Before we get started on the Herculean efforts of the groundstaff at Thurgoona Country Club, please understand that all involved at this week’s New South Wales Senior Open are acutely aware that this is a golf tournament, NOT life and death.
Our sympathies and best wishes to all around not only NSW, but the entire country dealing with unprecedented rainfall.
That having been said, WOW!
The seasoned professionals of the Legends Tour are, almost to a man, walking off this 80-hectare property in Albury’s eastern suburbs offering their plaudits for a layout that is defying the odds.
The greens, in particular, have received the highest praise imaginable, with first-round joint leader Euan Walters calling them phenomenal and even suggesting that he “would pick them all up and take ‘em” everywhere if he were able.
And while we’d like to bring you news of some magical cure the host club has employed to achieve this, the truth is it’s about nothing more nor less than pure hard yakka.
The dedication of the five-strong – yep, only five – grounds crew at Thurgoona has been exemplary because, as in just about every postcode in eastern Australia, those around Albury are dealing with extraordinary rainfall statistics.
Since 1994, the average rainfall from January to October in Albury has been 532.5mm; in 2022, the amount received (at time of writing) is 1033.4mm.
The golf club, remarkably, was essentially in tournament shape at the end of September – despite 144mm of rain in that month alone – because superintendent Dean Lewis and his cohorts were churning out the 70-hour weeks either to mop up or to take advantage of every ray of sunlight.
But the 173mm so far in October – against an historic average of 50mm – was enough to leave some doubting this week’s event would start.
About two weeks ago, water had essentially cut access to the front nine from the elevated clubhouse.
Little “Eight Mile Creek” that normally meanders through Thurgoona suddenly appeared like the Amazon leaving the first tee and 10th green – among many others – islands in a rarely seen inland ocean.
Bridges that sit up to 4m over the normal water level had water rushing over them.
The 70-hour work weeks expanded by a few more and now it was personal.
Lewis, with nothing but pure admiration for his team, said the preparation they’d all put in by that time had paid enormous dividends.
“We knew by long-range forecasts what was coming, so we planned for the worst and hoped for the best,” Lewis said in a rare moment of down time today.
“The guys were all well aware that if we were lucky to get a couple of dry spells, we’d go hard, get extra cuts in and really use things like growth regulators, especially in the rough, in case we couldn’t mowers out if it got too wet.
“Bunker-wise we had about 5cm of sand across all our bunkers, which was about 250 cubic metres of sand in total, to give us a bit of a buffer if some washed away.
“We spent a fair bit of time packing it in the faces of the bunkers … in a lot of major rain events a lot of the faces come down, so we put a lot of effort in getting them packed in and as hard as we could to minimise that wash-down.
“We ensured all the course nutrients were good, our pre-emergents and growth regulators and all that stuff was in place.
“We planned so that if it turned out dry, we’d have still been in a good place, but we thought it was worth the effort and it turned out to be exactly that.”
Lewis also planned around the impact of normal wear and tear from club members and asked his team to come in on every sunny day, even if they were rostered off.
Then came the final push. With casual hours up and with even more help from volunteers, Lewis – who has just ticked over eight years at the Thurgoona helm – and his team shifted their focus to the greens.
“Because if all else failed, we wanted to make sure they were consistent,” he said.
“We wanted to get a good grass coverage, an upright leaf and have them so that the pace (of putts) was really consistent on all the greens.
“We got all the surrounds nice and tight, so if all else failed we would still be able to hold a tournament.”
And the rain came. And kept coming. Even on Friday night this week there was another ferocious downpour that yielded almost 10mm in as many minutes.
“I’ve seen a few floods in my eight or so years here,” Lewis said.
“January (this year) was probably the worst when we had 100mm in half an hour. That was water I never thought I’d see, ever.
“But this past couple of weeks is definitely one of the higher ones, especially across a general area, because everything is saturated, every dam and catchment is full and there’s just nowhere for more water to go.”
Which has meant a different edition of the tournament, with preferred lies throughout the week and some, as Lewis put it, “polish off how we’d like it”.
Yet the plaudits are helping keep the groundstaff’s spirits high, thankfully well above the high-water mark.
“These are legends of Australian golf here this week, so to hear them say such nice things about our greens makes us all really proud – me, my team and hopefully the club,” Lewis said with a mixture of emotion and extreme modesty.
“I’m doing my job, the boys are doing theirs. But it’s also great knowing that we’re doing it for the club, for Albury and Wodonga and surrounding areas and I’m proud it’s a showcase for our region and that these players leave here talking about it (so fondly) is great for us all.
“It’s also great to be able to showcase the time and effort that greenkeepers put in – a lot of people forget that it (the course) is a living, breathing organism and that we run it on a knife’s edge all the time.
“It (can be) quick to fall off that edge, so you put your heart and soul into it and it’s definitely something you’re proud of when people talk about it that sort of manner they have this week.
“I’m sure the boys all walk a bit taller when they hear that.”
So what of the boys?
“Well, I’ve been really big on continuing to thank them for all the extra time and care they’ve poured into it, because I might steer the ship, but they do all the grunt work to make it happen.
“It makes you super proud when the apprentices can go out and achieve what you ask them to do and I hope they’ve learnt a lot this time around.”
And they might even get a day off in the coming week!
Very well deserved ones at that.