Gleneagles steps up Ryder Cup prep

The countdown to the prestigious Ryder Cup began a decade ago for this year’s host, Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland.

The 2014 Ryder Cup is just around the corner, but the countdown to the prestigious tournament between the United States and Europe began a decade ago for this year’s host, Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland.

Gleneagles was awarded the event in 2001, and every year since 2004, the five-star luxury resort has been making major investments to structurally improve its hotel and spa facilities and update its PGA Centenary Course, where the Ryder Cup will be played September 25-28.

“It’s been a major project and long process,” said Steve Chappell, head greenkeeper of Gleneagles’ Centenary Course, on the extensive renovation to get the course ready for this year’s Ryder Cup. “Every week another bulldozer shows up or contractor comes in and we’re doing this, we’re doing that. There was a lot going on.”

Chappell, who took his post at Gleneagles in October of 2011, says significant changes have been made to several of the Centenary Course holes over the years in preparation for the tournament.

For example, Hole 12 was shortened from a Par 5 to a 445-yard Par 4, and Hole 14 was extended from a Par 3 into a drivable 320-yard Par 4.

Additionally, Gleneagles consulted with golf legend Jack Nicklaus in 2010 on how to modernize the course.

“Technology has come a long way since the PGA Centenary Course opened in 1993 with distance and ball fly, so [Jack] Nicklaus really wanted to make the golf course more of a modern day challenge,” said Chappell.

Following Nicklaus’ recommendations, Gleneagles completely rebuilt Hole 18, installed a large lake alongside Hole 9, rebuilt all of the bunkers, and re-contoured the green on Hole 6.

The Nicklaus-inspired renovation took place in 2011, and involved shifting about 50,000 tons of earth, and upgrading the course’s irrigation system with Toro DT Series sprinklers. Now that most of the major construction has concluded, Chappell says he can finally focus on getting the course ready for tournament play.

“This year’s focus has all been about turf conditioning and creating a consistent playing surface,” said Chappell, who was able to draw on the experiences he gained during the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club and the 2010 Ryder Cup at The Celtic Manor Resort in South Wales.

To ensure the fairways are firm and dry for the September event, Chappell and his team have applied more than 10,000 tons of sand to the fairways. This will give the course a 50-millimeter sand profile on top of what is already there.

In order to handle the extra turf maintenance required before and during the Ryder Cup, Chappell will expand his current crew of 20 greenkeepers on the Centenary Course to a team of around 70-90 people. This includes greenkeepers from Gleneagles’ two other courses, and about 40-50 volunteer greenkeepers from courses all over the world.

Chappell says one of the most important tasks he and his crew will have during the Ryder Cup is to set and maintain the pace of the course.

“The smallest changes in cut lengths, even a few millimeters, can make a big difference in the way the ball rolls on the putting surface. For the Ryder Cup, the cut needs to be perfect, right on the money,” he added.

“If Paul McGinley wants the greens to be at a certain speed he deems fair, then that’s what we need to aim for,” says Chappell. “And if that means that our greens are at four millimeters or if that means our greens need to be at three millimeters, and they need to be cut three times a day, and rolled twice a day, then that’s what we’ll do.”