Con on the Course – Fota Island Irish Open

Con is in Charge in Fota

Fota Island_Con O'Driscoll_Apr2014

By Niall O’Shea

Walking around the Fota Island Resort this week, you’d be mistaken for thinking it’s just another year at the prestigious Cork golf course,  The pro-shop is busy, as is the clubhouse, a society prepares to head out and there’s about six people practicing in the Academy.  All in all it’s pretty standard for the championship resort.  But Fota is right in the middle of preparations for the Irish Open which take place from 18th to 22nd June.  While it’s business as usual as far as any of the golfers are concerned, the course staff are busy working with a plan to deliver the course in perfect condition for the tour professionals in June.  It’s 12 years since the European Tour event last took place in Cork and for many of the professionals that were in tour in 2002, they’ll notice a few additions.  While the Deerpark course is still the same, the hotel and lodges are new, the additional nine holes are new and the Academy is now.  All of the developments were opened between 2006 and 2007 and now Fota Island stands out as the premier golf resort in the south of the country.

Fota’s Course Superintendent Con O’Driscoll celebrated 20 years in Fota last February, so it’s fair to say he has seen all of the transformations that have taken place over the past two decades.  He witnessed the dramatic changes in the late 90’s that heralded Fota as a top class championship course.  Those changes led to the course hosting the Murphy’s Irish Open in 2001 and 2002.  He has also overseen the addition of Academy, the new nine holes and the sports pitches that were added a few years ago.  Tournament preparations are nothing new for the west Cork native and he’s happy that the course staff in Fota will have the resorts signature Deerpark course at it’s very best for June.  O’Driscoll gave an insight into what’s ahead of the team over the next two months: “There’s really no change in the normal maintenance routine, for a tournament you’re just doing things more intensely.  Our level of maintenance has always been very high so it’s not a huge step to bring it up to tournament level.  We’d normally be cutting the fairways 2 or three times a week, coming up to the Open we’ll be cutting every day and maybe twice a day. It’ll be the same with the tee boxes and the approaches.  It’s all about the intensity.”

Manpower is always a key issue for all golf courses and Con explained how they will scale up for the tournament.  “We’d have 11 staff on through the year but that increases seasonally.  We’re up to 15 staff at the moment and for the Irish Open week we’ll have 35 or 36 course staff on duty.  We’ll have a lot of help from the staff from other local courses and we’ll have a few students in on work placement from our links with the greenkeeping course in Colaiste Stiofan Naofa.

While the routine work continues there are some changes are a result of the metting that took place between the European Tour and the management at Fota Island Resort.  New tee boxes have been constructed on the par fives to add an element of length or shot shaping to the par 71 championship course.  Con explained that they brought in some specialist outside help for the new tee boxes that are designed to add a touch of difficulty to the course; “We’ve used DAR Golf from Baltinglass to construct the new tee boxes and they have been great to work with.  They have carried out a lot of work locally and they have a great name.  The new tee boxes are adding 120-130 yards to the four par fives.”  There’s talk of one or two additional course changes but Con won’t confirm or commit any details so for the moment the only changes will be on the par fives.

One of the biggest jobs ahead for Con and his team is bringing the rough up to a standard to test the tour professionals. He explained what’s involved; “Our normal set up here on Fota would be fairways, semi-rough and rough. The fairways are normally cut to 12mm and that won’t change.  The semi-rough is about 2 metres wide and that’s normally up to 28mm and then we’re onto rough which is around 60mm.  For the tournament there will be an extra cut of semi-rough at 60mm while the rough will be allowed grow to anywhere between 80mm to 100mm.  We’ll probably have two metres of the 28mm rough and two metres of the 60mm cut and then it’s into the high rough.”  The rough will be fertilised several times to bring it up to the preferred height of around four inches.

