Meet the unsung heroes of Carnoustie
Matt Kuchar gave Graham Ives’ hand a firm shake on the 1st tee.
‘We’ll keep your work to a minimum today’, last year’s Open runner up assured the man with a rake.
“Where did he go?” chuckled the Louth head greenkeeper. “Straight in the bunker. He played out, looked at me and said ‘I lied’.”
It was the start of a busy day for Ives. In the course of his first round match with Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri and Peter Uihlein, he estimates he raked 16 of Carnoustie’s infamous bunkers.
That’s quite enough to get a sweat on.
Ives is here, along with more than 50 other greenkeepers from across the country and the world, as part of the Open Support Team organised by BIGGA (British & International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association).
Each year, the R&A gives the association’s members a wonderful chance to get involved in the oldest major and assist the host greenkeeping team.
They might help with cutting duties, or assist with preparing the greens, and one of them goes out with every single match to rake bunkers and keep an eye on course conditions.
Each is a volunteer and most have taken a week off work to get involved. Every one of them loves it.
They are part of keeping the Open show on the road.
He hit the jackpot on the first day, drawing a marquee group of Jon Rahm, Chris Wood and Rickie Fowler.
“I had Molinari’s group on Friday at Wentworth and I thought that was pretty big,” he said. “But at the first hole yesterday I thought ‘this crowd’s about three times the size that was following that group’.
“It’s pretty special. Rahm knocked it on the third hole in one shot – he put it to about 10 feet with his driver.
“Seeing a shot like that and watching it on the TV highlights later – having been able to witness it first hand – is brilliant.”
Being inside the ropes, and seeing the world’s premier players at close quarters, is a huge thrill. But the role comes with pressure.
If the bunkers aren’t spot on, the players won’t be shy in making their complaints heard.
“You wouldn’t want to leave a footprint and the group behind goes in it and it’s on camera for the whole world to see,” added Shearer. “You have got to do it right.”
“There’s also a fine line between getting out the way and getting the job done,” explained Meltham’s Ash Smith – weighing up making sure a bunker is raked correctly against keeping competitors waiting on tees or fairways.
“You don’t want to leave it a bit of a mess. I had to try and ignore there that were people behind me – if we were on a par 3 for example – and they were stood there waiting.
“I had a couple of bunkers to do so I did the job right and moved on.
“We were told to stay next to the ropes. If you are walking down the left rope and they are on the right hand side – there are swales everywhere and you’ve got to get up to see if there’s a bunker.”
For all that it’s great to stand a few feet away from a major winner, just as important to this team are the connections they make with each other and what they learn to take back their own clubs.
“It’s all about contacts,” insisted Bramcote Waters’ Josh Dunn. “If I wanted to borrow something, if I’m in a bit of predicament with a broken machine, I can always ask a local course or someone I have met on one of these events.
“I’ve done two of these – the first was at Royal Troon a couple of years ago – and I still keep in touch with a lot of people from Troon.”
Rayleigh’s Mark Bettell agreed: “You’re spending time with a group of lads and we’re bussing in together.
“You get different points of views, opinions and each one of us can take something from someone else’s experience and utilise it.
“It has been fantastic. As soon as I got the acceptance, knowing how iconic the Open is, I couldn’t wait to get out here and take as much out of it as I can.”