Gleneagles greenkeeper predicts perfect condition

GREENKEEPERS usually come and go. Traditionally, they often get itchy feet and believe the grass, excuse the pun, is greener elsewhere.

Scott Fenwick has been at Gleneagles for 34 years. Picture: John Devlin

Not in the case of Scott Fenwick, though. Born in Dundee and raised in Perth, he joined the Gleneagles greenkeeping staff straight from school. That was 34 years ago and he’s still there.

Having worked his way up the ranks, he’s now the Golf Courses & Estate Manager. As such, it’s been his responsibility to get the PGA Centenary Course ready for the Ryder Cup. He’ll also be in charge of a small army of greenkeepers preparing it for the practice and match days.

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“People in the greenkeeping industry do tend to move on, but this is a great place to be and a great place to work,” said Fenwick of his role at the plush Perthshire resort. “There’s always been new challenges, including a G8 Summit (in 2005) as well as lots of different golf tournaments.”

The Bell’s Scottish Open, of course, enjoyed a successful spell at Gleneagles, which also staged the McDonald’s WPGA Championship. Both those events were on the King’s Course. The first Ryder Cup to be staged in Scotland since the 1973 match at Muirfield is on the neighbouring PGA Centenary Course.

Designed by Jack Nicklaus, it was originally known as the Monarch’s Course when it opened in 1993. While the ‘Golden Bear’ became a bear with a sore head when changes were made to it without his blessing, Gleneagles Hotel bosses made a smart move by re-engaging his services to make the most recent alterations as part of an investment programme specifically for the Ryder Cup.

As well as design changes, which included a major makeover of the much-maligned 18th, drainage was improved, both in the fairways and bunkers, while the installation of a sub-air system has ensured criticism of the greens in the past has long since died down.

“We all know that the course has had its critics over the years, but there has been very little negative reaction to the changes that have been made and various improvements that have been undertaken,” noted Fenwick. “The sub-air system is not the miracle cure some people make it out to be, but it’s a management tool that has helped us in the management of the greens and they are certainly performing much better now.”

The overall condition of the course drew widespread praise during the summer, when the traffic over it included Tom Watson, the American captain, and two of the players to subsequently make his team, Jim Furyk and Keegan Bradley.

Since the course closed to the public at the beginning of the month, the task has been to add some make-up for the big event. “It’s a case of preparing it to almost like when the Monarch’s first opened whereby we had this beautiful manicured golf course,” said Fenwick.

The recent dry and sunny weather has helped enormously in that respect. It has also meant there has been little or no damage caused during the huge building operation as grandstands and corporate hospitality units have been erected around the course. The last two Ryder Cups on this side of the Atlantic – at The K Club in 2006 then Celtic Manor four years ago – were both hit by bad weather. The latter, of course, spilled over to the Monday. While this year’s event is a week earlier, Fenwick is ready to take whatever Mother Nature has in store squarely on the chin.

“All you can do is prepare for every eventuality,” he said. “It would be great if we had nice sunny days as that would be a great advert for Gleneagles and Scotland. But we’ll deal with whatever comes along and that is part of the reason we installed the sub-air system, put in bunker linings and laid down hard core in certain areas. We’ve ticked all the boxes to improve things that may cause a problem.”

Normally, the Gleneagles greenkeeping staff is split in two, One team works on both the King’s and Queen’s Courses while the other, which is headed by Steve Chappell, who came from Celtic Manor, looks after the PGA Centenary Course and the Golf Academy. Totalling 54, it will be rolled into one during Ryder Cup week, when additional support will be provided by 40 greenkeeping volunteers. The majority of them worked at Gleneagles in the past. One is coming from Barbados and another from Iceland.

Having known since 2001 that it would be staging this Ryder Cup, time has been on the side of Gleneagles bosses to get things spot on. Bernard Murphy, the general manager, has taken care of that in the iconic hotel, where the players and officials will be staying. For his part, Fenwick is confident the golf course will also be fitting for the resort’s five-star status.

“This is the pinnacle of our career – one of the biggest sporting events in the world,” he said. “Does that create pressure? I wouldn’t say it feels like pressure because you are looking forward to seeing the Ryder Cup being played on your golf course.

“We feel as though we are organised and have a good team. Everything feels relaxed going into the event, though it is certainly not a case of being complacent. We feel as though we are on the right track for the course to peak bang on at the start of the tournament - and all we need now is for the weather to behave itself.”