Date: November 22, 2013
Author: Martin Blake

The man charged with preparing Royal Sydney

Steve Marsden sits in his office at Royal Sydney, staring out the window at &apos&aposanother rain front coming in&apos&apos, and ponders one of the biggest weeks of his working life. Marsden, 46, is the superintendent of Royal Sydney and having crossed from the magnificent Cape Kidnappers course in his native New Zealand in the past 12 months, is about to make his debut as the preparer of a course for a national championship, the Emirates Australian Open starting next week. It&aposs a pressure job, to be sure. If something goes wrong with the course, it&aposs on his head, and things can go wrong, such as at the 2002 Open, when the greens at Victoria GC were brought to the point of being declared unplayable in fine weather. But Marsden is a thorough professional who has worked in the industry for several decades from Lakeland to Palm Meadows to the London Golf Club, and he has a reputation as one of the best. “It (the pressure) is not lost on us,&apos&apos he says. “I know other superintendents who&aposve been through major events, there&aposs always an element of that. The key thing for us is getting timing right with the work that we&aposve done and the things we&aposd like to have achieved by the time the tournament is on. “Our expectations are generally higher than anyone else&aposs and we generally think if we can fulfill our own expectations, then others will be suitably impressed. But yes, there&aposs an element of pressure but that goes with any role. You take the pat on the back when it comes, but you take the kick in the pants when that happens as well.&apos&apos Marsden has worked as a superintendent around the world, and loved his time at Kidnappers, which he describes as “a very special place, but the polar opposite of here&apos&apos. At Royal Sydney he is in charge of &apos&aposa little oasis&apos&apos not so far from the city, originally a links course that has gradually morphed into a parkland course over more than a century. Headhunted by RSGC as a replacement for the legendary John Odell, Marsden has had a hectic few months with his 40 staff, which includes 22 volunteers brought in for the Open preparation. One of his biggest changes is to have bunker mats placed in 76 greenside traps, aimed at reducing the number of plugged lies. “We&aposre pleased with them,&apos&apos he says. “Because the site is on a dune system, the sand is very fine and it&aposs rounded in shape. It doesn&apost tack well and when the winds blow through we can lose a lot of sand very quickly. Over time the wind has made the bunkers quite deep and what we&aposve sought to do, particularly with the greenside bunkers where the ball is coming in high, is to be more receptive to the golf ball and make them more playable, primarily for the members. The Open focussed our efforts to complete them before the tournament. “It&aposll be an ongoing thing. The sand will still blow, but that matting we&aposve installed will provide less chance for balls plugging in bunker faces. All our major project work was completed a couple of weeks ago so we&aposre at a point where we are fine tuning. Our horticulture team has been very busy and the guys looking after the course are very busy. We&aposre pleased at this point in time. “It&aposs been very dry leading up so probably the only thing we don&apost have is rough of any sort. It&aposs what we&aposre lacking so hopefully the rain and some recent fertiliser applications will help. We would have liked more length and density, although as one of the members did point out, and it&aposs a good point, that if there&aposs not a lot of rough the ball&aposs more likely to roll into the trees.&apos&apos The pristine Santa Ana couch fairways will be cut at 11mm length for Open week. Golf Australia&aposs tournament director Trevor Herden has asked for the greens to be running at 11 on the stimp meter early next week. “It&aposs not a bad place to be at the beginning of the week. We can ramp those up quite quickly depending on the weather at the time. It&aposs a nice balance for Trevor going into the week. We don&apost&apos want anyone to look silly, so it&aposs making sure the event&aposs a success not only for Royal Sydney but for Golf Australia and for wider golf.&apos&apos As superintendent, Marsden is sometimes referred to around Royal Sydney as “the custodian of the links&apos&apos, an expression that came into vogue during Odell&aposs long tenure, and one that Marsden takes quite seriously. “There&aposs something special about it being here. The club has a long history with the Open, 14 Australian Opens which I think makes it only second to The Australian in terms of hosting national championships, so it&aposs nice that the history continues and the club celebrated its 120th year this year. It&aposs nice to have it in what&aposs been a big year for the club. “I think John certainly felt the responsibility with the property, managing a property that has a long history. He was conscious of that and I think that&aposs where it came from and I think he&aposs spot-on. You are very much a custodian, you&aposre looking after it through your tenure and you&aposll hand it off to someone else one day, and you hope that the decisions you make going forward are decisions that put the club in good stead. “You know what? I think most superintendents feel the same way. We&aposre very much carers of some significant open space, green space, we want to manage it well environmentally, we want to do the right thing by the land, we want to do the right thing by the clubs that we&aposre part of. I think we are custodians of the land. Superintendents, yes? But we make decisions that effect a large piece of the landscape in a very built up environment like we have here in Rose Bay.&apos&apos