Five greenkeepers who all learned their trade at Myerscough College have played a major role in the successful return of golf to the Olympics, after working as part of the team looking after the course in Rio.
Golf hadn’t been contested at the Olympics since 1904, but the games this summer saw the best in the world compete for medals on a course managed by Neil Cleverly. Neil learned his craft with Myerscough in the late 1990s, joining the College as a mature student following 15 years in the armed forces. He graduated with a degree in Turf Grass Science in 2001 and went on to embark in a highly successful career in the sportsturf industry, working on golf courses in America, Mexico, Europe, Egypt and the Caribbean.
Fifteen years later and Neil was the superintendent for the 2016 Olympic course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, preparing the greens and fairways for the world's finest players. Rio already has two private courses, but neither was deemed suitable for the Games by the world golf authorities, so a brand new course was built at a cost of around £14 million.
Among those assisting Neil during the Olympics was Eamonn McCarthy. He qualified with a National Diploma in Turfgrass Science & Sports Ground Management, before topping up to a full degree in 2002. Since graduating the 39-year-old Irishman’s worked all over the world, including Australia, Cyprus, Barbados and most recently, as Superintendent at a luxury course in Bali.
‘’It was an amazing Olympics, truly awesome. I’m very tired but what a great twenty days and I met some great people.
‘’It was a team effort with 84 of us in total. Every day we had a morning briefing in three different languages but we just all connected. It was just awesome and a really cool team bond. Working on the Olympics is something I will never forget. What an experience.’’
"This is the first Olympics since they brought back golf, so it's pretty cool to get this on my resume."
"I'm trying to pick up some agronomy tips, especially on warm-season grass. I have no interest in cool-season or living in the UK. It's too cold for me."
It was while studying at Myerscough that Eamonn was bitten by the travel bug. As part of his studies, he spent three years in the United States under Ohio State's international program.
Fellow Irishman Damien Coleman graduated from Myerscough College with a BSc Honours degree in Turfgrass Science in 2008. He’s currently Vice President of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of Ireland (GCSAI) and Course Superintendent at the Galway Bay Golf Resort. He’s also a R&A Scholar.
Damien said: ‘’It has been nothing short of amazing. There were people working on the course from many different countries, mostly South America, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Chile, USA, Ireland, UK, Spain and South Africa.
‘’The biggest challenge has been working two tournaments (men’s and ladies events) back to back. We worked at least 14 hours on 16 consecutive days. Whilst this is exhausting, it has been an unbelievable experience and something I would not change. The weather has been difficult at times, but not posed any major problems.
‘’Because our hours are quite tough, we were getting up at 3.30am each day and not returning to our accommodation until after 7pm most nights, so trying to get to other Olympic events has not been easy. We have managed to get to the Olympic Park a couple of times and we watched some water polo. We also got to see some handball, which was very enjoyable. We’ve obviously managed to see some golf too!
‘’The access we have had to the players has been great. Meeting the Irish golf team for me has been the highlight.
‘’One of the biggest benefits from working at The Olympics has been the networking opportunity and the chance to make new friends from all over the world. The realisation that I am working at the Olympics probably didn’t sink in until the first day of the men's competition when the crowds started rolling in and we saw some of the best players in the world putting on surfaces that we had prepared.
‘’Neil (Cleverly) has superbly turned the design into a reality and the two combined have meant that golf will surely become a permanent fixture in the Olympics.’’
Also in the Myerscough group was Adam Wise, who undertook an apprenticeship in sportsturf with Myerscough College, completing in 2010. While he was a Myerscough learner, Adam was a runner up in the TORO Student Greenkeeper of the Year competition, before going on to work at Richmond Golf Club in London ahead of his Olympic adventure.
Adam said: ‘’Having this College as a backbone through your education is very much advised and also makes learning enjoyable and worthwhile.”
Completing the Myerscough College quintet of Olympic golf workers was Gary Walters BSc (hons), 34-year-old Lecturer in Sportsturf at Myerscough College.
Following the Games, the course will now become a public facility.
Neil Cleverly said: ‘’The great legacy of this golf course is that post Olympics, it belongs to the city.
‘’It would be a crying shame if the legacy of this golf course gets to the point where the Olympic Games are played on it successfully but (the course) goes to rack and ruin. If that happens, a lot of hard work would be wasted. I think it would be harmful for the country, definitely harmful for golf.’’
"If we can teach the game to the juniors in Rio, then that would be my goal. This is what I want from this. There is no point in just putting a course there and then after the Games it goes to nothing.
"We want to produce a legacy for the juniors. If we can produce a Brazilian junior in 20 years and he becomes a champion then I'll have succeeded.’’
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by Dave Salmon