Friday 23 March 2018

Manor survives eye of the storm

Feelgood factor can overcome worst of the weather, writes Dermot Gilleece

Jim McKenzie, the beleaguered course superintendent at Celtic Manor, received a text message yesterday wishing him better fortune over the remainder of the weekend. It came from Gerry Byrne, his counterpart at The K Club, where interrupted play was successfully averted, despite similar weather problems during the Ryder Cup in 2006.

"Having had an inch and a half of torrential rain from 7.0am until midday, we were within little more than 15 minutes of closing the course on the Sunday," Byrne admitted. "Though our greens never flooded, the overall condition of the course wasn't far from the way Celtic Manor was on Friday morning. In our case, we were fortunate that the rain stopped."

Memories remain vivid of Byrne and 40 greenkeeping colleagues using towels to matt saturated tees, ahead of Colin Montgomerie in the top singles match. Byrne had 80 staff at his disposal, compared with 110 at the Welsh venue, including Richard Stillwell, consultant agronomist to the European Tour.

"I was at Celtic Manor last week as a guest of the European Tour and I could see that Jim and his staff had done a tremendous job in preparing the course," said Byrne. "I must say my heart goes out to him. He was at The K Club in 2006 and we have remained in touch since then. He's an outstanding superintendent who dedicated 10 years of his life building towards this weekend only to suffer the heartbreak of Friday morning. I know how he feels and I've told him so."

Byrne believes that having the Welsh staging a week later than The K Club, created a significant problem in itself. "Quite apart from the greater danger of bad weather, your greenkeeping staff have less daylight in which to repair any damage which may occur," he said. "You're looking at a maximum of about 12 hours' daylight, from seven till seven."

During his recent visit, Byrne declined from offering any advice other than suggesting that they didn't have sufficient bark mulch. Events proved him correct in that, but he noted that the greens had been aerated, just as he had done at The K Club six weeks prior to the 2006 staging, in anticipation of rain.

Though the weather brightened remarkably by the time play resumed at 5.0 on Friday afternoon, Byrne took the view that irreparable harm had already been done. "The sharpness of the course presentation was lost," he said. "I know, because it happened to us in 2006. Though we were lucky to escape as we did, I felt deep down that the course could have looked so much better."

Visually, spectator areas suffered terribly, with large areas reduced to expanses of treacherous mud. But I have experienced these sort of conditions, even at such a celebrated venue as Augusta National. More worrying were the problems that extended indoors.

For instance, the power supply in the media centre was cut off for a time on Friday. One of the electricians who rectified the problem told me, "There's six inches of water flowing under this floor." Even allowing for some exaggeration, he painted a frightening picture.

All of which brought to mind a chat I had with Celtic Manor's owner, Sir Terry Matthews, during the Ryder Cup at Valhalla two years ago. Imagining what could happen this weekend, he mused, "if the Ryder Cup in 2010 is a mess ...". Then, hardly daring to think such thoughts, he went on, "like Michael Smurfit, I believe I can put on a good show within my domain, but that's only a piece of the total."

I remember Dr Smurfit expressing this view in the wake of Ryder Cup 2006, when acknowledging that had the eve of the tournament not been rain-free, the outcome could have been disastrous.

Still, Matthews conceded at Valhalla, "there's another side to the coin. How you perform in the spotlight will last for a long, long time. People came away from The K Club saying the weather wasn't very good but they had a great time."

It is not yet clear whether they will have similar feelings when this, the 38th Ryder Cup, finally draws to a close.

Sunday Independent

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