Martin Lehane, head greenskeeper at the Mount Juliet Estate course
The time has come to start teeing up some stories on the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, which will take centre stage at Mount Juliet from July 1 to 4.
For the next month I’ll be interviewing those involved, from the people behind the scenes preparing the course and Estate, to those playing the actual course.
As I approached Mount Juliet Estate last Friday on a beautiful early summer’s morning, I stopped for a moment to take in the breathtaking views of the Jack Nicklaus signature-designed course.
I worked for Mount Juliet Golf during my college days, many moons ago! It looks different now, in all its natural beauty of pastures green and lines of copper beech trees, matured to perfection.
Martin and his dedicated team will be working flat out to deliver a top class course for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Mount Juliet in July
It gave me a moment of Kilkenny pride as I know the eyes of the world will be on this course next month, with every TV set in every golf club tuned in for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
As I witness a hive of activity on the greens and fairways, I decided this was where I was going to start my coverage of the upcoming tournament. It’s a sight to behold as the Estate’s team of greenkeepers drive their mowers like synchronised swimmers to achieve perfect greens.
The vast open course of over 300 acres takes a team of 10 full time staff to cut every morning. The greens take over four and a half hours to mow and the fairways take all day to cut!
On my visit, I met up with the Head Greenkeeper in Mount Juliet – Thomastown man Martin Lehane. We chatted about the major task in hand in preparing this magnificent course for the world stage ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open next month.
Martin started working in Mount Juliet in May 1992, so it’s safe to say he knows every blade of grass on this course!
Here is a glimpse into Martin’s world…
It’s an early start for you and your team of greenkeepers every morning to get the course ready for the early birds.
Yes we are here to start at 6.30am every morning to get the course prepared and set up for our golfers for the day.
It’s quite extensive; we start with the setup of greens, tees and fairways. Then we change all the cups and progress to do small jobs on all the bunkers and rough areas.
Does it have to be cut every day?
Every single day the greens have to be cut. We cut the tees and fairways twice to three times a week, depending on the weather.
How long has it taken to get the course ready of this magnitude for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open?
Twelve months of preparation has gone into it so far. There’s a lot of work that goes into the background that people don’t realise, like topping up bunkers with sand and edging everything.
What has changed since the first Irish Open was played here?
The course was originally designed by Jack Nicklaus. However there is a completely new driving range designed by Paul McGinley.
The fairways are now spilt into two, which goes down both sides of the island, with the main two fairways running off into the distance. The tee boxes on the driving range have also been removed.
What are you expecting your workload to be like for the week of the Irish Open?
Hectic! We’ll start at 4.15am and basically finish just before the golfers go out. We’ll come back around 4pm or 5pm every evening and work right through until dark. The shifts are shared out between us all.
Martin, we are standing here on a beautiful day but what if it rains on the week of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open? How will it affect the course?
If you get a lot of rain, you’ll end up with bunkers that will start holding water. Hopefully the greens shouldn’t hold water, they generally don’t but the rain does make things very awkward.
Rain that we get nowadays is not like the rain that we got years ago, it doesn’t waterlog the course.
You look after this course with such tender loving care. How will you feel about it being walked all over by golfers and potential spectators next month?
It’s a good time of year to host it, so there will be a good recovery afterwards.
It’s not like the American Express tournaments that are held later in the year. They are on in September, when we are coming into the winter months and it takes longer to recover.
Has the pandemic helped the course to rest?
It’s given the course a great break with no golfers here for so long. Everything had a chance to mature and recover. It was great for us in one way, we were able to get jobs done that we couldn’t do with golfers and we could do it at our own pace.
For example, we could wait every day until the grass was dry to cut. When you cut first thing the morning you get a lot of grass clippings but later in the day, when it’s dry, these clippings disperse.
It’s hard to get jobs done now as the place is filling up with golfers every day, but on that note we are delighted to have them back. It’s the bread and butter of this place.
What’s the difference between the regular golf course for members at Mount Juliet and the one that the professionals will play for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open?
The biggest difference are the green speeds, we ‘up’ them for the tournaments.
The normal green speed for your average golfers would take too long for the professionals to play and get around the course.
Breaking it down, it’s how fast the roll of the ball is across the green. We have a device that measures the speed of the ball and how fast it goes across the green.
You’ve been here for all the Irish Opens and American Expresses. What were the crowds like?
I’ve been here for the three Irish Opens that were held back in 1993, 1994 and 1995. It was a different scene back then, the crowds were massive.
For the American Expresses it was just phenomenal, you couldn’t move with spectators. It was impossible for us to get around to do the jobs.
The tournaments are great though. It changes the whole scenery of the course and puts a new variety into it.
Do you celebrate when it’s all over?
People think that when the Opens are finished we can relax but that’s certainly not the case. We are back full belt the next morning.
The Monday afterwards is nearly busier than the last day of the Open (Sunday) for us because our members and sponsors want to go out and play the Open’s course.
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