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Ryder Cup rarity: Superintendent Lara Arias embraces role as trailblazer at Marco Simone

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Lara Arias, golf course superintendent at Marco Simone, poses for a photo with her Australian Shepard "Ryder" during an interview with the Associated Press. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Lara Arias, golf course superintendent at Marco Simone, poses for a photo with her Australian Shepard "Ryder" during an interview with the Associated Press. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)



    Written by Associated Press

    GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy -- When Lara Arias started her job as course superintendent at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club outside Rome that will host the Ryder Cup next week, there was hardly any grass to manicure, no bunkers to rake and nary a green to shape.

    That’s because the entire course was practically one big pile of dirt.

    It was June 2020, in the middle of a heat wave, and Marco Simone was undergoing an 11 million euro ($12 million) redesign project that meant there were more bulldozers than lawnmowers on the hilly layout.

    Making matters more complicated was that Italy was still struggling to regain its footing after becoming the first Western nation to be slammed by the coronavirus pandemic. A month after Arias’ arrival, the Ryder Cup would be postponed from 2022 to 2023 -- adding another full year to her job.

    Arias, a rare female superintendent in a male-dominated industry, was undeterred, though. As soon as the restyling was completed and the grass was planted, she got down to business with the growing process and had the full course opened by December 2020.



    “Those first six months were really hard work,” Arias said.

    Now, after hosting three Italian Opens, Marco Simone is in perfect shape for golf’s biggest team event, and Arias, a 33-year-old Spaniard, has become a trailblazer for women in the industry.

    Superintendents are responsible for a golf course's maintenance, management, budget and safety.

    “It’s an honor and it’s a huge responsibility,” Arias said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “I saw this golf course from zero. … We don’t prepare the Ryder Cup in only one week. It’s been three years and I’m very proud of the team."

    Arias is also proud of breaking a gender barrier.

    Women account for only 2% of the superintendents registered with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.

    In Europe, there are a number of female superintendents in Scandinavia, “in particular Finland and Sweden,” as well as Spain, according to Dean Cleaver, the executive officer of the Federation of European Golf Greenkeepers Associations.

    “I know that there’s been an impact in the world of greenkeeping,” Arias said. “I hope it causes a lot of golf clubs that still have doubts about hiring a female superintendent to step back and reflect. I know a lot of other really great women who can do this job.”

    Marco Simone will become the third venue in continental Europe to host the Ryder Cup after Valderrama in Spain in 1997 and Le Golf National outside Paris in 2018.


    Experienced players can shorten the dogleg by playing the driver on the bunker located in the left corner of the fairway and then attack the well-protected green with a short iron. Less experienced players can instead play it safe with a driver on the right path but then will need a long iron to reach the green.

    Experienced players can shorten the dogleg by playing the driver on the bunker located in the left corner of the fairway and then attack the well-protected green with a short iron. Less experienced players can instead play it safe with a driver on the right path but then will need a long iron to reach the green.

    Experienced golfers can play over the bunker with a good driver. To reach the green you then need a medium iron.
For those who choose the safest line on the right side of the fairway, it is better to use a long iron for the second shot, paying attention to the bunker positioned 40 meters before the green.

    Experienced golfers can play over the bunker with a good driver. To reach the green you then need a medium iron. For those who choose the safest line on the right side of the fairway, it is better to use a long iron for the second shot, paying attention to the bunker positioned 40 meters before the green.

    Strong players can try to cut the right corner of the dogleg, paying attention to the rough, and reach the green with a shorter iron. Those who choose the centre of the fairway will have a long second shot to reach the green which is well protected on the front left side by two bunkers.

    Strong players can try to cut the right corner of the dogleg, paying attention to the rough, and reach the green with a shorter iron. Those who choose the centre of the fairway will have a long second shot to reach the green which is well protected on the front left side by two bunkers.

    The first par 3 of the golf course. The green can be easily reached with a short iron. Pay particular attention to the green which is well protected by two difficult bunkers on the right side.

    The first par 3 of the golf course. The green can be easily reached with a short iron. Pay particular attention to the green which is well protected by two difficult bunkers on the right side.

    If the golfer decides to play the driver off the tee, they must keep to the right side of the fairway, while if choosing to play in front of the water hazard, they must then use a medium iron to reach the green. Be careful of steep slopes on the green.

    If the golfer decides to play the driver off the tee, they must keep to the right side of the fairway, while if choosing to play in front of the water hazard, they must then use a medium iron to reach the green. Be careful of steep slopes on the green.

    The kidney-shaped putting green leaning to the right is challenging. The position of the flag is a fundamental and may change the way to play the hole. With a short flag a medium iron is enough, while with the flag at the far end of the green, a long, precise iron will be necessary to stay on the putting surface. The green is difficult especially if you putt from a distance.

    The kidney-shaped putting green leaning to the right is challenging. The position of the flag is a fundamental and may change the way to play the hole. With a short flag a medium iron is enough, while with the flag at the far end of the green, a long, precise iron will be necessary to stay on the putting surface. The green is difficult especially if you putt from a distance.

