Canberra's Nikki Campbell at Royal Canberra. Photo: Stuart Walmsley
Canberra's Nikki Campbell has begun daily reconnaissance of the greens of her home course this week as she attempts to get a head start on the world-class field for next month's Australian Open at Royal Canberra.
And the capital's heatwave has forced Royal Canberra's army of groundstaff to go into overdrive to ensure the course doesn't die off in the countdown to the tournament, from February 14-17.
A Royal Canberra member, Campbell has been stalking the greens every evening this week to brush up on her home-course knowledge.
Campbell, who will play on the European Tour this year after a decade in Japan, finished 12th at last year's Australian Open and was top 10 in her previous two appearances at the tournament.
But the 32-year-old, who finished fifth in last year's Canberra Ladies Classic at Royal Canberra, said she hadn't been entirely happy with results at home.
The Australian Open, now an American LPGA event, has attracted a top field headed by World No.1 Yani Tseng, player of 2012 Stacy Lewis and Australian legend Karrie Webb.
''I love Royal Canberra, but it's not a course I've done well on so that's still a challenge for me,'' said Campbell, who will play the Australian Masters and NZ Open in the lead-up to the Australian Open. ''I'm trying to get out on the course as much as I can. During the year I don't get to play too many rounds here so I'm just trying to familiarise myself with the course again. I've been going out later in the evenings with my dad, when the course is quieter, and just chipping around all the greens to try to learn as much as I can about them all.
''The course has been quite wet so you don't get a lot of run, but it's only because it's been so hot and dry that they're trying to protect the course. They tell me it's going to be a lot drier and firmer come the tournament.''
Course superintendent Michael Waring admitted groundstaff were fighting a 24-7 battle to protect the course from the current heatwave, which has burnt some patches on the fairways.
Planning for course preparation began six months ago and greenkeeping staff has been increased to 26, with more volunteers to come from courses around Australia in the coming weeks.
''This year's been a nightmare with the heat,'' said Waring, who lives on the course. ''We're a cool-system course so long periods of heat really stress this place out. We put a lot of extra work into keeping the moisture up and we've kept the course as damp as we possibly could. The greens and surrounds are holding up really, really well, but we're getting a few burn patches on the fairways due to stress and heat and we've got a bit of repair work to do.
''Over 27 holes here we've got 45 hectares of irrigated turf and it's all cool-season [grass] so in the heat of summer it's a tough job. We've got guys that have done a lot of hours, it's pretty full-on.
''There's a fair bit on your plate, you've got the world watching this and we want it to look as best as it possibly can. This is the toughest time of year to have a tournament.''
Australian Open director Trevor Herden gave the course the tick of approval on Thursday, saying: ''This golf course has always presented immaculately.''
The 18-hole championship course will be extended to about 6100 metres for the Australian Open, some 400 metres longer than for last year's Canberra Ladies Classic. But Herden said the quality of the field demanded the change.
''The biggest change will be the length, but these are global players on a global tour, the best in the world, so they'll handle it,'' he said. ''They won't blow this course away. I'd see these leaders going between nine and 14 under. That's fine.''