Our series of behind-the-scenes Open Championship profiles continues with Royal Liverpool Golf Club’s head greenkeeper Craig Gilholm

By Robin Barwick

It takes time, skill and lots of endeavour to get greens running as smooth and fast as they did yesterday at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, in the second round of the 2014 Open Championship.

Royal Liverpool’s Head greenkeeper Craig Gilholm was satisfied with how the greens played in the second round, after two days of sunshine had seen the moisture level in the greens drop, and their putting speed increase to the level hoped for by the R&A and the club. But then last night Mother Nature intervened by dropping a bucketful of rain on the Open’s head.

“If we can get the soil moisture down to eight to 10 percent in the greens then we know they will be very firm and the grass goes into drought mode, stops growing and then you get a very fast surface,” explains Gilholm, who has been head greenkeeper at Royal Liverpool GC since 2005, a year before the last Open was held here. “We had got the greens to the right speed, smoothness and firmness – it reached its peak yesterday and everything fell into place at a very high championship standard – but we knew the weather was changing and that the greens would lose some firmness.”

With more moisture in the greens there were opportunities for golfers to attack the pins in the third round today, as Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler both did particularly well.

“If there is a lot of rain tonight, we know we can double cut and roll the greens in the morning to get some firmness back,” says Scotsman Gilholm, who learnt his trade at Muirfield.  “We might need to change the height that we cut the greens a little. We normally cut the greens here down to 4mm, which is a standard setting, and at this time of year you might bring it down to 3.75mm just to get that speed, but at that height you are in danger of putting the grass under stress, so you can’t do it for long periods. We have been cutting at 3.5mm for the Open, and if it rains tonight we may have to go down to 3.25mm for the morning, just to get that extra half a roll out of the greens, and for one day only the greens are fine with that.”

Gilholm has 38 staff working on the golf course this week, and the amount of cutting machinery in action doubles for the Open. Each morning this week, work starts at 4:00am, with the entire golf course being cut by 7:30. Then the greenkeeping staff retreat until the course starts to empty of players, at which point the second half the greenkeepers’ working day begins, going through to 10:30pm.

The hours come with the job, but it certainly looks worthwhile when you consider how well the Royal Liverpool course has played this week. It has provided a superb stage for the Open so far, but Gilholm does not want to accept any congratulations until the Claret Jug has been won.

“As a greenkeeper at the Open you live and die by the television coverage,” he adds. “The club is already delighted with how the golf course has been received on television, but I can’t accept that until the tournament is finished on Sunday night. We have a great leaderboard and I hope one of the world’s best players wins the Claret Jug.”

A world-class winner tomorrow? Gilholm can rest assured of that. Whether it is McIlroy, Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson or someone else from the pack, the cream has risen to the top in this Open Championship.

Robin Barwick travelled to the Open Championship courtesy of Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz is global sponsor of the Masters, patron of the Open Championship and official car of the PGA Championship