Augusta National was a Leeds greenkeeper’s office for six months. Mark Townsend from National Club Golfer met him to pick his brains on what it’s like to work on the most immaculate golf course on the planet.
Headingley greenkeeper Andy Stanger told his careers advisor that he loved cutting grass. Twelve years later he earned himself a six-month internship at the most famous corner in golf in the run-up to the 2009 Masters.
So who better to chat to on what it takes to get Augusta National into the spectacle that we’ll all be enjoying this week.
The Job Interview
“I got the internship after a three-hour phone interview with three different people. There were 14 of us interviewing for one job. I began in late October 2008 and was appointed to work on holes 8 and 9. Then Amen Corner came up so I spent 15 hours a day working on 11 and 12. It was a dream spot, where else would you want to be as a greenkeeper?
“They have 45 full-time staff on turf, 35 on horticulture and eight to 10 interns on hole care. There are also four full-time mechanics. The greenkeepers’ prefab is immaculate. They will sand down all the paint on all the walls and paint it all again brand new every year.
“The site is huge. To get from Amen Corner from the maintenance facility would take about eight minutes to drive to. The trees go on for quite a way before you get to the edge of the site, it’s like a fortress.
The Toughest Holes
“I have always fancied caddying there. The caddies say the 11th is the hardest hole, if you go left from the tee you’re dead, and it’s the most difficult to putt on. In the morning, with the dew on it, you can see really subtle breaks and the nap goes down towards the pond. Pros will drop 50 balls to find a way to run one down to the pin.
“The 12th can be deceptive, there is a hole in the trees where the creek runs and that can act like a funnel for the wind. The green is tiny. If you go long there is no up and down from the bunkers.
“They have a bunker technician there every single day; depth checking, cleaning, topping up, edging. I can guarantee and the depth of sand will be exactly the same in every bunker. When the course shuts they get a black liner and peg it all in so any bunker can’t be contaminated or get blown away. Then they clean them out and freshen them up.
“The course opens again in October and they have all new grass every year. The Bermuda grass in the summer basically holds the soil together and looks terrible and that’s why it’s shut. In October they scalp all the Bermuda grass down to the soil and plant new Ryegrass everywhere. And then the clock starts ticking and the countdown goes up on the wall. There is no ‘we’ve got til April’, the intensity is then ramped up from that point.
“You will get weak spots, bits that are in the shade we will be working on. We were throwing seeds two weeks before the tournament – anything that can be picked up on a camera will be painted green.
“Members aren’t expected to be out there playing every day. A busy day might be four rounds; most days there would be nobody. Two to three weeks before the tournament the players start arriving. Two weeks before that is the members’ tournament – The Jamboree – and that is the big deal and where you can get your name on the boards.
“Jack Nicklaus said if you put a 10-handicapper in the middle of every green he still wouldn’t break 90 and he is spot on, they are like putting on my desk. It is the sheer firmness. How they stop their balls on 15 is beyond me.
“They have chalk points on the greens that are 10 feet apart and they roll between them. They get the speeds to around 14. No club golfer will ever understand that. And that is on firm and undulating greens.
“Three weeks before you start mowing morning and night. They will say to cut the 10th three times, the 14th four times and the 12th just once and that will keep changing. Every green will be exactly the same speed.
“It is different to the US Open where the greens are purple by the Sunday, it is 80 ̊ in April and they haven’t been trampled all year and are not stressing it as a plant plus everything is monitored.
“On tournament days we would meet in the shop at 3.30am for a briefing. The chairman would come down at 4.30 to gee everybody up and you would be given a number of a mower with instructions.
“I had 12 which I would only cut once. There was no grass coming off, just dust, so I would help on 13. There is as much food and drinks as you want and then you are free to watch golf or get some sleep.
“A lot of us sat in the shop and watched it on the big screens. It is the best networking time and where you would get your next job. By 2.30pm I was in a buggy by the 5th in case anything went wrong.
“Then after the golfers have come through you start mowing the course again.”
Andy is now the head greenkeeper at another Alister MacKenzie-designed course – Headingley, near Leeds
Photos courtesy of Getty Images.