As the Ryder Cup starts this week at the Celtic Manor Hotel in Newport, South Wales, the director of Golf Courses and Estates, Jim McKenzie admits his favourite part of the job is getting the course ready for tournaments. “The Wales Open was held here earlier this year and was televised in over 120 countries; it’s nice to show off a bit, to show what Wales and Newport can do.”
Jim continues in his relaxed, unassuming style, “When we were told we had the Ryder Cup, we still had to build the course; it was an interesting period. There were a lot of planning conditions and we worked very closely with wildlife and archaeological groups. The course changed several times. We have a very deep commitment to the environment and this will definitely be the greenest Ryder Cup yet.”
“We are constantly monitoring the Course, we call it ‘scouting’. It’s a bit like having a child to look after, I can tell if it’s hungry or under stress so then I feed it or rest it as necessary and just give it more care. The grass is kept to 3mm long which is far shorter than is natural, it’s almost near death! And it’s also used for 12 months of the year, which the European and USA courses aren’t. There are different types of grass at different heights and even different climatic conditions in different parts same of the Course. Different times of the year bring different challenges. In Wales we have an average of 50 inches of rain a year whereas when I worked at Wentworth Golf Club in Surrey, we only had 18 inches. And I’m used to 80 inches in Scotland,” he adds with a grin.
Modestly revealing he was headhunted for the prestigious job at the Celtic Manor, Jim also explains his career started a little unconventionally, “Basically one day I decided I wasn’t going to go back to school; I didn’t tell Mum, I just stayed in bed for a good lie in. Mum had to go to work so she called my Aunt to sort me out; she came and threw a glass of water over me and said it was school or the job centre. When she dragged me to the job centre, there was a job for an apprentice golf course green keeper in Haggs Castle in Glasgow. I left school on the Thursday, had the interview on the Friday and started work on Monday. It was a shock to the system. Although I did play golf, I had no interest or experience whatsoever of gardening or even cutting grass.”
Jim admits his own lawn is ‘shocking’. “We moved into a new house about a year and a half ago but with the Ryder Cup, the new course and everything my own lawn has never really been at the front of my thinking. They say the only house in the street with a leaky pipe belongs to the plumber,” he laughs.
I wondered how he was going to relax once the Ryder Cup was over? “We had the Wales Open in June and now just 16 weeks later the Ryder Cup and in the middle, Debbie and I got married.” He reveals. “It’s been a memorable year in so many ways. So when the Ryder Cup is over, we are having a delayed honeymoon; somewhere warm, dry and with no Golf Courses.”