The Open: They call him ‘Robert Smith of the links’ – and it’s his job to get Royal St George’s ready


He is more likely to be mistaken for a rock star than a greenkeeper, but Paul Larsen is leading the team that will deliver the Open this month. Steve Carroll met him

With his big hair, drainpipe trousers and Converse shoes, Paul Larsen is as far away from the stereotype of a greenkeeper as you can imagine.

While you might think about our turf magicians caked in mud, in huge overalls, and at the helm of a mower, Larsen’s as likely to be shifting around the links in a pair of shades and a trendy jacket.

As head greenkeeper at Royal St George’s, he leads the team at one of Britain’s most prestigious clubs, and which will welcome the Open for the 15th time in July.

So we caught up with him ahead of the final major of the season to ask him about his unique style, his passion for the turf, and why he fits right in with the members in this corner of Kent…

You describe yourself on social media as the ‘Robert Smith of the links’. Where did that come from?

I’m a bit of a Cure man. I’ve been inspired by him over the years. People think you should be inspired by turf people, but he’s always done things his own way and he’s had to be a bit stubborn. He’s got to where he has by sticking to his beliefs.

It’s not just the fashion, and even though I love all the music and the rest of it, there’s more to it. It’s a little bit unusual but that’s my style. It’s just me. I’ve probably seen the band 20 or 30 times. 

What is it about their music that inspires you?

I was a bit of a goth in the day and I think I must have been a bit confused between golf and goth! 

I was leaning towards the dark side and I think that’s why I always have my shades on because I hate bright lights.

I like that individual, alternative music where you just do your own thing. I like the way he sounds and what he sings about. 

Even though they are my band, I like all sorts of different, dark, gothy and alternative bands. Sometimes I even like the pop stuff. It just depends what it is. 

The Cure probably sing to me more. 

There’s something about them, that reaches out, that I like.

Was a music career ever an option for you?

I was in a band many years ago, but I was a terrible bass player. That’s probably why I went back into greenkeeping. 

How did you become a greenkeeper?

When I left school, I was a groundsman for a few years. Then I left to become a postman. That was one of my favourite jobs. 

I’ve done everything. I worked for a solicitor and all sorts. I only got into greenkeeping in my mid 30s because I played golf. I’ve always been a golfer and I decided I fancied working outdoors again. 

I was looking at landscaping and ended up working for Sene Valley, which is the club where I play. Blimey, it’s led to all of this.

Now you’re the head greenkeeper of one of England’s treasured golf courses and are leading the team preparing the course for the sport’s biggest event…

Twenty years ago I would have said, ‘No way!’ It doesn’t matter what golf course I’m at, I put my heart and soul into it.

I worked here as an assistant many years ago, went to the Netherlands for four years, and came back. 

It wasn’t the gameplan to come back and be head greenkeeper, but I had grown up in Kent so this was always our favourite golf course. 

It was the course you aspired to. 

I played Prince’s a lot and would look over the fence and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to play St George’s?’ 

Lo and behold, here I am in charge of the golf course.

You’re as well known for the things you wear as what you do on the course. Pictures of your Converse shoes are never far away on social media…

I’ve always worn them and they’ve just become a part of me now.

I even wore them for the Open presentation in 2011. Will they let me wear them this time? I’ll have to beg for them, won’t I? 

I need to get Converse to sponsor me one day. 

There’s the hair too…

I’ve always been a hair person. I’ve had all sorts of haircuts, colours, and God knows what.

What do the members at Royal St George’s think?

Do you know what? The majority of members are quite individual. 

They’ve got their own eccentric dress sense as well. I think I just fit in with them, in a bizarre way. 

They’ve all grown accustomed to it and just got used to it. As long as their golf course is nice, I don’t think they care what I wear.

In a sport that’s renowned for being rigid – dress codes and all that – is it important to be an individual?

My team seem like they are a reflection of me as well. I call them the Galacticos because they are all individuals. 

I’ve got guys that went to public school, ex-rugby players, about three ex-professional golfers. 

Every single one of them is a character. We’re a blend. I’ve been to lots of places and I’ve never seen a team that has this number of individuals in them. 

I think it must be that I like people around me to be a little bit different. We all gel and that’s what it’s all about at the end. 

I want to enjoy coming to work and I always say to the guys that I don’t need the TV on because they’re a bunch of comedians. 

They just make me laugh all the time.

Keep up to speed with how Royal St George’s is progressing by following Paul on Twitter.

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