BMW PGA greenkeeper: "We'll use lights post round for the first time!"

GolfMagic sits down with Wentworth Director of Golf & Greenkeeping Kenny Mackay ahead of the European Tour's flagship BMW PGA Championship from September 19-22. 

 

Andy Roberts's picture
Wed, 4 Sep 2019
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With the four majors and the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup over for another year, all eyes now turn to Wentworth for the European Tour's flagship tournament of the year - the BMW PGA Championship - from September 19-22.

The famous Surrey track hosted the first three PGA Championships from 1972 to 1974, and then returned again in 1984 and has not looked back to the present day.

Wentworth has typically always attracted many star names on the European Tour, but now in its new date of September as opposed to May, it's fair to say this year's BMW PGA has picked up just about every European it could possibly have wished for, and even a few Americans are coming over for the first time. 

Fresh off winning his second FedEx Cup, Rory McIlroy is back for another crack at the PGA title he won in 2014, and he's joined by the majority of his victorious 2018 European Ryder Cup side including defending champion Francesco Molinari and Spain's Jon Rahm, who makes his BMW PGA debut.

The majority of hard work on the West Course may already now be done, but Wentworth's Director of Golf & Greenkeeping Kenny Mackay is not prepared to rest on his laurels, telling GolfMagic in an exclusive interview that his team will be working through the night every day of the tournament in order to maintain Wentworth's reputation as one of the most immaculate golf courses in the world. 

Having acquired past experience at the Forest of Arden and The Belfry before joining Wentworth in 2012, Mackay has built up quite the CV when it comes to presenting European Tour venues in their best possible light.

Something he quite literally needs plenty of as Wentworth welcomes its new date.

"When the tournament starts, I can see us working in the darkness early morning until sunlight breaks, and then at night time we'll work in the dark and use floodlights," said Mackay. 

"We'll have a whole team whose job is to move lighting rigs from hole to hole so we can work on the greens. This will be the first ever time we've used lights post round, because when the tournament has been in May, there's always been enough daylight to get the work done. That won't be the case this time around.

"A lot of courses will do the same thing, but it will be a lot more intense here due to the fact we have a one-tee start, so we'll have to stay on it.

"Daylight is the biggest challenge for us once the championship is underway. Getting the players round and once they’re all finished our team has to get out there and make sure the course is ready for the next day, but that’s a lot more challenging if it’s getting dark."

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Mackay's other big worry is the weather, but he admits his strong workforce that ranges between 55 and 65 greenkeepers will be able to manage just about anything the heavens throw at the West Course.

"The only time we really feel the pressure is if there's bad weather," admits Mackay.

"Something we like to do for the tournament is mow the grass in one direction so there are no stripes on any surfaces, but if we get weather delays, time delays or it get’s dark then that will play a part in what changes we can make.

"We have a big team for the championship, with our own team plus all the full-time volunteers, so if we do run into any problems we have enough manpower to get it sorted."

Technological advancements are also playing a big role in tackling any last-minute issues to get a golf course primed for the world's best players. 

"I'm not sure people realise the amount of technology that goes into greenkeeping now. We have a device that measures the moisture and firmness of a playing surface. We can control the moisture so we can measure it and dry it out if we need to or go the other way.

"The data we can record now, and I’ll get an update every day, makes managing the course a lot easier and we can go into such fine detail now.

"Honestly, the technology in the game is a big change. The rate it has changed since I started working in this industry is amazing and from what I’ve seen it’s only going to keep on growing."

Working in tangent with the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA), Wentworth typically always attracts a large number of volunteer greenkeepers, which Mackay claims only goes to strengthen the depth of his squad during a PGA Championship.

"We have a great relationship with BIGGA who supply all of the volunteer greenkeepers for the event and a lot of the time they then get a taste of it and think ‘oh I fancy that’ so it becomes a great recruitment tool for us. 

"We also naturally have guys who move on, so for example we have guys who have been here for two or three seasons and now one is going to America and one is going to Australia, but we’re happy for that because it keeps the transition going.

"There’ll be guys working at the championship who will finish and go ‘what an incredible week I’ve had at Wentworth, there’s a job going there, I fancy that’ and then if they join we’ll get another three or four years from them."

It might be a rewarding gig for many that sign up, but it's a gruelling one too. 

"Right now they’re working 12-hour shifts, so today they’ll work from around 6 in the morning until about 8 o'clock tonight.

"Tuesday is the maintenance day at Wentworth on the West Course, so there is great opportunity to get a lot done on that day.

"Our team works all year round for this championship, really. So in the winter we’ll start a few projects and do a certain amount of work on the heather or the tees or the greens. Whatever we decide we need to focus on and target early on.

"Between now and the BMW, it will be really intense... so no days off and a lot of work put in!

"The guys are well versed though, and everyone knows what they're doing out there."

With so many big names in the field, it would appear the fixture switch by the European Tour has worked very nicely in its favour. 

Not only are the majority of 2018 European Ryder Cup players in the field, but even some of the Americans are making the trip across the pond including Patrick Reed, Tony Finau and Billy Horschel. 

The players seem happy, the fans are happy, and so too are the Wentworth Club members who have been able to reap the rewards of playing the West Course in championship condition over the summer. 

"The members here are extremely happy in terms of what we are delivering and I think that because this year’s BMW PGA Championship is now at a later date, the members have had all summer so at least they’ve had a whole summer to play and then go into the BMW.

"Previously they’ve had the winter, and then the BMW has caused disruption and then picking up the pieces after it, so it’s been a real positive from a club point of view for our members."

For more information about Wentworth Club, please visit www.wentworthclub.com

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