The Toro Company is playing a key role in helping prepare the course for next week’s 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush in County Antrim, the first time in 68 years that the event will have been held in Northern Ireland.
Preparations for The Open are years in the making and Toro has not only been there every step of the way since the news broke in 2015 that Royal Portrush would be the 2019 host, but for the last 25 years.
Course Manager Graeme Beatt, who joined the club in 2014, said: “The relationship between Royal Portrush and Toro is a quarter of a century old. For us there is no better machinery partner to ensure the optimum conditions for the players as well as the eyes of the sporting world.”
In preparing the course, crews are using Toro’s Flex 2120 pedestrian mowers for the greens, Reelmaster 3550-D and 3555-D mowers on the fairways, approaches and surrounds, Greensmaster 1000 and TriFlex 3400 on the tees, Reelmaster 3100-D with Sidewinder system on semi-roughs and Groundsmaster 4500-D on the roughs.
In addition, the team uses the Greensmaster 3250-D and GR1000 on the practice area and the ProCore 648 for aerating the courses. No fewer than 25 additional Toro machines from Reesink Turfcare, the sole Toro distributor in the United Kingdom for golf and sports fields equipment and irrigation products, have joined the 50-strong Toro fleet already at the club in the run-up to and during the championship.
But it’s not just a successful partnership with Toro machinery, Reesink and Lairds Grass Machinery that ensures the course will be tournament ready, but Toro irrigation too. In 2017, the irrigation system was upgraded to a Lynx central control system and Toro Infinity, Flex and B-Series sprinklers irrigate the rugged links course.
“The location of the club is generally something of a challenge for an irrigation system, especially for the sprinklers,” said Beatt. “It’s quite a feat to deliver accurate spray in our unpredictable, windy and exposed conditions, but this has been no problem for Toro. We’ve been really impressed with the overall performance of the control system and sprinklers, but worthy of note are the B-Series sprinkler heads on the tees. They’ve really been put to the test.”
It’s not just an irrigation system that’s new for The Open. The world-famous Dunluce course has been extended from 6,867 yards to just over 7,300 yards and every hole has had some work in varying degrees, none so much as the 17th and 18th holes which have become the tented village areas and two new holes created at the seventh and eighth.
Over 22 miles of fibre optic cable has been installed with 12 miles of fibre ducts, 2,200 artic lorries-worth of equipment will have been used for the build and de-rig, 24 greenkeeping volunteers have been selected and a record-breaking number of tickets have been sold.
It’s this last fact that’s caused the only hiccup in the journey to being tournament-ready. Beatt said: “No Open Championship has ever sold out and when this one did, and in record time, the decision was made to release a further 15,000 tickets – that means we could have up to 230,000 spectators come through our gates!
“At that point we knew we needed to revisit the already established catering areas and extend them to accommodate this, which involved a lot of extra work. Let’s just say the Toro Workman MDX-D and HDX utility vehicles were really put to the test over this time moving kit around the course and aiding the team in construction work!”
Doug Reid from Reesink, who has worked with Royal Portrush for almost half of its 25-year relationship, said: “Royal Portrush has been nothing but consistent in its machinery purchasing over the years but, as expected, in the last five years things ramped up and some fundamental replacements and changes to the fleet took place.
“The biggest change was the switch from the four-wheel Reelmaster 6700-D to the three-wheel Reelmaster 3550-D for a lighter tread on the fairways. The RM3550-D also happens to be ideal for a links course.
“The way we work with Graeme and the team is a definite partnership, and we’re glad that Toro remains the brand Royal Portrush has relied on for the last 25 years, and for its second Open Championship. Having the right equipment is vital in the preparation and performance for an event such as this, and we have worked closely with Royal Portrush to ensure all the tournament support needed from us is in place.”