Kenny Mackay, director of golf courses and grounds at Wentworth, talks us through the work involved in preparing the West course for the BMW PGA Championship
When you tune into any top golf event these days, most people take the exquisitely manicured fairways and beautiful surroundings for granted. It’s easy to overlook the hard work it takes to get the course into prime condition for tournament week.
This hard work is especially true for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, which falls at a time of year when the British weather can give even the most experienced of greenkeepers sleepless nights.
The man responsible for keeping the West course in shape is Kenny Mackay, director of golf courses and grounds at Wentworth since 2012. He moved from a similar role at the Belfry where he had been for seven years, so he has seen his fair share of testing conditions over his career.
“The weather plays a huge part in everyday golf but it accentuates it when the championship is on because you have 30,000 people tramping round the golf course,” he says.
“I remember two years ago it was really quite wet – a beautiful day on the Sunday but really wet on the Friday and Saturday morning. You see the crowds walking through and you know you’ve got to tidy it up. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s what I came here for and that’s what I wanted to do. You don’t get into greenkeeping if you’re not prepared for bad weather!”
The real build up to the tournament begins two months beforehand when the village and grandstands start to go up. The course is then closed at the start of May so Kenny and his team can work exclusively on the preparations.
“This is when the intensity changes,” Kenny says. “We go from single cutting the greens to double cutting a couple of weeks before the tournament, and we also start double rolling the greens and cutting fairways every day.
“During the championship and maybe ten days out from the start we’ll double cut in the morning and the evening and we’ll cut fairways, semi-rough and tees every day, which we’d only cut three or four times in a normal week. When you get the course to yourself it makes a huge difference.”
In a normal week Kenny has a team of over 60 staff with 24 working exclusively on the West course. During the championship however, this number is boosted by 50 or so volunteers from the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA).
“BIGGA gives us a support team who rake bunkers with the matches and help us with preparation every day,” Kenny continues. “We started that when I took over and it’s similar to the Open Championship – it’s a similar size team that come to the BMW. They are the two big tournaments that all the greenkeepers from around the country have a chance to volunteer at.”
Even with a team this size the week itself can be extremely demanding, with Kenny’s day starting at around 4.30am and finishing as late as 10pm.
“Graham Matheson, the head greenkeeper on the West, and his team are out all day and if we get bad weather it can be a nightmare,” he says. “I’m kind of the front guy. I’m not actually hands-on cutting the greens. I’m coordinating with Graham about where we need to be and what we need to have done. Bad weather is your worst nightmare. Thunder and lightning delays are pretty normal. We’re constantly looking at the forecast.”
The conclusion of the tournament might mean a well-earned rest for the pros but there’s no let-up for Kenny and his team who are straight back to business on Monday morning.
“We actually do another tournament day on the Monday,” he explains. “We do exactly the same – the only thing we don’t do is change the pins. The members want to play at the same pins as the pros finished on but we do everything else exactly the same.
“The crowds can do some damage on the walkways and stuff which will add to the work but we probably don’t see that until a week or ten days afterwards when everything is broken down.”
This year things will be slightly different as the course will be shutting for major redevelopment one week after the tournament and this will be the main focus for Kenny over the coming year.
The work will include rebuilding five of the greens, with the first extensive sub-air system at an English course being installed. It is due for completion early next year in good time for the 2017 BMW PGA.
Kenny has done a huge amount of work for this project and he is confident that the right choices have been made for the conditions at Wentworth.
“We’ve done a lot of research into what grass we’re going to put down,” he says. “We’ve done a lot of homework that should deliver way beyond tournament player’s expectations.”
This homework included a recent trip to The Masters, and Kenny says he has tried to employ a similar approach to that used at the iconic Georgia course over the years.
“Augusta is the great example,” he concludes. “They never sit still, they’re always asking how the tournament played, did that bunker come into play etc. They do this without ever ruining the design.”
With this as the blueprint, and Kenny’s obvious enthusiasm and dedication at the helm, there’s no doubt the West course will come back even stronger in 2017.