My Experience at the Amundi Evian Championship

Bianca Mignon Pronk – Sustainability and Environmental Officer, Kristianstads GolfKlub & Destination

There is something magical about rising before the sun, taking in the fresh cool air, feeling it touch and dance about your skin, and knowing this is a new day with new opportunities and challenges. This is the feeling I get as I watch the sunrise while mowing the greens and watching out over Lac Léman. It just feels surreal, and this is when I realize how blessed I am to be in this industry.

Two weeks prior to the Amundi Evian Championship, my journey to Evian began, bags packed and safety shoes in hand I was more than ready and eager to jet off and volunteer at this prestigious event. Monday could not have come sooner, we were collected from our accommodation and taken to the golf course, where we were greeted with splendorous views of Lac Léman and the golf course itself, overlooking this great lake from on top of massive rolling lush green hills.

The day started with us meeting the exceptional green team of Evian Golf Club, where we were then each teamed up with one of these remarkable greenkeepers. I was among the lucky few who got teamed with an exceptional greenkeeper, Laura Guyard, whom I would single-cut greens with amongst other things. Laura taught me so much, the dedication and passion she puts into her work and what she does on the golf course shines through, and you cannot miss it. She is one of the most inspirational greenkeepers I have been lucky to have met and worked alongside.

The day would end, but I just didn’t want to leave this magnificent golf course. The next day and the days that followed were always welcomed with open arms, and I was awaiting the new challenges and learning surprises that awaited me, which were a few.

Each day we greeted the rising sun with a quick morning meeting and a lovely warm cup of coffee before setting out to do our morning jobs, which was single cutting the greens for me. There were four greens teams that consisted of 2 people each of whom cut the greens. After the greens were cut for the day, we would wash our machines and prepare for the next job of the day which varied from day to day. Alongside our Evian Greenkeeper mentor, we would tackle these jobs together. These jobs for me varied from repairing turf on greens, fairways, approaches, semi-rough, and lastly also in the rough, to divoting, and hand watering. We would take turf cores from various turf nurseries they have on site. They have a turf nursery for greens, fairways and semi-rough, turf for the rough was taken from another viable place that was out of play.

Repairing the turf on the greens, approaches, and fairways we used different techniques and a special green turf filler. This was a rather fun and interesting process which I thoroughly enjoyed. The temperature was that of paradise for me, but maybe a little more stressful for the grass and golf course, so we needed to give them some water to make sure they are sufficiently hydrated and ready to perform during the championship, showing off their beauty on camera. This was done by hand watering those areas that needed that little boost. As in showbiz, we all need a little bit of concealer here and there just to hide those little imperfections. Some afternoons were spent filling up these little divots with this special green turf filler just to give that extra boost of confidence for the golf course.

As the time to the championships grew nearer and nearer, we started to take care of all the little, tiny details, to ensure we provide the best course for the best professional lady golfers that would compete in the championship. Finally, it was show time.

During the last volunteer week, the week of the championships, we started working a little earlier. We set out in the dark, with headlights shining, ready to give our best and deliver perfect lasers on the greens. This was however not always the easiest task, as we were surrounded with darkness and just our lamps and morning dew to guide us. No matter what, we love a challenge, which is normal on the golf course, and of course, we conquered it. After cutting the greens in the morning, we would go back home, to rest and or explore, as we were off until 18:00, after which we would head back to the course and jump back on the job and go mow the greens. Yet again, another challenge arose for us on the greens, with the sun beaming down on the greens, the lines were almost invisible. However, after the third or fourth line was cut, it became easier, and we carried on.

During the championship, I had the opportunity to meet with Linn Grant, a Swedish professional golfer, which was arranged through Pelle Kruger, from Creekhouse. She was kind enough to take time out of her training to have a chat with us and take a few pictures. It was so interesting and amazing talking to her, asking her a few questions, and getting her insight into greenkeeping. She mentioned that she has so much respect for us, waking up at the crack of dawn and preparing the golf course for them to play on. She finds it an absolute pleasure to go out and play on the golf course that we work so hard on, and she can see in our work how much we enjoy it. I also asked her how she got into golfing as a profession, and she says it was thanks to her dad. Her dad played in college, and later played as an amateur in Sweden. She always loved joining her dad when he went out to practice, and that’s when she started competing and fell in love with the sport, and now she competes as a professional golfer.

Sunday, the day of departure, my heart sank into my shoes, knowing I had to leave this beautiful golf course, the fantastic team, and the friends I had made. I cleaned my machine for the last time, greeted everyone, and got on the shuttle to go back home. The experience and memories I had made will stay with me forever. I still look back at what I have learned during my two weeks at Evian and implement it at our home golf course, Kristianstads Golf Bana (KGK).

This unique experience would never be possible without the help of some very special people. Without the help from FEGGA and AB Kristianstads Golf Bana, I would not have been where I am today.  FEGGA has a 6-month scholarship program which is hosted by KGK. The scholarship is managed and organised by two remarkable individuals, namely Mr. Dean Cleaver, CEO of FEGGA, and Mr. Bevan Tattersall, the Course Manager at KGK. This scholarship allows the opportunity for all European greenkeepers to further their careers, help them take the next step, and gain valuable knowledge and hands-on experience.

I enrolled for the scholarship in 2022, and throughout my time at KGK on the scholarship, I learned so many valuable things about greenkeeping, course management, and self-development. As students we all had different projects that we had to do, mine was sustainable water management on the East Course. This was right up my alley as I have studied Conservation Ecology and have a passion for conserving the natural environment and using our natural resources sustainably. Bevan clearly started to see I had another perspective on greenkeeping and golf course management, an environmental perspective. Bevan took the next step and offered me a full-time position within his amazing team, as he saw the potential of having an environmental professional on the golf course. Since the start of 2023, I have been fully employed as the Sustainability and Environmental Manager here at KGK.  There isn’t a day that goes by, that I am not grateful for this wonderful opportunity. My goal and main focus are to drive sustainability, biodiversity ecology, and conservation on golf courses, which is already in play.

Being at Evian, I noticed different environmental aspects they had on and around the course, such as insect hotels, composting, and the fact that they have their own turf nurseries. It is incredible to see how many golf courses are embracing environmental management into their daily golf course management regime. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to go to Evian and share some of my ideas and get some different ideas I could use on my home golf course.

My life literally changed after becoming a greenkeeper, I am so blessed to be in the industry and am proud to call myself a greenkeeper. Greenkeeping does not stop with cutting grass, it opens a world of opportunities, and for me it has led me to being able to volunteer at the Amundi Evian Championship, meet great people, learn new skills, and promote golf courses as a biodiversity sink.