While drought is raging across Europe and golf France has been hit hard by this disastrous situation, the rest of our exclusive interview with Alejandro Reyes addresses current and future challenges in regards to course maintenance.
In Italy as in France, drought is affecting golf courses, which must try to find solutions to this new situation. Starting with the future course of the 2023 Ryder Cup, of which Alejandro Reyes is a permanent advisor. In this second part, the Spaniard details his vision for maintaining the increasingly supervised courses.
Where do you live today?
I live in Rome with Lara Arias who works with me at TAS (happily!) at Marco Simone Golf Course. The tournament is set to host the next Ryder Cup in 2023. We’ve been thinking about starting a family for a while, but weighed the pros and cons and decided to devote ourselves entirely to this latest challenge. But after Rider, make way for the kids!
But you also have your job as a consultant, so how much time do you allocate to Marco Simon?
a third of my time. I live on the golf course so I am constantly present except for my errands outside.
The course is in really excellent condition. However, what are the main interventions to be made?
Everything that affects the neighboring infrastructure such as the driving field. It will be completed in September for the Italian Open. Regarding the course, we still have work to do! Only after the visit of European Captain Henrik Stenson (interview conducted before eviction) Who wanted several modifications that would make the course more difficult. (We’re still talking about significantly narrowing the lanes, shortening the 18 for more width and lengthening the drive-accessible tee 11).
Lara Arias is the real leader
How is your business different from the national?
My role at Marco Simone is more than just an honorable one. I prepare and control the agricultural engineering plan to maintain the course and organize major competitions. We are lucky to have Lara Arias on site! She is the real leader.
Regardless of the cycle, we have a feeling that the infrastructures will not be ready in time. Worry ?
Pff… Ah Italy! It was all done here at the last minute, I learned the hard way: on the eve of my first Italian Open, they were still repainting the club! In the end, things went well. Well that’s one more thing… To tell you the truth, I’m still a bit worried but hopeful!
Italy is currently experiencing a terrible drought. How do you understand it?
At the moment, at Marco Simon, we are not dehydrated. But the water is of poor quality. Our garden tolerates this thanks to our agricultural program, but it can become a problem. In the medium term, we have a project to connect a recycled water body about a hundred meters from the golf course. It will be much better, and we can prepare for any eventuality.
Are environmental standards as restrictive as in France?
Yes, there are differences, perhaps less restrictive. I would say first of all it’s less framed!
In France, new environmental standards of 2025 will change the profession, especially with no veganism: what will change?
Many problems will be solved through mechanical input. But today we are unable to properly preserve greens without adding phytosanitary products. It is a fact, and a huge challenge. Right now, we’re inundated with new “biocontrol” products without knowing how effective they really are. You have to try it, dose it, combine it… The other difficulty is the geographical area: the product does not have the same potency in Biarritz as in Hardelot, for example.
Greens will be slower
Regarding vegetables, what would it look like?
I don’t know if the Greens won’t play anymore as they say. What is certain is that it will be slower. We will no longer be able to mow such a day because the shorter it is, the more vulnerable and vulnerable it is to external pressures. “Slower” doesn’t mean less fun, huh!
In terms of water, shouldn’t drought-prone southern grasslands consider reseeding everything?
Ideally, yes, but it is a huge cost! And the process is tricky when it comes to weed selection. There are many types of seeds! Again, geographic context matters. No need to travel miles to notice the difference! Here: We managed to try a variety of Bermuda grass for the old Cannes-Mandelieu, by the sea. 150 meters above sea level! At Hossegor, the tests went very well until the summer of 2021, which was especially cold and rainy. And multiply, all our efforts have been reduced to nothing … In the end, the further you go in latitude, as in Spain, the more certain you are of the result …
Will first areas of unmaintained driveways be common?
I’m not in favor of that: we should also allow casual players who might miss the start to express themselves. On the other hand, the surface of the walkways can be narrowed by creating a small rough area. Sometimes we play better on small off-road tracks than on playgrounds!
Can’t the departed become industrialized in the winter?
Previously, golf was a seasonal sport. Today, we play all year round! On very crowded golf courses, grass cannot grow in winter, especially if there are trees around! The first solution is to increase the space for departures. But in extreme cases, I am not against mounting fixtures.
There is a severe shortage of staff in France
What are the strengths and weaknesses of French golf courses in terms of maintenance?
French golf courses have incorporated the increasingly discerning ecological concept. The irrigation water is of good quality and generally golfers respect the course. I think they appreciate the work the maintenance teams have done.
On the other hand, there is a severe shortage of personnel and the position of the machines is not adequately maintained. Without it, we’d have more very neat courses. Finally, I noticed that irrigation systems are often outdated and inefficient.
Isn’t the basement a very French evil?
I don’t know, but the basement requires constant maintenance and is very labor intensive. If there is a shortage, I would prefer the staff to devote themselves to other areas of play, and myself recommend less work, especially on the edges of the bunkers.
Is there a Reyes claw?
Wow, I’ve never thought about this question…fascinated by agricultural engineering, I prefer the ground conditions for golf and its clientele. Then, if it’s aesthetically pleasing, that’s so much better!
One can also think of the contribution generated by sand…
Ah, do you think I have this picture? This is not a bug: the sand contribution is important. Sand cleans surfaces, especially if they are clay! I remind you that various diseases come from an excess of water (90% on a green plot). So we must avoid stagnation of water on our playing surfaces.
Speaking of sand, the one on the beach that runs along the famous links, is never used. why ?
Well it’s forbidden!!! And then you have to be careful because this sand can be very loaded with sodium (salt). Anyway, the old links have been using beach sand for decades and it’s great…
In the United States, the role of the supervisor is a central one. This is not the case in France yet. Don’t you embody this necessary reinforcement of function?
Mmm, the situation is complicated…it’s really all a matter of semantics, each country has its own terminology. But it is true that the role of supervisor will grow given the importance of the land. I only have an advisory role. I want to be clear: it’s not about taking someone’s place, it’s about getting high visibility and also giving management advice.
Are we witnessing the emergence of hyper-specialization in your profession?
No doubt. The supervisor must be trained in different areas: agricultural engineering, management, accounting, mechanics, and hydraulics.
In terms of a simple green keeper, that’s not really my business philosophy… I like to train teams at several skill levels whether they’re in greens, fairways or bunkers… You have to give work that isn’t monotonous.
Is there a machine or product that is about to revolutionize maintenance?
not now. For me, the real solution lies in the genetic development of new herbs adapted to the climate of each latitude.
How do you see cycles in 2050?
The gap between the most prestigious courses and those of the average will be greater. In terms of price and means implemented. The tire will be more environmental with more and more automated maintenance. We will also have more courses that will allow you to play quickly.
And you in 2050 what will you do?
I don’t see myself anywhere other than a cycle! I am very happy in my work. I will probably travel less because this is the part that weighs me the most.
Interviewed by Sebastian Brochu