"We’ve Basically Doubled The Size Of The Greens" - Royal St George's Course Manager

Despite the pandemic and the weather, course manager Paul Larsen thinks Royal St George’s has been shaping up very nicely

Royal St George's Course Manager
(Image credit: Kevin Murray)

Despite the pandemic and the weather, course manager Paul Larsen thinks Royal St George’s has been shaping up very nicely

"We’ve Basically Doubled The Size Of The Greens" - Royal St George's Course Manager

When Darren Clarke won The Open at Royal St George’s in 2011, Paul Larsen was deputy to the course manager.

This time round, he’s in charge.

Here, we ask how things have progressed throughout the extended run-up to the 149th Open Championship...

What were your initial thoughts when it was confirmed that The Open wasn’t going to happen last year?

Good question! When I think back, it was all about the pandemic and the virus and we were all quite worried about it.

We’d gone on to furlough, so we had five guys in and I was coming in as part of the five and doing quite a lot of work.

It was more a case that we were all petrified we were going to get it or our parents were going to die.

We weren’t even thinking about The Open - it really was out of our minds.

What has the extra year allowed you to do that you wouldn’t have been able to for last year?

We’ve done so much overseeding, but seedlings take a couple of years to mature to get decent roots.

I was worried last year that if The Open was on and they wanted to dry the course out, I wasn’t sure they could survive drought conditions.

I thought, ‘Great, we’ve got another autumn,’ and the autumn wasn’t bad, but then we’ve had the worst spring going, so we didn’t get the renovation I wanted and were still renovating in May when really we shouldn’t have been.

The weather has been a big challenge then?

The weather has been the be-all and end-all of my life!

I wanted a proper spring with growth in March and April and I got none.

Where we are still recovering a little bit from the last drought, there are a few areas in the semi-rough that I want to bring through, but the rest of it is fine and really where we want it to be.

What has changed most out on the golf course since 2011?

We’ve done so much I can’t actually remember all the things we’ve done!

The things that will catch people’s eyes are the bunkers on the 4th.

They had the sleepers all around and we’ve made them more natural. It looks miles better.

The waste area by the 5th tee we’ve done this year and there’s another natural waste area further down the 5th on the left, which is beautiful.

What I like about it is that it’s in keeping with the golf course.

We’ve put another bunker in on the 7th on the right-hand side and we’ve basically doubled the size of the greens – that’s the biggest thing we’ve done.

The greens are huge compared with how they were.

On the 18th, for example, the first 20 yards of the green was fairway in 2011.

Is the rough likely to be as thick as when Tiger lost his ball on the 1st in 2003?

We’ll never have that.

Since 2014, we’ve been on a programme of changing the grass species from rye and Yorkshire fog to fescue, so we’re a fescue-bent golf course now.

We’ve done everything to bring the native grasses back.

One of my greatest pleasures has been doing that.

I don’t want that thick rough where you can’t find your bag let alone your ball!

Does being in charge bring added pressure?

No added pressure!

I feel like I’m under pressure all the time – it doesn’t matter if it’s The Open.

Every day, we try to make it as good as it can be.

The team I’ve got is brilliant.

They’re easy to manage because they’re looking forward to it and are all so enthusiastic.

How different will the course set-up be for The Open compared with a typical members’ summer competition?

I think everyone thinks we do different things, but the difference really is that I may cut the fairways twice a week, perhaps three times at its peak, whereas during The Open we’ll cut them every day.

Same with the aprons and the tees.

Probably the biggest thing is that we’ll stimp each green and try to get them all at almost the same pace.

Some might have a double cut, some might have a double cut and a roll, whereas for a club championship they might get a cut and a roll.

Every green will be consistent for The Open.

Watch: Royal St George's Vlog -

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and even instruction despite his own somewhat iffy swing (he knows how to do it, but just can't do it himself). He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 89 of the Next 100. He has played well over 900 courses worldwide in 35 countries, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content. On his first trip to Abu Dhabi a decade ago he foolishly asked Paul Casey what sort of a record he had around the course there. "Well, I've won it twice if that's what you mean!" came the reply...

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf