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Alejandro Reyes: “One of the solutions involves the genetic development of new grasses” (2/2)

While the drought is raging throughout Europe and the France of golf is hit hard by this catastrophic situation, the rest of our exclusive interview with Alejandro Reyes addresses the present and future challenges in terms of maintenance of the course.

In Italy as in France, the drought is affecting golf courses, which must try to find solutions to this new situation. Starting with the future course of the 2023 Ryder Cup for which Alejandro Reyes is the permanent consultant. The Spaniard details in this second part his vision for the maintenance of increasingly supervised courses.

Where do you live today?

I live in Rome with Lara Arias who works with me at TAS (fortunately!) at the Marco Simone golf course. The course is due to host the next Ryder Cup in 2023. We considered creating a family for a while, but we weighed the pros and cons and decided to devote ourselves entirely to this last challenge. But after the Ryder, make way for children!

But you also have your business as a consultant, so how much time is devoted to Marco Simone?

A third of my time. I live on the golf course, so I am constantly present except for my missions abroad.

The Marco Simone course of the future Ryder Cup 2023 in Rome

The course is already in excellent condition. However, what are the main interventions to be carried out?

Everything that affects adjacent infrastructure such as the driving range. They will be completed in September for the Italian Open. Regarding the course, we still have work to do! If only after the visit of the European captain Henrik Stenson (the interview was carried out before his eviction) who wanted several modifications supposed to make the course even more difficult. (We are still talking about significantly narrowing the fairways, shortening the 18 to have more show and lengthening the tee 11 which is reachable at the drive).

Lara Arias is the real conductor

How is your work different from the National?

My role at Marco Simone is more of a supervisor. I prepare and control the agronomy plan for the maintenance of the course and the organization of major competitions. We are lucky to have Lara Arias on site! She is the real conductor.

Apart from the course, we have the feeling that the infrastructures will not be ready in time. Worried ?

Pff… ah Italy! Everything is done at the last minute here, I learned that the hard way: on the eve of my first Italian Open, they were still repainting the clubhouse! And in the end, everything went very well. Okay, that’s something else… So to tell you the truth, I’m still a little worried but optimistic!

Italy is currently experiencing a terrible drought. How do you apprehend it?

For now, at the Marco Simone, we are not suffering from the drought. But the water is of poor quality. Our lawn tolerates it thanks to our agronomic program, but it could become problematic. In the medium term, we have the project to connect to a recycled water body which is about a hundred meters from the golf course. It will be much better, and we can prepare for any eventuality.

Are the environmental standards as restrictive as in France?

There are differences yes, less constraining perhaps. I would say above all that it is less framed!

secheresse balle Photo by JUSTIN SULLIVAN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

In France, the new environmental standards for 2025 will transform the profession, in particular with zero phyto: what will change?

Many problems will be solved with mechanical input. But today, we are not able to properly maintain the greens without adding phytosanitary products. It is a reality, a great challenge. At the moment, we are inundated with new “bio-control” products without really knowing their effectiveness. You have to try them, dose them, combine them… The other difficulty is the geographical area: a product does not have the same effectiveness in Biarritz as in Hardelot, for example.

The greens will be slower

Regarding the greens, what will they look like?

I don’t know if the greens won’t pitch anymore as they say. What is certain is that they will be slower. We will no longer be able to mow like today because the shorter it is, the more it is weak and subject to external stress. “Slower” doesn’t mean less fun, huh!

Regarding water, shouldn’t southern rangelands subject to drought consider reseeding everything?

Ideally, yes, but it’s a huge cost! And the operation is tricky when it comes to the selection of grasses. There are so many varieties of seeds! Again, geographic context is important. No need to travel miles to notice the difference! Here: we successfully tried a variety of Bermuda grass for the Cannes-Mandelieu Old Course, by the sea. 150 m above sea level! To Hossegor, tests worked very well until the summer of 2021, which was particularly cold and rainy. And wham, all our efforts have been reduced to nothing… Ultimately, the further down the latitude you go, as in Spain, the more certain you are of the result…

Will the first areas of unmaintained fairways be commonplace?

I am not in favor of it: we must also let the average players who can miss a start express themselves. On the other hand, one can narrow the surface of fairways by establishing a zone of small rough. Sometimes we play better on small rough than on the fairways!

Couldn’t departures become synthetic in winter?

Before, golf was a seasonal sport. Today, we play all year round! On very busy golf courses, the grass can no longer grow in winter, especially if there are trees around! The first of the solutions is to increase the surface of the departures. But in extreme cases, I’m not against installing synthetic.

There is a crying lack of personnel in France

What are the strengths and weaknesses of French golf courses in terms of maintenance?

French golf courses have integrated the environmental concept which is increasingly marked. The irrigation water is of good quality and, in general, golfers respect the course. I believe they appreciate the work done by the maintenance teams.
On the other hand, there is a crying lack of personnel and the machine park is not sufficiently maintained. Without it, we would have more very neat courses. Finally, I noticed that the irrigation systems are often outdated and inefficient.

Isn’t the bunker a very French evil?

I don’t know, but the bunker requires constant maintenance and is very labor intensive. If there is a shortage, I prefer that the staff devote themselves to other areas of play. Myself, I recommend doing less, especially on the edges of bunkers.

Is there a Reyes paw?

Oh there! I have never thought about this question… Passionate about agronomy, I favor the conditions of the land for the game of golf and the satisfaction of its customers. Afterwards, if it is aesthetically beautiful, so much the better!

One could also think of the consequent contribution of sand…

Ah, you think I have this image? It is not false: the contribution of sand is important. The sand cleans up the surfaces, especially if they are clayey! I remind you that the various diseases come from an excess of water (90% on a green). We must therefore avoid the stagnation of water in our playing surfaces.

Speaking of sand, that of the beach which runs along the famous links, is never used. Why ?

Well because it’s forbidden!!! And then you have to be careful because this sand can be heavily loaded with sodium (sel). Anyway, the old links have blithely used beach sand for decades and they are magnificent…

reyes bjorn ©DR

On the right Alejandro Reyes with Thomas Björn the captain of the winning Ryder Cup team at Le Golf National in 2018 ©DR

In the United States, the role of superintendent is central. This is not yet the case in France. Don’t you embody this necessary strengthening of the function?

Mmm, the situation is complex… Already everything is a question of semantics, each country has its own terminology. But it is true that the role of superintendent will grow given the importance of the land. I only have an advisory role. I want to be clear: it’s not about taking someone’s place, it’s about having a high view and also giving management advice.

Are we witnessing the appearance of hyper specialization in your profession?

Without a doubt. A superintendent must be trained in different areas: agronomy, management, accounting, mechanics and hydraulics.
Regarding the simple greenkeeper, it’s not really my work philosophy… I like to train teams on several levels of skills whether they are on the greens, the fairways, the bunkers… You have to give work that is not not monotonous.

Is there a machine or product about to revolutionize maintenance?

No not right now. For me, the real solution lies in the genetic development of new grasses adapted to the climate of each latitude.

How do you see courses in 2050?

The gap between the prestigious courses and those of the average will be greater. In terms of price and means implemented. The frame will be even more ecological and with more and more robotic maintenance. We will also have more courses that allow you to play quickly.

And you, in 2050 what will you do?

I don’t see myself anywhere other than on a course! I take great pleasure in my job. I will probably travel less because this is the part that weighs on me the most.

Interview conducted by Sébastien Brochu

Photos : ©Armin Weigel / dpa / AFP & Justin Sullivan Getty Images via AFP

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