A perfect day, perfect conditions, a perfect course. The opening round of the 2020 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open teed off yesterday with Royal Adelaide Golf Club (RAGC) again wowing players and officials this week. It is the second time that the tournament has visited the famous Adelaide sandbelt course since arriving in the state in 2016, with course superintendent Nathan Bennett and his crew standing tall yet again.
The field that has assembled this week at RAGC is top class. World No.3 Nelly Korda has returned to defend the title she won at The Grange Golf Club last year, while there are two current Major champions – Hannah Green and Jeongeun Lee6. Add to that Australian world No.8 Minjee Lee, who has extra incentive after her younger brother won the men’s Vic Open last week, and LPGA Player of the Decade Inbee Park, and it really is a stellar field that Bennett and his crew are preparing the course for.
This is Bennett’s second Open, having led the team back in 2017 when the tournament was held during the club’s 125th anniversary year. A few lessons were learnt that year and, together with assistant superintendent Andrew Fraser, Bennett has made a few adjustments, the big changes being more staff and more equipment.
At the start of summer the club put on a couple of seasonal greenkeepers from the UK (Sunningdale and Royal Mid-Surrey golf clubs), while two weeks before the Open Bennett added a further three tournament casuals from Melbourne, among them Metropolitan Golf Club foreman Andrew Anderson. A further three from Tasmania and Victoria joined the crew this week and all are living together in a house for the duration of the tournament. They form part of a 38-strong tournament crew this week with Bennett also receiving some terrific volunteer assistance from nearby clubs Kooyonga, The Grange, Glenelg, The Vines, North Adelaide and Mt Osmond.
“The course has come up well, we are pretty happy with it,” states Bennett (43). “Having done it last time makes it a little bit easier because you know what to expect and what needs to be done to build it up. This time around we have expanded our staff numbers. Last time there were a few things that we wanted to do but couldn’t get done because we didn’t have the staff or the equipment.
“So this year we have some extra bodies and Toro has also given us two extra fairway mowers, taking us to six, which means we can cut from tee to green all in the one direction, as well as some extra mowers on surrounds. Having the extra staff means we don’t have to rush things and can take our time to get it all done to a high level. It really has made a difference.”
Yesterday’s opening round saw plenty of excellent scoring with Englishwoman Jodi Ewart Shadoff finishing the day one shot in front after posting a seven-under 66 (par is 73 this week). The bentgrass mix greens are being kept at 3mm and were given just a single for the first two mornings, with tournament organisers holding them back a touch with winds expected to get up a bit today.
“The greens are really good,” says Bennett. “I’d like them firmer and faster than what they are, but we will be dictated by what Golf Australia want. Trevor (Herden) is mindful of the wind we can get here and some of the exposed green locations we have. We double cut them morning and night on Monday and on Tuesday and Wednesday we cut in the morning and rolled in the evening. We gave them a single cut for the first round and then again last night and just a single cut this morning (Friday).
“We haven’t changed much with the greens. They’re being cut at 3mm as they would for normal competition play and our final dust before the tournament was Monday last week. We did put a little bit more fertility out earlier on to make sure we had enough in them so they didn’t thin out and we could work them a bit harder if we had to coming into the event. But they’re healthy and look good.”
The lead-in weather-wise has been pretty good for Bennett’s preparations and this week has been perfect so far. It was a hot and dry start to summer for Adelaide with no rain in December and a run of 40-plus days in the lead-up to Christmas. The city recorded a little bit of rain throughout January, including a drop of 24mm two Fridays ago which unfortunately greened up the roughs a little too much. Despite that you cannot fault the presentation of the course and the efforts of Bennett’s team this week.
“It has been a great week so far and we have a great crew,” says Bennett. “We’ve done all the hard work. The staff have another tournament under the belt and having more staff here this year means it has been a lot smoother. It should be a great weekend.”
The ASTMA congratulates Nathan and his expanded crew and wishes them all the best for the remainder of the tournament. Photos above all courtesy of Andrew Anderson who is part of the tournament crew. Twitter @AndrewTurfNerd