THE RYDER CUP. THE BIGGEST EVENT IN THE WORLD
It was announced in 2011 that Paris will host the Ryder Cup in 2018 before other candidates nominated such as El Alentejo, Munich or Rotterdam.
Finally, Le Golf National will host the Ryder Cup and the “Albatros” course will witness the duel between Europe and the USA.
Situated in the outskirts of Versailles, near Paris, Le Golf National is a 45-hole golf club created to serve as the golf facility of the French Golf Federation and the home to the Open de France for the last 27 years. However, 2017 marks a significant milestone as this event becomes part of the Rolex Series as well as hosting the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, the Open de France and a phase of the Senior Circuit of the European Tour.
Le Golf National is a stadium course designed by Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge ranked in the World’s and European Top 100 Courses.
This course has undertaken major renovation works for nearly seven years in order to prepare the venue to become a global reference and host the Ryder Cup.
Paul Ian Armitage, General Manager and Alejandro Reyes, Headgreenkeeper, are the two people who know everything about Le Golf National de France. In this interview carried out by Fernando Sánchez Carballal, they have kindly granted us, tell us about the challenges to be faced as the host of so many world-reference events.
Fernando Sánchez and Paul Ian Armitage
I fell in love with Bourgogne, Dijon, Beaune and its wine, of course! During my first two years in France, I worked as a foreign languages teacher at Bourgogne University. Later, I joined the Golf Blue Green Quetigny Grand Dijon team as a salesman. This was my first job in the golf industry. I stopped for two years in order to travel around the world as the Commercial Manager of a big winery. I was responsible of developing their export strategy. Then, I returned to Golf, I joined Blue Green again as Regional Manager.
However, my professional career in the golf industry was pushed in 2009 when I received a work proposal from NGF and I increased the network of Le Club Golf going from 40 courses to 120 in four years. I have been the General Manager of Le Golf National de France since 2012.
What are the challenges have you taken on as the General Manager of Golf National de France?
The most important challenges have been three: Changing the business spirit from a local and regional company to an international company, establishing internal processes to improve the quality of services and boost the market in relation to innovation, communication and development.
What does the preparation of the Ryder Cup as well as the day-to-day management of Golf National de France mean to you and your team?
Well, I think it means responsibility as Ryder Cup Europe has trusted Le Golf National to host a golf event that takes golf to millions of people around the world.
We have worked with the European Tour and we have designed a road map to establish all the steps and important events to take place until September 2018. It is a fascinating task. However, at the same time, it is my duty to support my team as they are under a lot of pressure to achieve excellency all the time.
What other challenges do you expect after the Ryder Cup 2018 and before Paris 2024?
Between these two events we are going to reactivate the “Oiselet”, our 9-hole course that will have been closed for six months because of the Ryder Cup. We will also work closely with Novotel, the hotel chain that manages the resort hotel, Novotel St Quentin Golf National, as to create a real resort identity and fulfil the expectations of our customers. Finally, I intend to promote collaborators loyalty with the idea of leading the European market in terms of sport, leisure and golf.
Preparing the golf course for such a universal event as the Ryder Cup must be the biggest challenge you have taken on. Tell us about your professional career and how you started working at Le Golf National de France.
I studied Agricultural Engineering in Spain. When I finished my studies I became interested in golf so I started to look for Postgraduate courses. I studied in England at Cranfield University in order to specialize in sport and grass surface maintenance. I carried out my in training in the European Federation of Greenkeepers and in a Spanish company which built 6 courses with Jack Nicklaus in Murcia, in the south of Spain. At the same time to continue my training I worked as a greenkeeper in the maintenance of several golf courses. Later, I went to Georgia University in the USA and to Scotland.
Then, in 2012 I saw an advertisement requiring a head-greenkeeper in France in the course that was to host the Ryder Cup. I sent my CV to the French Golf Federation, I had two interviews in Paris and finally, I was hired.
What did becoming the head-greenkeeper of Golf National de France represent for you?
It was fantastic news and the most beautiful surprise in my life. It came to me when I was looking for new challenges in my professional career and there is no better challenge than working for Golf National de France. It is also a great personal experience as you work with all the golf course team and a technical challenge as we try to position Golf National as a European reference in course quality.
Many changes have taken place in the Albatros course in these last years in order to host the Ryder cup. Can you describe the most important ones?
Yes, the Albatros course has been closed for ten months between the Open de France in 2015 and in 2016. In my opinion, it is a short period when you know the work that has been carried out. As for the course design, only a few areas have been remodeled as international players considered this an ideal course. The greens in holes 1 and 16 have been redesigned, new exit areas have been created in holes 5, 7, 11 and 14; the bunkers between holes 4, 5, 7 and 11 have been remodeled and a water hazard has been created in hole 11.
Maintenance tasks have been more extensive and they have included a complete renovation of the irrigation system, a complete course drainage, bunker drainage with Capillary Concrete system, platforms for the structures built for the audience have been created as well as a 14-kilometre path network outside the limits of the golf course and a water reservoir to collect rain water.
In addition, we have remodeled and planted grass in the future driving range for the Ryder Club that includes a putting green, a chipping green, an approach area and a practice tee.