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The Royal Treatment

Posted on February 15, 2008 at 4:00 PM

For the 2007 Walker Cup Matches, Royal County Down Course Manager, Alan Strachan gave his course the Royal Treatment.

Rated by Golf Digest as the ‘number one golf course outside the USA’, Royal County Down, one of Ireland’s oldest golf clubs, was originally built in 1889 and designed by Old Tom Morris.

In 2007 all eyes were on the Championship Links course when it hosted the prestigious Walker Cup Matches.

Only the best venues in golf have ever had the privilege of hosting The Walker Cup matches. The Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, at last, joined a venerable list of host clubs when its membership welcomed senior representatives of The R&A and The USGA, the teams and supporters for the 41st contest between The United States and Great Britain & Ireland.

The Walker Cup Match began in the wake of World War I with a view toward stimulating golf interest on both sides of the Atlantic.

At the time, British and American amateurs considered each nation's national amateur championship a great plum. Because of this, the USGA Executive Committee had been invited to Great Britain for a series of meetings with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews Rules Committee. The meeting was to look at the advisability of modifying various rules of the game. Among the participants was George Herbert Walker, USGA President in 1920.

Upon the Executive Committee's return to the United States, international team matches were discussed. The idea so appealed to Walker that he soon presented a plan and offered to donate a trophy. Mr. Walker had been a low handicap player and was a keen advocate of the game. When the press dubbed the trophy the Walker Cup, the name stuck.

Early in 1922, the R & A announced that it would send a team to compete for the Walker Cup at the National Golf Links of America, Mr. Walker's home club, in Southampton, N.Y.

Originally, the competition was open to any country that might care to challenge. The USGA invited all countries to compete. Except for Great Britain, however, no other country was able to accept.

Top results

Learning a great deal from this experience, Alan Strachan, said: “The event could not have gone better and the TV commentators were raving about the course. Feedback was first-class.”

Bernhard and Company was lucky enough to join in on this special event through our tournament support endeavours. Having used Express Dual and Anglemaster 3000 grinders since 2002, Alan made us feel like a part of his team.

“I cannot speak highly enough of the support we received from Bernhard, it was brilliant,” says Strachan.

“Their technician had his eye on the ball all the time and ensured the cutting units were kept at a consistently high standard. He was completely focused on sharpening and setting up the machines to provide a superb quality of cut. This took a lot of pressure off our mechanic, which really made such a difference.”

A stipulation for the Walker Cup was that the fairways were all cut in one direction, to narrow the target line for the golfers. With an eye for detail, the mechanic was freed up to constantly monitor quality of cut with a macroscope and check height of cut every day using a prism gauge.

Great course conditions

Situated in Newcastle, where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea, Royal County Down - boasting tradition, beauty and variety - is a fine test of golf.

Amendments to the course include those carried out by Harry Colt in 1927, when two of Royal County Down’s most famous holes were created, the 4th and 9th. In 2003 a new short 319 yard 16th hole was built, featuring an elevated green guarded with plenty of deep bunkers. For the Walker Cup the golf club created some new teeing areas and pathways, to accommodate the large number of spectators.

A unique feature of the course is the bunkers, which are very wild and natural, edged with heather, marram grass and fescues. Strachan said: “We never cut them and they are a hazard, just as a bunker should be.”

With 900 members, Strachan and his team of 13 are responsible for looking after 36 holes. Following a highly successful 2007, he says: “Members are benefitting from tournament conditions all the time.

“The way we present the course now is not different, but we have increased the frequency of our cutting management. Great conditions here are achieved through low nutrition and aeration, equally matched by the high presentation standards.”

Strachan was a bit sad to see us go, he even asked us to stick around after the grandstands and tents had come up.

“There was a lot of nuts and bolts under those tents and stands”, he said. “We would love to have you back when all that hardware comes out!”