I first heard of Greg Evans when I started Club Inc back in 2011 as he was creating waves in the greenkeeping industry commenting on green speeds and heights of cuts for greens. I got the feeling that not everyone in the industry was in agreement.
So, I was intrigued when I heard that Greg was consulting for my home course Sunningdale Heath and for some top 100 courses and decided to reach out to him to see if he would take “the Round with Niall Challenge” and learn more about his ideas and thoughts on agronomy.
We decided to play at Sunningdale Heath on the first day of the Ryder Cup. Greg plays off 1 and I took the full 8 shots allowed. Greg had joined Ealing golf club as a junior member when he was 15 and had got down to plus 2 competing at the highest level of amateur golf with his biggest nemesis being Lee Westwood. When Lee turned professional, he thought he would pick up a few trophies but along came Justin Rose and he realised that maybe he wasn’t going to make a living from playing golf after all.
To fund his amateur career, he worked on the green staff at Ealing and the club had supported him by helping with expenses. Peter McEvoy a winning Walker Cup Captain and influential in the amateur game had designed Northwick Park which was based around some of the top par 3 holes in the world of golf including the Postage Stamp at Troon and the famous 12th & 16th holes at Augusta. McEvoy asked Greg if he would like to work for him looking after the course and he jumped at the chance.
Greg had no formal training apart from what he picked up when working at Ealing but with hard work, a thirst for knowledge and a well-constructed course Greg grew in Northwick Park and produced beautiful playing surfaces between 2003 – 2006 gaining the certification of master greenkeeper along the way.
The position of head greenkeeper at his home course came up in 2006 and he was approached to see if he would like to take on the role. Having come from a newly constructed well-drained course with USGA greens Ealing was a whole different project being thick clay and having been built in 1898. Greg relished the challenge which would not have been easy as it was still his home course where to this day, he plays every Saturday with the boys!
Greg was hitting his irons really solidly and surprisingly this was the first time that he had ever played the course even though he had walked it so many times before. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the course was in lovely condition despite the drainage project just being completed. His short game was exceptional and even though I was playing well I found myself 3 down at the turn.
Greg still consults at Ealing but felt he couldn’t remain there full time as his comments and more importantly his results in producing fine playing surfaces had raised his profile and reputation with many clubs asking him to consult for them. In 2015 he decided that he would consult full time and now has over 40 courses on his books mainly in and around the M25.
I asked Greg who asks him to come and help a club with their course was it the course manager or the Board/owners. He told me that it was in the majority of cases the board which at first was difficult as some of the old school course managers did not take kindly to his advice and methods. With younger course managers now coming to the fore who have a more scientific background, things have become easier.
At Sunningdale Heath, the owners took on a number of challenges which Greg who visits twice a month is getting to grips with. Firstly, the club needed new machinery, secondly, they needed to build a new maintenance facility which is just being finished along with the drainage programme. Finally, and probably most importantly the course needs a new irrigation system none of which is cheap but as a member, I am delighted to see the investment being put into the course.
I won the 11th and narrowly missed a putt on the 12th to get in striking distance of Greg but after that a couple of wayward shots and a master class in iron play and putting Greg thrashed me 8 up shooting 60 on his first time of playing the course and now heads the Leader Board for “The Round with Niall Challenge”
I really enjoyed chatting through how Greg splits his time and how he has been successful in working with managers, owners and committees to improve their course presentation especially now that golf is becoming ever more popular. It was also nice to highlight some of the areas that I felt could be improved at the Heath which is not easy when you have no irrigation and only 4 members of staff who have to hand-water the greens and approaches on top of everything else they have to do.
We looked at some areas where the greens could expand too once irrigation is installed. It will allow the cut lines to be more defined and benefit both the low and high handicappers who enjoy playing the course.
After the round, we enjoyed a beer and writing this on Monday after the American’s thrashed the Europeans in the Ryder Cup I can feel every sympathy for the European team. That said we live to fight another day and are delighted that we have Greg overseeing the agronomy programme at the club and look forward to seeing the grass whisperer work his magic in the next few months and years to come!
Until next time