I'm at St. Andrews this week, working with the greenkeeping staff here to prepare the Old Course for the 150th Open Championship.
In the afternoons I am working with Richard Windows and Dr. Christian Spring from the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI). I am helping them to measure green speed, surface firmness, soil moisture, and trueness of the greens. STRI have developed a trueness meter that measures the deviation to a ball's roll across the green — how much up-and-down and side-to-side movement there is in the ball's roll. The results are expressed in units of millimeters per meter of roll, showing how many millimeters of deviation there were compared with a perfectly smooth surface. And how are the greens? At optimum speed, firmness, and quite true as well, but obviously that can change with the weather.
There will be all types of weather this week. The last two Opens at the Old Course (in 2000 and 2005) did not see much wind, but there will be more wind this week if the forecast holds. When it is windy, it is important that the greens are not too fast, or the ball may not stay on the green. The 11th hole has a particularly severe slope from back to front. See the video below as Dr. Christian Spring tests to see if the balls rolling from the back of the green can stop before rolling off the front of the green.
These balls stop, but just barely. The R&A and Gordon Moir (Links Manager) and Gordon McKie (Course Manager of the Old Course) use the data we collect to make decisions about the mowing and rolling to be done on the greens.
In the mornings, fairways are mowed with fourteen triplex mowers. I'm part of that team, and it is easy to spot me as the lone volunteer. All the regular employees have a navy blue jacket. Above you see the 14th fairway being mowed, coming up to the Beardies in the foreground. We mow, as at the Masters and at the US Open, all in one direction, so there will be no mower stripes. The fairways here are cut shorter than at the Masters or the US Open though, at just over 7 mm. This creates a fast and running surface that is ideal for links golf. And with the pronounced natural contours of the fairways at the Old Course, triplex mowers are a necessity. We gathered this morning for a photograph between the 1st tee and 18th green. In less than a week, a new Open Champion will be holding the Claret Jug at this very spot.