Bahrain People & Culture, Features - July 25, 2022

Green, green, grass of golf: Interview with the RGC’s Director of Agronomy

Bahrain Confidential speaks with William Evans, Director of Agronomy, The Royal Golf Club (RGC) about the art of maintaining a golf course.

Agronomy is a branch of agriculture that deals with the science of field crop production and soil management.

Can you tell us about your role as Director of Agronomy (DoA)? How did you end up in this field?

Agriculture and golf were parts of my life growing up in Ireland. My grandfather was a keen golfer and he introduced me to the sport at an early age. I enjoyed the culture and atmosphere that golf created which prompted me to pursue agronomy as a career. I’ve spent 20 years in the field, having worked in the US, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

I currently oversee the maintenance of the golf course along with managing our experienced and loyal team members. My work is primarily based at the golf club, however, I also work on the requirements of clients across the Kingdom for their landscape and CartFleet needs.

Can you briefly share the process behind the planning and construction of golf courses and landscape areas at the RGC?

The golf course is shaped out of the natural landscape of the desert and has been excavated for lakes and irrigation storage. We maintain a complex network of drainage and irrigation infrastructure which are laid out throughout the course. Clean, sterile sand is placed over this network, and finally, the grass is planted and developed to maturity where it is set for play. The process of adding bunkers, creating landscape areas, and filling the lakes are part of the last steps. We utilise native planting for the landscape where possible as it tolerates the harsh climate and requires less water.

What is the most challenging part of your job? What is the most pleasant?

The climate is by far the most challenging aspect of the operations. We use two different grass types – one for the summer and one for winter – to offer our members optimum playing qualities all year round.

The most pleasant is seeing our members visiting regularly and enjoying their leisure time out on the course and in the clubhouse.

The RGC has a beautiful green golf course, how do you manage to maintain its condition in Bahrain’s heat?

In my experience, utilising fertilizers, managing pests, and an optimum usage of water, results in a healthy turf. Having the right agronomy programmes in place reduces stress on the grass and enables the lush green colour all year round. These practices also help balance the effects of climatic changes on the turf.

What steps are you taking to cultivate a more sustainable and environmentally friendly golf course management?

Golf is the most environmentally regulated turf grass maintenance sector worldwide. As the custodian, it is my duty to maintain the golf course in the most sustainable way. RGC has one of the most advanced automated irrigation systems in the region which ensures targeted and lower use of available water. Added to this, we utilise treated water onsite from local developments to create an environmental cycle of low waste and reduce our environmental footprint. The pesticide usage is in line with international regulations. We rely on organic products and a sustainable integrated pest management system.

We use organic fertilizers and are moving closer to a completely organic-based agronomy programme. We are currently undergoing certification for GEO which highlights sustainable approaches to golf. RGC is striving to create natural habitats within the landscape areas for aquatic species (such as fish, ducks, birds), native desert foxes, along with many reptiles and insects.

How do you benchmark your success as DoA at this property?

Our comprehensive Annual Member Satisfaction Survey, as well as our guest experience questionnaires following each visit, provide valuable feedback that help us improve our golfers experience at the course. We hold ourselves true to standards through The 59 Club (mystery shopper) programme, where we achieved a 98% rating – making us the regional leader in agronomy. We also won the top 59 club award in 2018 and 2019 and are recognized as having achieved the gold standard since 2017.

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned throughout the years in this field?

A golf course lives and breathes, and working with something that is so changeable means that each day is different. We can’t compare ourselves to yesterday; we can only look for the opportunities that come tomorrow.

On a personal note, what is your favourite: Movie? Show? Song? Band? Book? Sport? Cuisine? Cocktail? Holiday destination?

My all-time favourite movie is Gladiator and I also enjoy watching Peaky Blinders. I am a big football fan. Italy is my favourite destination to travel to, especially for the cuisine. Coffee is my beverage of choice which I enjoy while reading any kind of autobiography.

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