With the 2023 Ryder Cup about to kick off at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club near Rome, Italy, GCA spoke with course superintendent Lara Arias. She explains how her team has prepared for the matches and what she has learned from her time at another Ryder Cup host course.
Arias is no stranger to preparing for a Ryder Cup. She took on the role of superintendent at Marco Simone with a successful stint at Le Golf National in Paris, France, already under her belt.
How are you feeling as the Ryder Cup approaches?
So very excited! The golf course has been closed for a while so we can work on it without players. We’re all feeling the pressure as it’s the home stretch of the project. We cannot make mistakes in this time, so it is very important to talk with the team to make sure everyone understands the level of attention to detail a Ryder Cup course demands.
It’s amazing to think back to 2020 when Alejandro [Reyes, Lara’s agronomist husband] and I arrived here with architect Dave Sampson with the golf course under full renovation. We have seen this golf course from the beginning all the way through to now, with the Ryder Cup getting ever closer. It is a very emotional time.
What aspects of the golf course design do you like the most?
The greens. Definitely the greens. I love the design of them and the undulations. However, we must be very careful with their speed as they can go very, very fast.
I love eight and nine and how Dave designed these two holes together. I like the creek that is in the middle and the fact that all the rainwater goes into the irrigation lake that is between these two holes. The position of bunkers on nine are great and the original trees that Dave has incorporated behind the green as a backdrop are amazing. The eighth is a favourite because it was the last hole we seeded, which probably makes it a bit more special.
How has your experience at Le Golf National helped you prepare? Are there any notable differences in your approach now?
It was a great experience. It was different as the renovation they did was six years before they hosted the Ryder Cup and they had hosted the French Open six times. At Marco Simone, we did the full renovation and have hosted three Italian Opens since.
The experience of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National has helped me a lot, to understand what it means to host the competition. It is super important for a superintendent to understand what goes on inside the ropes and outside, and what a Ryder Cup-level means and what is expected.
I am very proud to be the golf course superintendent of a Ryder Cup course – but it is very important to understand the full project and how to collaborate with everyone at the Ryder Cup because there are contractors everywhere working to build up all the hospitality areas and grandstands, and you must work together. For example, when building the new grandstand at the first hole, they needed to ask me where sprinkler heads were, so organisation was very important. This is before the event, but we also need to collaborate during the Ryder Cup, especially with 45,000 spectators arriving.
When I was working at Le Golf National, we learned how important it was to have the team outside the golf course before all the spectators arrived. In other tournaments it is not a problem; if you have 2,000 spectators, you can have the team on the golf course, and it will be fine. But for a Ryder Cup, no way. You need to be organised and that’s why we have more volunteers and more machinery to make the setup faster and to go out on the golf course as quickly as possible.
What were the most important lessons you learned from the three Italian Opens?
First, the setup of the golf course – this is more for the tournament director to understand the pin positions and what works for the players.
The second, is that our greenkeeping team is young and we felt the benefit of these experiences. Around 80 per cent of the team in 2020 had not worked on a golf course before. They learned about grow-in, daily setup and how to set up a course for a tournament. I saw a huge difference between the Italian Open in 2021 and 2023, relating to how the team moves around the golf course.
Around 75 per cent of the volunteers that we have for the Ryder Cup worked on the Italian Opens, so that makes my life easier because everyone already knows the golf course and the way we work – that is amazing. Imagine Ryder Cup week with 100 volunteers and they don’t know the golf course or how we work – that would be very stressful!
Third, is for the agronomists to understand the areas that we need to improve so we can prepare the golf course to the highest level. We list them and then address them to make sure the Ryder Cup is going to be perfect.
How is your team shaping up as the matches approach?
We had a meeting last week and they are all very excited because they understand how huge an event this is going to be. This is not like an Italian Open where we had 2,000 spectators, this is going to be 45,000! And everyone is going to be watching on TV. It was really good to have a meeting with all of them to share more information regarding uniform, greenkeeping, volunteers, how we are going to organise the event and so much more.
A lot of the team have been here since the golf course was under renovation; imagine how special it has been for them to see the grow-in of the golf course and now with all the spectators, all the grandstands and hospitality areas on television. It is amazing for them!