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A look back at The Presidents Cup 2019

Thursday 05, Mar 2020

Royal Melbourne Golf Club again proved why it is one of the best tournament venues in world golf when it hosted the Presidents Cup for a third time last December.  ATM editor Brett Robinson looks back at a special week for director of courses Richard Forsyth and his tournament crew, one in which victorious US Team captain Tiger Woods gave the club and the Melbourne Sandbelt the ultimate of accolades.

When the GOAT speaks, you listen.  Following the announcement of Sunday’s singles match-ups late on Saturday of the 2019 Presidents Cup last December, Tiger Woods clinically answers questions from the media throng covering the tournament.  Most are interested in how the US Team is going to bridge a two-match deficit heading into the 12 singles encounters and the strategy behind the various match-ups that he and Els have just named. 

As the press conference draws to a close, one Australian journalist changes tack and with the very last question enquires of Woods, “You’ve often spoken of your admiration for Royal Melbourne as a golf course.  Has it delivered as a test so far this week?”  His response, considered and to the point as always, would reverberate throughout the world of golf and especially the office of one particular golf course superintendent. 

“It’s a dream to be able to play (Royal Melbourne),” Woods began.  “It’s how a golf course should be set up. It should be set up this way – hard, fast, difficult, but extremely fair, and that’s what the Aussie Sandbelt golf courses have historically done.

“I think what Royal Melbourne has displayed this entire week is beyond a dream.  This is how I think golf should be played. You don’t have to have a par three 240 yards for it to be difficult.  That 5th hole (7 West) is all you want in a par three. The guys from our side and their side have thoroughly enjoyed the course set up and how it has played. We wish there were more events on venues like this.”

Director of courses Richard Forsyth was sitting alone in his office inside the vast Royal Melbourne maintenance facility when the video clip of that press conference dropped into his email inbox later that evening.  The compound was quiet, the tournament crew having long since dispersed after completing their afternoon preparations.  Forsyth indulged for a few minutes, watching the clip a couple of times to take it all in.  Each time he heard Tiger’s words, there was an air of modest contentment. 

Not surprisingly, when he addressed the crew for the final time the following morning, that clip was front and centre, highlighting to his staff and the tournament volunteers – all 90 of them – what they had managed to deliver that week.  Enough said really.  It was the icing on the cake to a phenomenal week – one of the biggest and best Forsyth has had in a four-decade career – and encapsulated perfectly why Royal Melbourne’s Composite Course is and always will be one of the great tournament venues in world golf.

“To get that feedback from perhaps the greatest golfer of all time summed up a pretty successful week,” reflects Forsyth.  “Overall, I was delighted with the way everything went and the way the whole crew performed during the week.  The accolades the course received were great for the staff, especially those comments from Tiger.  You don’t do it for those reasons, but it was nice that what we do and the way we manage the turf here got that feedback and recognition from someone like him.  It’s an endorsement I suppose of what we do here. 

“We work hard on the greens to get that bounce and firmness.  It’s not easy and a lot of extra effort goes into trying to achieve that – hand-watering, staff crawling around on greens hand-weeding Poa – so to have that effort acknowledged in that way, and in front of a worldwide audience, was satisfying.  A lot of people don’t get what we do here, but he (Tiger) does.”

All about the greens… and the surrounds

Royal Melbourne again showed its tournament calibre and its famed Suttons Mix bentgrass greens and fine fescue surrounds simply shone during the Presidents Cup. 

In an age where technology is rendering many of the classic layouts impotent, the firm, bouncy and fast short-cut turf produced by Forsyth and his crew had the game’s best deliberating over every shot.  It was fascinating to watch as they navigated their way around the course and the subtle nuances required to get the ball into the right position. 

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This article was originally published in Volume 22.1 (Jan - Feb 2020) of the Australian Turfgrass Management Journal. Click here to subscribe to the journal for full acess to news articles.

Images: Brett Robinson