David Gómez is known by many in the world of golf as ‘the miracle man’ because every year he works wonders with the course the Open de España is being played on. He is the head of the ‘Green Section’, the Real Federación Española de Golf’s committee responsible for course maintenance and consultation at golf clubs in Spain. Having been one of the heroes, together with his amazing team, at the 2018 edition at the Centro Nacional, much is expected of him in 2019, but now he has a couple of aces up his sleeve; more time to prepare and Club de Campo Villa de Madrid, a gem of a course to work with.
P- How is the course looking in the days leading up to the Open de España?
R- The best thing you can say about the course right now is that it has grass, because the fact is that when we came here a year ago for the first time, we knew that we’d have to make a series of significant changes in order to have enough grass on the course when the tournament came round. Historically, the climate in these months is the worst in Madrid, because our grass is ideal for the winter, but in the post-summer months it suffers, although after the changes we made, I’m happy because the greens are very healthy, there is enough grass and all that we have left is definition and cutting to get it ready.
P- One year preparing for the tournament, is that the main difference compared to last year, when it had to be prepared quickly?
R- Exactly, in 2018 we only had seven weeks to get the Centro Nacional ready, and this time we had a whole year. From the moment that we came here last October, we set out a plan of five vital points in order to prepare the course optimally:
- Increase the quality of the water for watering, something that the CCVM has done with complete commitment to sustainability.
- Machinery change; we have brought in specific machines for this type of preparation, they are more manual and allow us to make the course more beautiful.
- An aggressive hollow-tining and sanding programme for the course in order to change the soil profile so that it is better and firmer.
- Support from the personnel; we have used the services of the course employees to fill in for holidays, sickness, etc. That way we always have people working on the Open.
- Between CCVM and our ‘Green Section’ we have also worked on agronomics, with our people involved in the day-to-day on the course in order to be able to carry it forward between all of us.
P- How many people are working to prepare the course as well as possible for the 2019 Open?
R- Club de Campo, right now, has its staff for the two courses and the pitch and putt, and we have added them to part of our team. In total, we’re talking about roughly 30 people, although obviously the CCVM personnel are not working exclusively on the course for the Open, as there are other courses that need looking after.
P- What are the biggest difficulties you have found in the preparation for this tournament?
R- The weather, without a doubt. It has been a very dry year, and that has been a problem, but I have to say that we have passed the test with flying colours thanks to the attitude of the whole team of workers, because they are always open and happy for us to help.
P- What are the benefits of having a fixed venue for five years?
R- For me, it’s a huge benefit because we can plan everything looking to the future. In fact, we’re already thinking of what we are going to do for next year, such as, for example, an improvement plan for the construction of bunkers, continuing to be aggressive with the tining and sanding… Ultimately, this year is not going to be perfect, but we will be getting closer to that perfection and to some extremely high quality standards every year.
P- If you could ask for better weather conditions for these final days in the run up to the tournament, what would they be?
R- Poa and fescue grow at their best and healthiest with an average of 22-23 degrees during the day and 14 at night. And if it’s not too much to ask, a little rain, but not too much, otherwise it’ll destroy my bunkers.
P- When these types of events come around, and there are thousands of pairs of eyes on the course and people talk a lot about you, are you more worried about the general criticism or your own?
R- Mine, without a doubt, and that of my team, because we are highly self-demanding. Personally, I am very demanding on myself, because the department is very committed to taking the Open de España to the top, and failure is not acceptable. In addition, it’s not just the Federación Española now, there are other parties involved such as the Club de Campo and Madrid Trophy Promotion, who have put all of their trust in us, and if we fail them we have let them down. The only thing I hope for is that they are patient and realise that this course is going to grow with time and with the investments that are being made. We are our own critics, such as, for example, last year, when although there was talk of the rough not being up to the standards of the European Tour, the goal was for it to be ‘everyone’s Open, for everyone’, and I believe we achieved that.
P- If you were to speak to the players, what would you tell them to prepare for? What can they expect to find?
R- In this tournament, I think shots into the greens will be key, because these greens are very big, and we’re going to be able to get them very firm and pretty quick. There are very difficult pin positions and this course’s greatest defence are the drop-offs around the greens, which we’re preparing with great care. So, if you don’t find the green with your second shot it’ll be difficult to make par.
P- Arana’s design was very much conceived with ‘risk-reward’ in mind, how do you manage that in the preparation of the course?
R- Exactly, Javier Arana’s designs, also influenced by Colt and Simpson, have ‘risk-reward’ situations on every hole. There are holes where the strategy is very clear, such as 1, 5 and 13, where if you take the risk and it comes off, you will profit greatly from it. We’ve taken great care to maintain that and that’s why I believe that the players will need to have their irons dialled in if they want to win. And the rough is going to be pretty tough, but these guys are very good… Although, if they don’t hit the fairway, I can assure you the shot to the green will get tricky.