Tour News

RACV Royal Pines on target for Aust PGA

(Photo: Bruce Young)
Whether it has been the collective "˜touching of wood' by those involved or perhaps even divine intervention, the redesign of the initial nine holes of the RACV Royal Pines tournament layout on the Gold Coast is on schedule, almost to the minute.

The project required everything to go right if it was to be completed within the very narrow time frame available between the finish of the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters in February and the Australian PGA Championship in December and in most cases it has.

The South East Queensland region received very little rain in the first half of 2014 and while it has been a cause of real concern for the farming community, conditions could not have been better to complete the bulk earthworks, soil treatment, drainage, irrigation, shaping and grassing phases of the Royal Pines revamp.

Those works essentially involved the complete re-design and re-shaping of all nine holes in this first phase, the rebuilding of all greens complexes and the creation of a much more user friendly spectator tournament facility followed by the solid turfing of all works areas.

Then, within days of those works been completed and rain absolutely necessary to assist in establishing the grasses on both the fairways and greens, the Gold Coast experienced a rain deluge of sorts, ensuring the almost perfect scenario for the four month growing in period ahead of the 2014 PGA Championship.

Now all that awaits is a stretch of warm weather to allow the grasses to grow and establish themselves to the point where they can accommodate the demands of a professional event of the significance of the Australian PGA Championship.

When the PGA is played in mid-December, the new look initial nine holes will be the undoubted talking point and will change the perception the RACV Royal Pines layout has in the eye of the Australian golfing community.

Long considered a rather tame, benign layout, the tournament course is being provided with more teeth by the design team of one of Australian golf's most successful players and designers over the last 40 years Graham Marsh.

The contrast between the old and the new is rather like comparing chalk and cheese but, given the short timeline available allowing for only the first half of the project completed in time for the PGA Championship, such was always going to be the case and was essentially the only option.

The completion of the second nine under a similar work period in 2015 will see the full eighteen holes remodelled and a totally new layout ready for the 2015 PGA Championship.

The earthworks and grassing are now completed and the final handover has been made from the construction company, Ertech, to the maintenance team at Royal Pines headed by Superintendent Lincoln Coombes.

This has of course been a staggered process. As each hole has been completed then Coombes and his team of fourteen at Royal Pines have begun to monitor and care for the growing in of the grasses which are Wintergreen on the fairways and TifEagle on the greens.

Superintendent Coombes, has been at Royal Pines for three years, moving to Queensland from a similar role he had at one of RACV's other golfing facilities at Cape Shank on the Mornington Peninsula. He has therefore overseen the preparation of RACV Royal Pines for last year's PGA Championship and for three Volvik RACV Ladies Masters. While this represents perhaps his most significant challenge he is excited at the prospect.

"I can't wait," he said referring to what lies ahead. "There is part of me that wants it (the PGA) to be next week but I wouldn't mind being another year away also," he added with a smile referring to the narrow window he has in getting the course to a tournament peak by December.

"It is such a unique project and we are all excited by it all but three months is going to go so quickly. Now we have the full nine holes presented to us there is a hell of a lot to do bearing in mind we have the Blue layout across the road to maintain also. So it is balancing act in terms of staffing levels but there is no doubting the enthusiasm of the team for what lies ahead."

One of the many but important challenges Coombes faces in this process is to ensure the contrasting species of greens' grass on the respective nines is as uniform as possible in its quality and playability. The nine remaining to be completed next year contains the original 328 bermuda grass planted 25 years ago while the new nine is admittedly a bermuda grass species but with a different leaf type and characteristic, namely TifEagle.

"I would like a golfer to walk off the 9th green then on to the 10th and not have to worry about any real change in his thinking between the greens," added Coombes. "That also applies to the practice putting green.

"The Tifeagle is a finer blade of grass allowing more speed without having to go down as low with the cutting.

"Graham Marsh has assisted with the profiling of the fairways on the new nine but, importantly for the length of the rough we can provide, the grow in is crucial over the next three to four months as that will ensure consistency of cover and length of rough.

"The other thing we have to be mindful of is that for 50 weeks of the year we are a business that depends on the support of the hotel guest, the casual player and the member here at Royal Pines so we can't have thick rough all year round. I would love to have the rough growing at 4 inches in height now so we have the luxury of being able to cut it back but that process will not appeal to the other players who will use the course in the years ahead."

While the project's second nine holes will be completed in Stage 2 over a similar time frame next year, all involved in the work are delighted as to how things have come together thus far. Aaron Flavell, RACV's Manager of Capital Works, is enthused by what he is seeing come out of the ground.

"The project took a while to build momentum but once it began to flow then we were able to make up time and with all involved working closely together we achieved that critical date of mid-August for the completion of grassing to allow sufficient time for the grow in prior to the tournament in December.

"There have been a number of aspects of the project that could well have made or broken its progress including the supply of the turf especially given that the whole area was to solid turfed but even allowing for us losing one of our suppliers the grassing to date has been a great success.

"There really needed to be a close working relationship from Graham Marsh's team to RACV to the consultants to the construction company to make this happen, especially given that there was absolutely no margin for any delays and so that too has been yet another pleasing aspect of the overall project.

"The whole process must be repeated next year and while there may or may not necessarily be the same break with the weather next year, that the team have all worked together on the project to date should make up for any delays caused by the weather if that is to be the case. Certainly the construction has continued to build momentum as each new hole has emerged.

"I and those at RACV are really happy with what is taking shape and are delighted that the end result is very much reflecting the original brief and design intent to create a far more demanding tournament layout while at the same time creating a layout that will be of interest to everyday use by our members and casual golfers."

The improved and enhanced spectator facilities include a number of the new greens being abutted by spectator mounding. This allows for a very viewer friendly tournament layout. A great example of this is that from the newly raised area behind the 8th green play at the 3rd, 7th, 8th and 9th can be witnessed. It should offer quite a gathering point for those looking to attend the event.

The golf course and its considerably more dynamic design should allow for an improved spectacle for television viewers also both in terms of the strategic and visual aspects of the revised layout.

There is still a long way to go at Royal Pines to ensure that when Adam Scott returns to defend his title in December he is faced with a well-designed and well-presented layout to do so.

The earthworks, shaping and grassing process was dependent on a good run with the weather and as a result of that being the case has been completed on schedule.

Now the task falls to Lincoln Coombes and his team and those responsible for the tournament set up to ensure the quality design and construction work is complimented by equally good presentation.

There seems little reason to believe it won't.


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Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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