The PGA Tour

With the Masters fresh in our memory and the US Open not too far away, we are being exposed to images on our TV of courses and conditions prepared for the elite players of the world. The PGA Tour events are indeed spectacular and showcase what can often be years of planning and programming to ensure that for a handful of days, the golfers are treated to an experience that allows the best player to be identified.

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to offer an insight into some of the behind the scenes things that take place.

In 2014, I was fortunate enough to be part of the maintenance team for the course preparation of the Barclays tournament being played at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. The Barclays is the first event in the Fed-Ex cup playoffs so the top 125 players are all involved. For the week starting Monday until the event finished on the Sunday, I was involved in both morning and evening preparation of the course.

 The effort that goes into the event was staggering!

The maintenance staff for the course's day to day operation is a team of around 40 (Its a 27 hole facility). For the event, that number was bolstered by volunteers from all over and took the number of staff to 150!! The logistics of organising, feeding and accommodating the extra people required a huge amount of work and was a real credit how smoothly things ran.

People came from far and wide to help. I traveled the most distance to be there!

My morning task involved mowing fairways along with 12 - 13 other people starting at 4:30am. We were using catchers and mowing the fairways all one direction from the tee towards the green. By mowing one direction, no pattern was evident and instead it created a very uniform appearance. The fairways were then cut again in the afternoon by a separate team who mowed from the green back towards the tee. What was really amazing was the morning mowing was completed with not just headlights, but the entire first 11 holes were floodlit by portable lighting towers that were removed each morning before play and then replaced after play that same day. The sheer number of them produced enough light that you could probably have played golf at 4am if you wanted to do so.

The mowers heading out in the morning and then again in the afternoon

Light towers going up and greens being tested at 11pm showing how light it was

Afternoon tasks varied and mostly mine involved divoting fairways. Anything from 10 - 20 people would be walking up the holes with a sand/soil/seed mix repairing any divots that needed attention. It was a nice way to see the course as the players experienced it and great to interact with greenkeepers from many different locations.

The divot crew in action

Not only is there a need for additional people, the tight timeframe for completing tasks meant extra machinery and equipment was loaned by sales people and companies. Even though the course had a fleet of gear that was enviable by any standard, it was nearly doubled to ensure all the work could be done quickly and have cover in case of breakdowns. The team of 3 full time mechanics plus additional support kept everything running smoothly.

Just some of the equipment required to prep the course

So, how was the course?

In a single word: Stunning. 

It was great to see what can be achieved when resources are made available. For day to day operation, the course has a maintenance budget well into the seven figure range. For hosting the event, they receive additional funding to cover the extra expenses associated with staging the event. The players were unanimous in their praise of the course with some even speaking of it in the same vein as Augusta and the Masters. Literally not a single blade of grass was out of place or a weed to be found. The planning and work put in to achieve the peak conditions for such a short window was evident. Months and months of preparation and hard work on show for but a matter of days.

And you think our rough is bad!!
Seeing the top players in the world up close was also something to behold. Watching their approach and work ethic combined with raw talent showed just how good these guys are and how big the gap is from top level amateur to making it on tour. Seeing them hit delicate pitch shots out of rough so deep their shoes are hidden and then absolutely crushing a driver on the next hole really emphasised the depth of ability in all areas of the game. For the golfers, they are treated like royalty with courtesy BMW cars and organised activites for wifes and partners. Any equipment changes or repairs are taken care of on site by the fleet of trucks supplied by the golf equipment companies.

I was fortunate to get a tour inside a couple of the trucks thanks to NZ pro Tim Wilkinson

What I took away from the experience was a sense of just how much work goes into a single PGA event. It is even more mind blowing to think that it happens like this (although not to the same scale) for each event played every week of the season. While it makes for great viewing on television, the reality is that these courses are pushed well beyond their normal standards through hard work, dedication, planning and of course money! They are just a snapshot showing them at near perfection for a very short time and not a true representation of golf course maintenance. They shouldn't be used as a yardstick to compare your home course against.

McIlroy, Speith and Watson

Even got to meet the 2014 US Masters champion Adam Scott!

Good Golfing

The Maintenance Team
Hamilton Golf Club


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