Two young Australian greenkeepers are getting a front row seat this week to one of the most historic Open Championships of recent times. It is the first time that The Open has been played in Northern Ireland since 1951, with the incredible Royal Portrush links playing host for just the second time in its history.
Helping course manager Graeme Beatt in the months leading up to the Open’s return, and during this week’s tournament proper, are Australians Cody Tucker (Royal Adelaide Golf Club, SA) and Alistair Shannon (Huntingdale Golf Club, Vic). Both have been on seasonal placement at Royal Portrush since May and are among a 60-strong crew for the week. The tournament crew is comprised of 25 full-time and seasonal staff, eight volunteers from other Open Championship venues, with the remainder coming from courses throughout England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.
For Tucker, this is his second bite at The Open Championship, having been on the crew for last year’s tournament at Carnoustie in Scotland. In fact it has been quite a nomadic 12 months for the South Australian, having also volunteered at the 2018 Senior Open (held the week after Carnoustie at St Andrews for the first time), as well as The World Cup of Golf at Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne last November. And in 2017 he was on the crew at Royal Adelaide when it hosted the Women’s Australian Open.
“It has been a very busy week getting the final bits and pieces done around the course,” says Tucker, who will finish his placement on 30 August. “Alistair and I are cutting greens for the tournament which is a huge thrill for the both of us. Cutting heights started at 4.25mm before lowering them to 4mm. The weather has certainly had an impact in our preparations. We had a very late spring here, while last Wednesday we had 40mm of rain in 45 minutes which resulted in many of the bunkers needing to be repaired and reshaped.”
Tucker has certainly drawn the trump card in being stationed on greens 12, 16 and 17 for the tournament. As part of a number of design changes in the lead-up to the Open, the old 17th and 18th holes were replaced by two new holes – the 6th and 7th.
That has meant Royal Portrush’s famous Calamity Corner hole – a brutish uphill 210-yard par three – now plays as the 16th (pictured below). Shannon has been responsible for cutting one of the new greens – No.7 – in addition to the 15th and the putting green.
A record-breaking crowd of 237,750 is set to attend Royal Portrush this week according to The R&A, setting an attendance record for a Championship staged outside of St Andrews. This year’s attendance surpasses the crowd of 235,000 who attended Royal Birkdale in 2017 and the 237,000 mark set at St Andrews in 2015, making it the second largest Championship ever. A record-breaking 61,000 fans attended the practice days at Royal Portrush, surpassing the previous high of 52,000 set in 2006.
In keeping with the auspicious occasion, Kiwi professional Ryan Fox made sure it was a history-making opening round. The son of All Black superboot Grant Fox rallied from being three-over after 11 holes to post six birdies on his closing seven holes, becoming the first player in the tournament’s 148-year history to shoot 29 on the back nine. Emiliano Grillo also scored a hole-in-one on the par three 13th, the first ace at The Open in three years. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy unfortunately made the headlines for all the wrong reasons, shooting 7-over and 8-over respectively to be languishing near the rear of the field.