Interview with Adolfo Ramos, head greenkeeper R.C. Valderrama

The Real Golf Club Valderrama has been hosting great tournaments of the European Circuit for years. The Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters 2020 which was planned from 30th April to 3rd May is yet another tournament in a long list of events postponed or cancelled worldwide due to the global coronavirus pandemic. However, organizers, clubs, authorities and sponsors have devoted their efforts so that this is the only event of the European Tour to be held in Spain from 3rd to 6th September. This is the starting point of the interview with Adolfo Ramos, Head Green Keeper of the Real Golf Club Valderrama that was expected to appear on the last issue of Golf Circus and we had to cancel it. Now we meet him at the Club and he shows his gratitude for the short chat and he defends the work of green keepers and the work of their colleagues in different clubs in these difficult times due to the pandemic.

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This 6th annual competition Valderrama Masters will be very special as the dates have been postponed under the circumstances of the Covid-19 virus. Your team had already prepared the course for the tournament that was to be held in April-May. Have you had to take new measures to reprogram the tournament?

Of course, we have had to. This has changed and disrupted everything.  Months ago we wanted to have Bermuda fairways as strong and as green as possible for the end of April and beginning of May; even though it was not the appropriate time of the year for this kind of grass variety as Bermuda is best in the warm season. However, now, considering September for the tournament, the situation is completely different.

Everything is so different that we had to get a head start on certain tasks such as hollow tining, top dressing and verticutting that were to be carried out in June after the tournament. Thus, we could keep the golf course open once the State of Emergency finished and everything goes back to “normal”.

These have been very hard months, full of uncertainty and we have worked with very few members of staff. I am really grateful to them and all the effort they have put in during these months of lockdown when most of us have not stopped working a single day. We must bear in mind that we are working with a living thing that requires daily care.

 

Concerning course maintenance, what is the difference between holding the tournament when it was planned initially and holding it on the postponed dates in September?

The daily preparation of the course and its preparation for such an important event of the European Tour depend on the time of the year we are in.

Any green keeper would like to deal with the weather circumstances as he/she likes. However, this is also a handicap when preparing the course daily and the weather is not an option.  Of course holding the tournament in April is not the same as holding it in September, so under the given circumstances, any green keeper as I would do myself, uses and makes de most of the course so it has the most appropriate condition considering the weather at that particular moment.

If the grass in a warm season (Bermuda) is 18 degrees and has very few hours of sun light is not going to be the same as in August at 35 degrees and 14 hours of sun light. The same may happen if we consider the opposite. Grass in the cold season (Agrostis or Festuca) cannot withstand 35 degrees at all or even 44 degrees as we experienced last weekend on 1st and 2nd August.

We are always busy with the course maintenance as funnily enough we have both kinds of grass with different cuts that we maintain at a competition level 365 days a year.  This is our vision of effort and work and thus, a full guarantee for the European Tour at the Royal Club Valderrama.

Last July the tournament was presented and there were some open questions.  The million dollar question was if the tournament was to be held with audience or not, as most events of the European Tour have been held.  Does the fact that there is or there is not audience affect the way the golf course is prepared? In that case, how does it affect it?

We will be delighted to welcome as much audience as possible as we did in previous tournaments but I cannot answer that question as it does not depend on us. We are very sure about the fact that Health Authorities, the Club and the European Tour will safeguard players, audience as well as staff health and safety.

I wish I could see forty or fifty thousand people as they come every year trampling down the rough and fairways. Then, we will keep the course in good condition for our members. This situation will be the sign that we are on the way to the normal life that are looking forward to.

Golf course maintenance condition is not affected by the fact that there is or there isn’t audience. The setting up and dismantling of marquees needed in the case of mass attendance of public will be affected.

 

This time must have been used to carry out tasks regarding golf course maintenance that are not possible in normal circumstances. What are these tasks?

I am sorry to correct you but I would ask the question in a different way. During the lockdown we were uncertain if we could work or not and we had more than two thirds of the workforce at home as part of a Temporary Labour Force Adjustment Plan. Thus, the real question would be how did you manage to do all these things in such difficult times at all levels?

It is true that players after months of not being able to play expect to have a golf course in excellent condition and that pending tasks such as certain investments and changes in the course had been carried out during these days of lockdown. Definitely, this is a wrong expectation.

Many golf courses still have staff as part of this Temporary Labour Force Adjustment Plan; some companies have had Permanent Adjustment Plans and others have either remained closed or are losing money when they keep their courses open. Mainly, because they have a well prepared course for a number of green fees that are not possible anymore. The situation was improving; however, the situation is taking a step back due to the decisions taken by our English and German neighbours among others.

In our case, most of our members of staff have come back to work on 1st July but there are other golf courses that are being maintained by just two or three people. Can people think that golf courses have had enough time to carry out improvements?

We have tried to use the time when we have not had people at the golf course to do tasks that are not possible when there are buggies around. We got a head start on hollow tining as the rest of our colleagues have done. Nevertheless, you have to bear in mind that work has been carried out in golf courses with no players and a reduce number of workers. This is something to admire and praise.

How do you think this new scenario is going to affect golf in general and your work specifically?

This new scenario is here to stay. We have included many different measures to guarantee players health and safety at all times.

When all this finishes and we have a vaccine or medicine, I am in favour of disinfecting machinery after use every day. We all have had colleagues with flu who have infected other members of staff. We want to maintain social distancing which is common on the golf course and we will see more people wearing masks. Years ago, some Asian players who come to Valderrama used to wear those.

What we really want is normal life as we had before, the certainty that we are doing things well and players who feel safe enough to come to Andalucía and Spain to play. Golf is closely linked to tourism and clearly, Andalucía is the cradle of European golf.

The pandemic has reinforced measures that we do not know what results they will produce as they are new and unusual. How different do you think Valderrama will be from 3rd to 6th September?

Valderrama will be as different as our lives have been since the Covid-19 virus. However, we will be as enthusiastic as we have been in previous events held at Valderrama. It will be so different that Valderrama is the only golf course that will be open to our members-players during the week when the tournament is held. Players can use the golf course on Sunday 30th August and on Monday 31st August professionals will be training for the competition on 3rd-6th September.

This is a unique circumstance in the European Circuit. Nevertheless, this is a disadvantage for us when preparing everything. Do not think that pricks disappear from one day to the next.

Clearly, Real Club Valderrama and its team are capable of closing the course with players on Sunday and opening on Monday again for professionals. In addition, it is difficult to maintain motivation after a very intense summer with record occupation rates in Sotogrande.

I suppose you are always asked about the time “before” the tournament. However, what about the time “after” the tournament? What tasks are to be done after it finishes?

The course suffers a lot during the days of the tournament, and it has to be prepared again as soon as possible. You have to consider that there are 40 or 50 million people trampling on the course, television media and marquees being set up.

We have to start a normal life as soon as possible and provide an excellent service to our members-players. However, it gets complicated because of the damage caused on the course. The post tournament work is very hard but necessary if we do not want to throw away all the work we have put into the golf course throughout the year because of just ten days.

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