    Experienced players may play on the right side over the bunker and then attack the green with a short iron, paying attention to the deep bunker positioned in the centre. Players which play a shorter distance will have greater difficulty in reaching the green at the top of the hill with a second shot.

    Experienced players may play on the right side over the bunker and then attack the green with a short iron, paying attention to the deep bunker positioned in the centre. Players which play a shorter distance will have greater difficulty in reaching the green at the top of the hill with a second shot.

    The most experienced players can approach the shore of the water hazard with the driver and then decide to cross the lake, reaching the green with a long iron. Those who choose to get around the obstacle must keep to the right side of the fairway, then can lay up with a medium iron and reach the green with a short shot. The kidney-shaped green extends around the water hazard with an inclined surface, especially in the furthest part.

    The most experienced players can approach the shore of the water hazard with the driver and then decide to cross the lake, reaching the green with a long iron. Those who choose to get around the obstacle must keep to the right side of the fairway, then can lay up with a medium iron and reach the green with a short shot. The kidney-shaped green extends around the water hazard with an inclined surface, especially in the furthest part.

    When playing the driver, you should pay attention to the second bunker on the right side that is easily accessible. After a simple second shot, a short iron remains for the more experienced players while a medium iron for the shorter ones. Pay attention to the water hazard on the left side that runs along the entire hole.

    When playing the driver, you should pay attention to the second bunker on the right side that is easily accessible. After a simple second shot, a short iron remains for the more experienced players while a medium iron for the shorter ones. Pay attention to the water hazard on the left side that runs along the entire hole.

    Experienced players, after a driver to the center of the fairway, need a medium iron to reach the green which is well-protected by two bunkers on the right side. Others may want to play it safe by using a long iron on the left side of the fairway and then attack the flag with a wedge.

    Experienced players, after a driver to the center of the fairway, need a medium iron to reach the green which is well-protected by two bunkers on the right side. Others may want to play it safe by using a long iron on the left side of the fairway and then attack the flag with a wedge.

    The driver needs to be precise to leave an easier shot into the green with the second. Less experienced players may play a second shot with an iron on the left side of the fairway and then attack the flag which is protected by three bunkers surrounding the green.

    The driver needs to be precise to leave an easier shot into the green with the second. Less experienced players may play a second shot with an iron on the left side of the fairway and then attack the flag which is protected by three bunkers surrounding the green.

    Experienced players can try to reach the green with the driver but must beware of an undulation in the ground on the right side. For those who prefer to play a shorter first shot, the second one should be a short iron or wedge to reach the flag. Beware of the fast and steep green.

    Experienced players can try to reach the green with the driver but must beware of an undulation in the ground on the right side. For those who prefer to play a shorter first shot, the second one should be a short iron or wedge to reach the flag. Beware of the fast and steep green.

    Short and not difficult par 3; the only concern should be the green which is extremely difficult. Be sure not to play it on the left side of the hole!

    Short and not difficult par 3; the only concern should be the green which is extremely difficult. Be sure not to play it on the left side of the hole!

    Experienced players can try to pass over the bunker on the left corner of the hole and then play a second shot with a short iron. Those who prefer to play if safe should stay on the right side of the fairway, then will have to face a second shot with a long iron, or possibly decide to lean on the apron with a layup avoiding the risk of ending in the deep bunker on the right side.

    Experienced players can try to pass over the bunker on the left corner of the hole and then play a second shot with a short iron. Those who prefer to play if safe should stay on the right side of the fairway, then will have to face a second shot with a long iron, or possibly decide to lean on the apron with a layup avoiding the risk of ending in the deep bunker on the right side.

    The most experienced players must keep to the left side of the fairway to avoid ending up in the bunker positioned on the right side. Then a second shot with a medium iron is needed to reach the flag. Less experienced players need a long iron and must pay attention to the three bunkers protecting the green on the right side.

    The most experienced players must keep to the left side of the fairway to avoid ending up in the bunker positioned on the right side. Then a second shot with a medium iron is needed to reach the flag. Less experienced players need a long iron and must pay attention to the three bunkers protecting the green on the right side.

    Experienced players can try to reach the green with the driver but must be precise and keep away from the water hazard on the right side of the green. Those who want to play it safe can hit to the fairway before the water hazard and then attack the flag with a short iron. The green is well protected by two bunkers and the lake on the right side hides many pitfalls. Be careful: It is extremely difficult to stop the ball on the green by playing from a downhill lie!

    Experienced players can try to reach the green with the driver but must be precise and keep away from the water hazard on the right side of the green. Those who want to play it safe can hit to the fairway before the water hazard and then attack the flag with a short iron. The green is well protected by two bunkers and the lake on the right side hides many pitfalls. Be careful: It is extremely difficult to stop the ball on the green by playing from a downhill lie!

    Depending on the position of the flag, both experienced and inexperienced players will have to carefully assess which iron is the best choice. It is recommended to avoid playing on the right side of the green.

