played and at one point Romero had to stop Tevez from slamming a club into the bag as Campbell was taking a shot!”
Paul Griffiths of Seaford Golf Club added: “It’s been an amazing experience. It’s my first Open and it’s been out of this world. People would pay thousands to experience this.
“It’s really hard work and everyone finishes the week absolutely shattered. But I enjoyed it so much. I might tell the lads at the club it was rubbish then I’ll get to go next year too!”
John Keenaghan from Chipping Sodbury Golf Club was given the honour of accompanying odds-on favourite Adam Scott up and down the fairways on the final day, and raked the final bunker of the tournament on the 18th where the luckless Aussie allowed the Claret Jug to slip from his grasp.
The team spent their rare spare time recuperating in the BIGGA marquee, with the internet access provided by Sherriff Amenity proving popular yet again.
The marquee itself was a bustle of activity throughout the week, with Head of Membership, Tracey Maddison and Learning and Development Executive, Rachael Duffy holding the fort admirably.
The first day of play saw the ceremonial passing of the BIGGA baton from outgoing Chairman Andrew Mellon to new Chairman Tony Smith.
Andrew, who is departing to become General Manager of Hydroturf in Qatar, handed the badge to previous vice-chairman Tony in the BIGGA marquee.
The tournament ended with Paul Smith personally thanking the team for their terrific efforts, a sentiment that was echoed by Chief Executive Jim Croxton.
See you at Muirfield 2013!