Six Otago Polytechnic students and their dedicated lecturer are responsible for ensuring 90 bunkers at The Hills golf course are in tip-top shape for the NZPGA Pro-Am Championship.
The group of first-year Sports Turf Management students will be up early and to bed late over the four-day event, which starts on Thursday, as they embrace the opportunity to experience a world-class event, requiring world-class turf management.
Otago Polytechnic sports turf management co-ordinator Gary Smith said the NZPGA presents an opportunity at a whole new level for students used to applying and practising skills on club courses.
"To be setting up for the top level of this sport is amazing for our students. It's very inspiring to work on this scale and be involved with an amazing event.
The championship is the fourth event at The Hills to provide learning and work experience for Otago Polytechnic students, who worked on the three New Zealand Opens held at the course.
"It's a win-win situation," Mr Smith said. "The students get exposure to an environment they can aspire to eventually work in, and The Hills have keen and skilled volunteers who are excited to be involved and are totally dedicated to their work – even if it does mean little sleep."
The Hills general manager Ian Douglas said the contribution of the students was essential to the smooth running of the event.
"The students are invaluable because of the amount of course preparation and maintenance that goes into a world class event. It's great we can offer this opportunity to young and enthusiastic people.
"We've very much enjoyed our relationship with the polytechnic – it's great to see qualified people coming through the course and helpful to know people are being qualified in this area. Our assistant greenkeeper Josh Sinclair is a graduate of the turf management programme."
Last week Mr Smith and his group of students visited The Hills to learn what was expected of them during the NZPGA because, Mr Smith said, there was more to maintaining the bunkers than just raking some sand.
"Obviously no player wants to be in a bunker but if they do, the ball needs to be playable. A golfer could lose a tournament if the bunkers are not managed properly.
"We broom the sides carefully so the ball rolls into the bunkers enabling a playable shot. The bunker has to be level and smooth and all bunkers need to be consistently groomed throughout the entire course and must be well presented."
Mr Smith, who managed golf courses before joining the Otago Polytechnic teaching team nine years ago, said it was satisfying to see students succeed in their chosen area of study.
Otago Polytech has graduates working in event and sports centres around the world, including three world-class golf courses in Melbourne. One of the few females who have completed the programme is managing turf for Scottsdale golf course in Phoenix, Arizona.
"The success of this programme can be measured by the international golf and sports arenas that approach us to source our graduates."
The Southland Times