    Depending on the position of the flag, both experienced and inexperienced players will have to carefully assess which iron is the best choice. It is recommended to avoid playing on the right side of the green.

    This hole has a wide landing area, which will leave longer hitters the possibility to reach the green with the second shot easily after powering one down the fairway. Be careful about the water hazard on the front left. The more conservative players will be able to lay up on the flat left side of the fairway in front of the green and then play a short shot to attack the flag. Be aware of the slopes of the green which are difficult to define!

    This hole has a wide landing area, which will leave longer hitters the possibility to reach the green with the second shot easily after powering one down the fairway. Be careful about the water hazard on the front left. The more conservative players will be able to lay up on the flat left side of the fairway in front of the green and then play a short shot to attack the flag. Be aware of the slopes of the green which are difficult to define!


    Having earned degrees in agricultural engineering, Arias first worked at a nursery in Spain that grows the grass for Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium and the greens at Valderrama.

    Then she spent 18 months in the United States working at three different courses through a program organized by Ohio State University. She started at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Virginia, moved on to the TPC Scottsdale in Arizona and finished at the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    “The first week (of the PGA) I worked 90 hours and when I called my family, they asked if that was legal,” Arias said. “I was happy to do it, though, because I learned so much. I wanted to keep going.”

    At the 2018 Ryder Cup in France, Arias was an assistant superintendent under Alejandro Reyes.

    Fashion designer Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna, who owns the Marco Simone club and hired Arias after seeking advice from Reyes, said she was looking for a leader and believes that “leaders have no gender.”

    Biagiotti Cigna selected Arias ahead of two men whom Reyes had also proposed. Arias' resume and her skills got her the job -- not her relationship with Reyes, who is now her fiancé.

    “She deserved the spot,” Biagiotti Cigna said. "She was as good as Alejandro.”

    Reyes is also at Marco Simone as a consultant and director of agronomy. But Arias is in charge.

    “I’m the superintendent this time, but it’s clear that I need him as a consultant,” Arias said. “So we’re a team.”

    The rest of the greenkeeping team at Marco Simone is all male, and Arias’ gender has never been an issue with her multicultural staff, which includes workers from all over the world: El Salvador, Ecuador, Italy, France, Britain and Sweden.

    “There are 20 guys,” she said, “and they’re like my sons. We talk to each other in English, French, Italian and Spanish -- a bit of everything.”

    For Ryder Cup week, 100 experienced volunteers will be added to Arias’ team -- with most of them familiar with Marco Simone after having helped out during the Italian Opens.

    Superintendents can make a significant impact on the results of a Ryder Cup by manicuring the course to favor the home team.

    Arias, for instance, has made the fairways at Marco Simone narrower upon request from Europe Captain Luke Donald because the Europeans are known as more accurate off the tee than the big-hitting Americans.

    Altering the course first started under Henrik Stenson, who was removed from Europe’s captaincy after joining the breakaway LIV Golf tour last year.

    “The course is like the 13th player,” Arias said. “There are 12 players and the course can also help you win.”

    Suzy Whaley, the first female president of the PGA of America, said that while there's always worldwide focus on the condition of the course during a Ryder Cup, “In this case, the pressure is more significant.”

    “The world is used to male figures in the top positions at courses and facilities, and to see a woman in charge of the host venue for the Ryder Cup is a celebration for all in the game,” Whaley wrote in an email to the AP. “Lara will inspire young girls watching to know agronomy is an option in golf for them, too.”

    Lara Arias, golf course superintendent at Marco Simone, poses for a photo with her Australian Shepard "Ryder" during an interview with the Associated Press. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

    Lara Arias, golf course superintendent at Marco Simone, poses for a photo with her Australian Shepard "Ryder" during an interview with the Associated Press. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

    Europe's team mascot figures to be Arias' and Reyes’ dog, a black-and-white Australian Shepherd aptly named Ryder.

    As Arias roams around Marco Simone day after day, Ryder accompanies her running along beside her golf cart or hopping aboard for a ride. Ryder also likes to swim in the ponds.

    “But she knows she can’t go on the greens or into the bunkers,” Arias said, adding with a laugh that she’s “the most important member of the team.”

    Arias and Reyes met while both assisted on the course at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.

    “Our story revolves around the Ryder Cup, because I met him at Hazeltine, then we worked together again in 2018, we named our dog Ryder and now we’re here in Rome doing another Ryder Cup,” Arias said.

    Arias is now pregnant with the couple’s baby and is due to give birth to a girl named Alejandra in December.

    Despite her growing belly, she's still hurrying around the course every day.

    “If you told me, ‘Lara, you have to go mow the greens,’ then, yes, I would have a hard time,” Arias explained. “But my job is more organizational. I have to organize everything so the Ryder Cup has the best course possible.”

    Next year, Arias and Reyes plan to marry.

    Before her family expands, Arias wants to inspire other women to become superintendents.

    “I hope my experience, my position," she said, "can be an example and can help other women in this industry.”

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