It was me, my dog, a camera, and a phone: A blog post by Phil Chiverton, Golf Course & Estate Manager
2 January 2019 / Golf /
Having recently celebrated 15 years of golf here at The Grove, it has given me a chance to reflect on my personal journey that started nearly 18 years ago. It has been one hell of a ride! We actually ‘broke ground’ on construction of the golf course in July 2000, but I arrived in the February of 2001, having previously worked at The Buckinghamshire Golf Club and, prior to that, Wentworth. From the beginning it was literally me, my Alsatian dog, a camera and a mobile phone! It was my job to oversee construction and see that the contractor we had appointed built the golf course to the desired specification and it was all undertaken to ‘best practice’ standards. It was a hugely exciting project for me to be involved in. Working with Kyle Phillips, the architect who had also been responsible for the incredible Kingsbarns in Scotland and after The Grove, Yas Links in Abu Dhabi, to name just a few of his projects, was a total pleasure. In the early days the project was all-encompassing. From overseeing the construction, the growing-in period and then the ongoing maintenance prior to opening, it was 24/7 for two years. Whatever was done, it was my job to ensure the very best quality was achieved throughout the construction process so that we were left with a world-class product when the construction team finally left the site. I would work closely with Kyle on the shaping of the golf course, the signing off of the grassing lines, ensuring we all had the finished product we wanted, and all this happened before one single grass seed hit the ground! When I arrived in 2001, holes 13-16 (Charlotte’s Vale) had already been roughly shaped and the green sub-bases were built, but the topsoil was still being stripped on the bottom holes at 3-6 and we were also still doing a lot of clearing and planting. Managing the existing tree stock on site was tricky because the whole site is protected by a tree preservation order so you had to ensure all the trees were not damaged during construction. We also had an archaeologist on site making sure we didn’t upset anything that history had kindly left us. Normal challenges with the great British weather and getting contractors aligned to our vision were all part of the day-to-day back then. The golf course was actually ready for its first paying customers in the autumn of 2002, but we had to wait for the construction of the hotel to be finalised. I recall that we organised a Greenkeeper and Contractor Cup in the August of 2002, a little soft opening with Kyle Philips present, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the first tee, and that was the first golf played at The Grove. Though the golf course at this stage was still in its infancy it was immaculate, despite there being lots of finishing-off going on. In 2003 we still had bunkers to complete, this took another year as we evolved the shaping with the help of one of the experts from Kyle’s design business. We wanted to give our bunkers an olde-worlde design feel and I think we have kept that vision to this day. The design has been a spectacular success. The many slopes around the green complexes, the rolling collars and swales, have become a signature of The Grove. They continue to challenge the maintenance teams due to their steep undulations, but they genuinely make playing golf here very special.
When we welcomed Tiger Woods…
I still can’t believe that on a golf course so young, we welcomed the world’s Top 50 players to compete for the American Express Championship in 2006. It was a major part of our recent history and put us on the global map. To witness Tiger Woods in his prime win on a course that personally means so much to me, was very emotional. The players loved the course and it was so well received all week. Tiger’s three eagles and a birdie on the 9th hole (it was the 18th for the tournament) was quite incredible and he won easily in the end. I stand on the back tee of that hole now and his feats of big-hitting still don’t look achievable today, even with advancements we have all seen in golf club and ball technology. He was just so far ahead of everyone else, it was just incredible to see.
The 2016 British Masters
I had between 70 and 80 staff maintaining the golf course for The British Masters. It was being staged slightly later in the year than the Amex World Golf Championships, and this made preparation far more challenging. We had less daylight in October, more leaves to contend with, morning frosts and more sets of eyes watching the event on television. It was 4am starts for the team all week and late finishes. It was a monumental effort that the spectators didn’t get to see, unless they got up very early!
Quite honestly, the business is thriving. We have no members so every golfer is a pay-and-play visitor. This creates maintenance challenges – there are very few quiet times to get onto the golf course – but the experience is as good as the day it opened, if not better. Our golfers expect The Grove to be pristine. There is this expectation every day, but I’m proud to oversee a course that delivers a world-class test of golf that is fun and enjoyable for our guests.