Fota Island has a great reputation around their greens and O’Driscoll explained what changes will take place in advance of the Irish Open; “The greens normally run at about 9½ – 10 feet in terms of speed, which would be the standard here for golf in the summer.  The criteria for the tour hasn’t changed and that’s around 10½ or 11 so we won’t be allowed go beyond 11.  We’d have the greens running at that speed for the Captain’s Prize so it’s not a problem to bring them up to 11.  Normally we’d speed them up by double cutting and rolling so we’ll bring them up about a week before the competition.  Each of the greens will be checked for speed as some might only need a single cut, others might need a double cut and roll.

Asked what the biggest challenge would be over the next eight weeks, Con cited the weather as a possible issue: “You’ve control of most things, the one thing you can’t control is the weather.  The only fear we’d have a dry five or six weeks and you mightn’t get the rough up to where you want it.  It happended to an extent before the 2001 Open when we had a few dry weeks.  It did rain 3/4 weeks before the tournament but the rough wasn’t as severe are it might have been.  We really hope that the weather for the Open will be good, it’s important for the crowds and it also allows us to present the course in top condition.”


Course Changes

Some minor changes have been made to the course in addition to the work carried out on the par fives.  Three new mature trees have been added to the right hand side of the first fairway.  The large tree that helped shape the hole was damaged in the February storms so the new trees are designed to prevent golfers from cutting the dogleg.  Over 100 new trees have been added to both sides of the 4th green, the will place an added focus on accuracy for the golfers aiming to hit the par five green in two shots.  Two mature trees have been added to the left of the ninth fairway, again tightening up the approach for anyone planning on a big drive down the hill.


The Circus is coming to Fota…

The European Tour is a big show, and bringing the big show to town, well it’s a little bit like the circus coming to town.  The numbers are amazing and a mini city will descend on Fota Island in advance of the tournament.

Firstly there will be 156 golfers taking part on the Thursday and Friday of the competition, with up to four amateur golfers included in the field.  There will be one chief referee for the tournament with 7 rules officials on course to give information and advice to players in need of a ruling.  The Fota Island Academy will be a busy place during the week of the tournament.  The Academy has 40 driving bays   The European Tour will provide 600 dozen premium golf balls which will be donated to Junior Golf Ireland after the event.  The manufacturers will have a presence in Fota also, but only to provide equipment and technical assistance to the tour players, Titleist, Callaway, Taylor Made and up to six other major manufacturers will have their large 40 foot trucks onsite, with technicians on board to replace and customise shafts, grips and heads for the tour players.   The smaller manufacturers will have a presence in Fota also.   They’ll be seen working on the putting greens and in the range although their vehicles might be limited to their own car.  A number of coaches will be around the practice areas too, providing last minute help to their golfers as the constant search for improvement continues for almost every golfer.  The current generation of European Tour golfers are well looked after in terms of facilities and support from the industry, and the Tour also provide a tour physio service.  Working from the fully fitted treatment truck, two qualified physiotherapists will be on hand to deal with any injuries or complaints from the players.

A large media centre will be constructed close to the 18th green to accommodate the 200 accredited press who will be covering the event. Interview rooms, tv and radio studios and hot desking facilities will be provided to ensure media have access to both players and information.  TV coverage will be delivered by to 130 or so staff from European Tour Productions and Sky Sports.  A total of 15 large trucks will roll into Fota before the event and all will be involved in get all of the equipment onsite and then ensuring that the live pictures will be beamed into 400 million homes across the world.  Over 2,200 broadcast hours will be used globally between the live coverage and highlights, giving Fota, Cork and Ireland a great opportunity to showcase the area.  27 cameras manned by up to 50 staff will be used to capture the on course images with over 30 kilometres of cable supporting the cameras and technicians.

The organisers are planning for over 100,000 spectators at the event and they will have a number of grandstands erected in key locations on the course.  They will have nine large leaderboards around the course so spectators and players too can keep track of the scoring.  Including the volunteers there will be over 1,000 staff onsite for the duration of the event.


Irish Open By the Numbers:

Course Length: 6927 yards

Par: 71

Bunkers: 48

Golfers: 156

Pro-Am Teams: 52

TV Cameras: 27

TV Cabling: 30 km

Global Broadcast Hours: 2296

Accredited Journalists: 200

Volunteers: 400

Total Staff: 1,100


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