How a European Tour Golf Course is Made Tournament Ready
The Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course has long been considered a jewel in the crown of the Algarve, a stunning design that is renowned for hosting the Portugal Masters, one of the most popular regular stops on the European Tour.
Created from the mind of the legendary Arnold Palmer, the Victoria is one of several highlights as part of the Vilamoura area, situated within reach of its Dom Pedro siblings, the Old Course, Millennium, Pinhal and Laguna.
Travelling golfers have flocked here for years, but how are these layouts so immaculately maintained and what goes into preparing a challenge for some of the finest players on the planet?
We put those questions to Rui Grave, Head Greenkeeper at Dom Pedro, who described the process involved to provide the grandest stage possible to both visiting holidaymakers and leading stars of the European Tour.
How do you prepare for a professional tournament? When does the preparation start and what is involved?
"At first glance, we think that preparing a regular tournament is very similar to preparing a European Tour professional tournament. But it is not. The level of quality required, and overall consistency is enormous. And proof of that is that we will start to prepare for the next tournament, a week after the end of this one. This preparation is done for one or more years and always with the support and agreement of the European Tour agronomy.
"Once we have a plan drawn up and agreed upon, we move on to implementation, recording data and regular feedback. Then we have the visit of the European Tour agronomy team two or three times before the tournament, to assess how the plan is going and if there is a need to make any kind of change or adjustment. When we are less than one month from the start of the tournament, a final maintenance plan is made to achieve the desired high level of quality and consistency."
Can we ask specifically about the routine and workload during the Portugal Masters itself between each round?
"After the tournament starts, the morning setup is very similar from day to day. Unless weather conditions kick in, for example if we have heavy rain, the entire initial plan can be changed. But by default, every morning we cut and roll on the greens, change the pin/flags, rake the bunkers, cut the tees and fairways. And little more than that…but the detail of the desired consistency makes this simple plan more complicated.
"For example, as all greens must be at the same speed, we are obliged to carry out custom works if justified, one green may have a double cut and a single roll and the green right after it can have a double cut and a double roll. All in the name of uniformity and consistency. In the afternoon the jobs are more general, such as covering divots with sand, treating the driving range tee, etc... from one year to the next the routine can be different, depending on the state of the golf course, time of year, weather conditions, staff available, etc…"
What are the greenkeeping staff doing each day, the working hours, how many are involved, what challenges can there be?
"As I mentioned in the previous question, the work done in the initial setup is very similar from one tournament to another, however, the quality and details we propose can significantly change the equipment we use, the amount of personnel we need, the frequency with what we do, so that we can find professional tournaments with less than 30 employees on the greenkeeping team and other tournaments with more than 100 greenkeepers.
"But in every tournament, we have greens, tees and fairways cut, flag changes and raked bunkers. In our specific case, we usually have around 40 greenkeepers involved in the entire course preparation operation, we start at 4:30 am, rest in the middle of the day (during the round) and come back around 5:00 pm until night, to do whatever is necessary."
What is different between preparing the course for travelling amateurs and for professionals at the Portugal Masters?
"Preparing a golf course for amateurs or professionals is completely different. Professional golfers aim for hard, fast greens and difficult pin positions. They also want roughs to be penalizing. The idea is that, if it is easy, it is difficult to distinguish the good from the very good. As for the amateur golfer, he doesn't want hard greens (because he can't stop the ball), he doesn't want very fast greens (because he's going to make three or more putts), not narrow fairways (because he's going to play from the rough often), no longer rough (because you'll lose a lot of shots trying to get the ball out of there), among other cases. So, the difficulty we face every year is to make the transition from a Dom Pedro Victoria from amateurs to professional golfers in a week or less."
Are there certain requirements that must be met for the course to qualify as 'tournament-ready?
"It's hard to answer this question, because we've all seen tournaments on television being held on a golf course in poor condition and on golf courses that are exceptionally well presented. The most important thing is to maintain consistency from Monday to Sunday, from morning to afternoon, from hole 1 to hole 18.
"For example, have the greens at 11 feet every day of the tournament at all times. This is the most important factor. Of course, everyone wants to have this consistency but with a very high level of quality."
Much has been said about the renovations that were previously implemented in 2019, but what can players and viewers expect from the course at the Portugal Masters?
"The renovations we carry out aim to improve the consistency of the golf course, such as changing the species of grass we have in the rough. But above all, they will find a course that is in good playing condition and will allow golfers to play at their best.
"Dom Pedro Victoria is a golf course that allows low scores, especially if players are putting well. We have all the conditions in place to provide golfers and those who come to watch with a fabulous day."
For golfers travelling to the resort in 2022, what can they expect from the course?
"Dom Pedro Victoria is a golf course that is always in good playing condition. And the feedback we've received regularly over the past few years is motivating and makes us feel proud. It is a wide course, with large greens and several holes where water comes into play. It is located in an ecology area where we can observe a lot of biodiversity of animals, especially birds."
Due to the importance of the Portugal Masters, do the alternative courses still receive the same amount of maintenance in the build-up to the tournament and during the week?
"We do our best to keep the other four golf courses we have in exceptional condition. It's a great time to visit us, you can play golf and see golf at the highest level, at a time of year when bad weather has already taken over all of the majority of Europe."
How do you efficiently split your time across the five courses? Are there teams allocated to each course?
"Fortunately, I count on the collaboration of an exceptional team - all of whom are experienced and competent. And my time is distributed among the five golf courses, depending on the challenges that each one is facing. The important thing is to be present where the operation is taking place and feel the true state of each golf course. And then present the actions needed to improve them every day."
So, there you have insights from Rui Grave, Head Greenkeeper at Dom Pedro, who kindly described the setup at Dom Pedro Victoria and the attention to detail that helps to make a venue 'tournament ready' for a prestigious European Tour event.
For more information, please visit https://www.dompedrogolf.com/en, and for the best packages and deals to this paradise for golfers, we can point you in the direction of Golfbreaks.
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