Greenkeeper profile: The 2018 Ryder Cup course manager

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 27, 2017 12:41 Updated

The 2018 Ryder Cup will be played, for the first time, in France. Here, the course manager of Le Golf National, Alejandro Reyes, talks about how preparations for the event are going, and the work that has made the venue – only opened in the 1990s – to be considered already one of the best in the world

Le Golf National, which only opened in 1990, is just two years away from becoming, albeit probably temporarily, the most famous golf club in the world. The Parisian club, which has hosted the Open de France almost every year since 1991, has three courses, and is hosting the 2018 Ryder Cup. Its main course is The Albatros, an 18-hole venue designed by by architect Hubert Chesneau in collaboration with Robert Von Hagge and Pierre Thevenin, but it also has another 18-hole venue and a nine-hole course. The course has a capacity for 70,000 fans.

We caught up with the club’s golf and courses and estate manager, Alejandro Reyes, to find out more about the course, how the preparations are going for 2018 and to see if he has any course management tips for his peers on the other side of the English Channel.

What would you say are the biggest challenges you currently face?

Our operation is complex and we have a busy golf calendar – 2017 sees the HNA French Open in June, integrating the Rolex Series, the European Senior Tour Paris Legends Championship and the ‘year to go’ celebrations in October. We try to produce the best possible quality every day for our clients. However we work with living beings and it is very difficult to every day satisfy every client we have. This is probably the biggest challenge at Le Golf National: try to satisfy every client expecting to play the Ryder Cup golf course at a Ryder Cup quality.

A good deal of work has been done to the Albatros course. What drainage construction was undertaken?

Our first agronomy and playability concern was drainage. Thirty years ago the Albatros was shaped in a heavy clay field, over old construction waste and 15cms of agricultural topsoil was added to seed. There wasn’t drainage with the exception of some low areas, however I must say that the shaping of the fairways was very well done to have superficial runoffs and to avoid puddles. But it wasn’t enough for first class playing surfaces.

We carried out climatic studies with the objective to drain the course in three hours after a 10-year rainfall event.

Two retention ponds of 12,000 and 7,500m³ were needed, 22kms of drains from 65 to 500mm, and finally 140 lineal kilometers of sand slits, 7cms wide.

The challenge was to do this drainage (and all the other renovations) between two French Opens, to grow the fairways back and play the 2016 French Open. We worked incredibly hard to heal all the trenches, always expecting the key areas of play to be presented to tournament standard. Even if the course presentation was improving daily, two weeks prior to the tournament (mid-June) we were still sodding large areas and I wasn’t sure of the result.

I will always remember something: first day of the 2016 French Open and our tournament director announced that the tournament would involve playing the ball as it lies. I was stimping 13 green and I won’t forget that moment. One of the biggest successes we had at Le Golf National.

The fairway drainage process: secondary drain, gravel added, sand slits and sand mix added to the drain. On top of that, 20,000 tonnes of sand have been added in our key surfaces transforming the soil texture in the top 12cms from silt-clay to sandy loam. As a result our fairways are firm, dense and offering optimum playability all year long.

Le Golf National exclusively uses Ransomes Jacobsen. What turf maintenance equipment have you invested in for the Ryder Cup?

I used to say that, nowadays, we could prepare a major and it doesn’t matter which one of the three mains turf maintenance equipment brands you use. For me, the right decision is a question of confidence and support. When I arrived at Le Golf National there was already a contract with Ransomes Jacobsen regarding turf equipment. I have to say since my first day I was very impressed with all the technical and equipment support we have had from Ransomes Jacobsen. We had no doubt that Ransomes Jacobsen was the perfect partner to accomplish what we hope will be the best Ryder Cup ever.

Last year we invested in a brand new fleet for the three golf courses, our greenkeeping and mechanics teams are delighted with Jacobsen and I love the daily quality we produce in our site.

Spray contact fungicide cannot be used in France. What is the systemic preventative programme you have introduced?

Microduchium nivale control on greens is our main agronomic challenge. Our management approach combines both best practices management taken into account the environment and a systemic preventive programme:

  • Use of biostimulants, phosphites all year and even oxygenated water on winter as curative solution.
  • Control the amount of N on greens. To avoid nitrate as an N source and favouring ammonium.
  • Tissue K testing throughout the active fusarium periods trying to go under two per cent on leaves.
  • Reduce mowing throughout the active fusarium periods as much as possible keeping quality by frequent rolling.
  • Implementing a maintenance programme on greens to increase the creeping bent / poa annua balance on greens which is working very well.
  • Keeping the organic matter content under control, where we want to be.
  • A fungicide preventive programme from September 1 using systemic active ingredients.
  • Sending disease samples to laboratory and inoculating them with the few active ingredients available in order to study the percentage of tolerance to each ingredient.
  • To ensure the use of the active ingredients on the plus efficient possible manner: regular spray equipment calibration, choosing the right nozzles regarding the drop reparation and quality and always choosing the best possible environmental conditions.

Finally we are developing a control programme with a German company and in collaboration with Vienna University to bring to France next winter an UV-C light machine, adapted to golf greens and working against microduchium nivale.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 27, 2017 12:41 Updated
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