Fota Island battered but unbowed

High winds and heavy rain may have plagued these shores of late but preparations for the 2014 Irish Open remain on schedule, says Fota Island Resort golf superintendent Con O’Driscoll.

Courses up and down Ireland are counting the cost of last week’s hurricane-force winds, with Limerick GC alone losing more than 300 trees from its historic course last Wednesday. Combined with more than two months of heavy rain, there has been plenty to test the resolve of ground crews this winter.

Yet with a little over 17 weeks until the European Tour event tees off on June 19 at Fota, O’Driscoll is happy to report the Cork course is still in great shape and there should be no delay in getting scheduled work underway next month to move a number of tee boxes to accommodate the golfing elite this summer.

“We were affected only slightly by the storms and there was nothing that would affect the playability of the golf course,” O’Driscoll explained.

“We didn’t lose any strategic trees or anything like that so we came through reasonably okay considering the scale of the hurricane or whatever you want to call it.

“We were lucky enough and we’re not behind schedule in any way.”

Aside from the high winds, Ireland has also been suffering from persistently heavy downpours since December, the last nine weeks seeing 500mm of water deluge Fota Island, the equivalent of half the average annual rainfall.

Yet O’Driscoll and his crew, like many other clubs’ ground staff across the country, have kept their courses open for business.

“We’ve 100 golfers out there at the moment,” he told the Irish Examiner yesterday.

“It’s a little bit wet but the course is holding up well considering we’ve had, since December 7th, about half the rainfall we’d expect in a year. That’s the scale of it.

“We invested heavily in drainage going back 15 years or so when we revamped the course in 1998/’99 and we’ve continued the sanding programme to this day and it’s at times like this when it does pay off.

“The sanding is a pretty big commitment every year and I suppose a lot of places have backed off with the way finances have gone but we’ve stuck with it and it does pay off when you get a spell like this or like we got the summer before last in 2012.”

O’Driscoll has already met with European Tour officials to discuss course set-up for the Irish Open as it returns to the Deerpark course for the first time since 2002 and there will be dialogue throughout the build-up to the prestigious event regarding the required pace of greens and length of rough.

“In terms of green speeds they normally look for 10.5 to 11 feet on the Stimpmeter, which isn’t a big deal for us as we’d usually run at around 10 to 10.5 during the summer months” the Fota superintendent said.

“Normally we’d have only one cut of semi-rough but they want it more stepped, with two cuts of semi-rough, say the first one at 30mm, the second one at 60mm with the rough at around 90mm. That would be pretty standard.”

Work to move back the tee boxes on the Deerpark course’s par-five holes, the fourth, fifth, 10th and 18th is due to get under way next month but there is no significant work to be done ahead of the opening round on June 19, says O’Driscoll.

“Everything is in place really and it’s all about fine-tuning at this stage. With a couple of months to go we’ll up the intensity of the maintenance so hopefully we won’t have too many hiccups.

“It’s exciting stuff,” he continued. “When you’re at this game preparing a course for the pros in a big tournament like this is the pinnacle of a greenkeeper’s career. There are headaches as well but it is exciting and all the crew are pretty enthusiastic about it.”


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