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golf course set up

How is a golf course set up for a big championship?

What goes into selecting hole locations? Who checks the tee markers are in the right spots? In his latest report from the English Senior Men's Amateur Championship, our Club Golf Editor reveals the answers about golf course set up
 

Alwoodley: 6am. The first players haven’t even teed off in the second round of the English Senior Men’s Amateur Championship but Toby Thorne is already looking ahead.

England Golf’s deputy championship director is plotting round the venerable layout performing a vital part of tournament administration: golf course set up, checking, and planning.

It’s an exercise in beating the clock – a set of tasks that must be performed with precision – and judging where the field will be as he traverses the 1st to the 18th. If he gets it right, the competitors will barely see it happen.

It’s importance, though, can’t be understated. He’s doing two things: inspecting the tees and pins for that day’s play and making sure they are in the right places, and then setting new flag spots for the pivotal final day.

You might think the former is merely a rubber-stamping exercise but it’s anything but.

With 288 players playing a round each at Alwoodley and Pannal, the test that every player needs to face should be comparable. A player turning out at Alwoodley on day two shouldn’t be playing a course 100 yards longer than those who did on day one.

They shouldn’t be hitting into flags that are in a completely different spot. The greenkeepers have had their instructions – and they carry out their maintenance work diligently – but nothing is left to chance.

And so Thorne checks every tee. Are the markers where they were planned? Has anyone moved them? Are they adequately spaced? Can a player, whether they are left or right-handed, play from each extreme of the markers – even if that means them standing outside of the teeing area?

He will check every hole, pacing out the distances (for example, 27 on, eight left) to ensure they are where he asked they should be.

golf course set up

Those numbers have already gone out to the players the night before in their round information, so they must be accurate.

Then the forecasting begins. By Thursday, Thorne had been on site for nearly a week. Long before the players even thought about putting their clubs in the boot, he was scouting Alwoodley – carrying out set-up and course marking duties and thinking ahead about where holes might go on each day of play.

At that stage, they were just thoughts. Weather forecasts, wind, and all manner of conditions nature can throw at you means it’s wise not to get fixated.

But now – still 24 hours before the final day’s players will take to the course – he’s looking to put down more concrete plans for the round where the trophy will be on the line.

It is not simply a case of wandering onto a green, sticking a finger into the air, and picking a spot. He’s looking at green positions. If the flags have been in more forward places over the first two days, he might look more to the rear of a green this time around. If they’ve been central, this time he may consider moving more towards the left or right side of the green.

Slope is hugely important. Break is fine, but he’s looking for the hole itself to be in a relatively flat spot. As a guide, he’s gauging no more than two per cent gradient.

Using a paint can as the hole, he then checks how that position will play. He rolls putts, and runs balls, from all around the proposed cup to see how they react.

He looks around the area where that hole will be. How does the green look? Is there a congregation of pitch marks, or irregularities, that might hinder a player’s putt? Are there any old hole plugs in the area that could prove a distraction? If what he sees is not to his liking, he will think again.

All the while, he’s checking where players are as the day’s play continues – always making sure he’s several holes ahead of competitors.

It takes as much as three hours to complete and it is a behind-the-scenes job you may never have thought about if you’ve never played, or watched, a top-class competition. But the reason is that Thorne, and his England Golf colleagues at the governing body’s events across the country, make sure it’s that way.

What are the golf course set up rules for your competitions? Let me know how your club does golf course set up with a tweet.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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