Preparing for a Major Golf Tournament

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When watching a PGA event over the weekend, you are seeing the product of a lot of hard work performed by the maintenance crew of that golf facility. Most golf courses that host a professional tournament usually are in very good condition at all times. However, extra detailing, manicuring, double-mowing, and many other tasks are performed to get the golf course in prime condition for the week-long professional event. In addition, the superintendent and his staff are also involved in numerous tasks that are not normally part of their regular jobs of maintaining the course.

During the course of the event, the superintendent is responsible for the coordination of various activities and services that go on during preparation week and throughout the event. Some of these activities include:

* Setting up a series of ropes for crowd control

* Finding locations for bleachers and installing them

* Finding locations for hospitality and other huge tents and installing them

* Finding locations for portable toilets and servicing them

* Coordinating and locating a staging area for network television crews (consisting normally of four or five semi trucks and other vehicles)

* Hiring contractors for grading and lining of overflow parking

Not only does the superintendent have to worry about the green speed and fairway striping, he also has to cross his fingers and hope no one hits an irrigation line while driving in stakes to put up the tents or that Porta-Potty personnel doesn’t get lost and cross the fairways with their huge service trucks. Oh yeah–the superintendent will also be expected to predict the weather.

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On the agronomic side, preparation for the one-week tournament usually starts a year prior to the event. When preparing for it, you are encouraged to follow certain specific guidelines in the course conditioning process. In most cases, a PGA agronomist makes an initial visit to the facility about six months prior to the event. He discusses maintenance plans including cultural practice, fertilization programs, overseeding, topdressing, and other turf care topics. He then tours the golf course and goes over recommended guidelines with the superintendent. He also clarifies what tournament officials want to see: a fair, yet challenging course, but more importantly, consistent playing conditions in all areas.

I have been fortunate enough–I think–to go through this experience when I was involved in preparing a municipal golf course for a PGA tournament in southern California. The job was even more challenging because it was a public golf course hosting 100,000 rounds per year. If I remember correctly, we were able to close the course about five days prior to the event, giving us some time to prepare. In any case, I would like to share some of the suggested guidelines.

Greens

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During advance week (the week before the tournament), officials expect a green speed of 10 feet, measured with a USGA stimpmeter. The tricky part is keeping that speed consistent throughout advance week and tournament week. This usually means going to mowing heights of 0.125 inch. Double or triple cutting as well as rolling or any combination or these to achieve the speed. It is very important that the speeds are checked after any mowing or rolling is performed. The speed can get away from you in a hurry. I recall one year the wind creating havoc on the greens. Greens that measured 10 feet after mowing were running 15 feet by the start of the event. Players did not appreciate it.

Frequent, light topdressing is an integral part of keeping the greens smooth for the tournament. Topdressing was performed once monthly for five months preceding the event and then once weekly during the last three weeks. The goal is to achieve superior ball roll and lessen spike marks.

Cultural practice included bimonthly spoon-feeding of nutrient and micronutrients to prepare the green for the stress of tournament week. Vertical mowing and frequent grooming were required to reduce surface grain from the poa seed heads. Water management was also a crucial practice that was monitored very closely to ensure firm, but not hard greens. Typically, the greens need to be in near perfect conditions for the tournament.

Tees

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Management of the tees is monitored very closely as well, but not as meticulously as the greens. Warm season turf was mowed daily at 0.375 inch during advance week and as much as twice per day during tournament week. The backs of par three tees were usually protected with nettings during practice rounds. Divots were filled daily with green sand and seed during the event. Cultural practice months prior to the tournament are also monitored to prevent any lush growth, which create spongy conditions.

Fairways

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Typically, fairways are maintained just like the teeing grounds. Daily mowing usually starts during the advance week, preferably with lightweight mowers. Frequent cross-cutting, usually from left to right and right to left, is encouraged months in advanced to achieve a striping pattern and to allow closer mowing of low depressed areas.

Water management is also a very crucial practice in keeping the fairway surface as firm and uniform as possible. Poorly drained fairways are aerified with deep tine aerators months in advance. With the exception of some selective hand watering, fairway irrigation is normally shut off during the week. The last application of fertilizer is performed three weeks prior to the event to prevent any lush growth. During tournament week, the fairways are mowed after the last group clears out, and divots in landing areas are filled with sand and seed. Depending on the weather conditions, fairway dew is dragged in the morning prior to start of play.

Roughs

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Since the rough gets the least amount of attention throughout the season, these areas are usually the most difficult to keep consistent. Additional fertilizing, watering, and sometimes extra seeding is necessary to keep rough conditions as consistent as possible throughout the entire course. Most tournament roughs are perennial ryegrasses and are typically mowed at three inches to four inches. An intermediate rough, an area between the roughs and fairway cuts, are usually established four weeks before the tournament. Typical mowing heights for this collar area is 1 1/4 inches to 1 1/2 inches. The last mowing of the roughs usually occurs during the beginning of the week, while intermediate roughs are mowed everyday throughout the tournament.

Bunkers

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Bunker management during tournament time is one of the most labor-intensive tasks. Daily hand raking of all bunkers is required from advance week on. Course officials are very critical of bunker conditions since this is the area that professional tour players complain about the most. Generally, all bunkers are raked in the direction of play. Green bunkers are and raked toward the pin location, while fairway bunkers are raked towards the green. In addition, on the green bunkers, the green-side half of the bunker should have a small lip while the other side is raked plushed. Try explaining that to all of the different volunteers each day.

A uniform depth of three inches to six inches of sand on the bunker floor and two inches on steep faces is ideal. Any new sand needed should be added 90 days prior to the tournament to get proper compaction and avoid buried lies.

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