GAM

GOLF ASSOCIATION OF MICHIGAN

GAM BLOG: How Superintendents View The Masters

A Superintendent’s View of The Masters

By Susan Smiley

Truth
be told, Michigan superintendents are looking forward to The Masters for all of
the same reasons as other golf fans. They want to cheer for their favorite
players and get caught up in the excitement of the competition.

But
superintendents also focus on Augusta National in a way that the average viewer
does not. 

“I’ve been there once and the
overall level of perfection is completely impressive,” says Franklin Hills
Country Club superintendent and Michigan Turfgrass President Brian Schweihofer.
“The turf, the trees, the flowers; it is like the Disneyland of golf
courses.   Then we try to make our
courses here just as perfect all of the time. I think they call that The
Masters effect.”

 

 

 

 

While it may seem a little
geekish to the average golf fan, superintendents and the like are fascinated with
course particulars that most fans overlook. They scrutinize the cut of the
rough, the speed and dryness of the greens and the course setup.

“The
big thing I personally watch is how far they will push the dryness of the
greens for playability versus the health of the grass,” says Egypt Valley
superintendent and Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association President
Jeff Holmes. “When they put the camera right up on the grass it really opens
some eyes.”

Get
a group of superintendents together watching The Masters and discussion tends
to wander from the competition. Everyone is talking about the condition of the
course, speculating on how the crew at Augusta National managed certain things and
there is also certain competitiveness; how can we Michigan superintendents get
our courses looking THAT good.

“You
get a group of us together and its like “I can’t believe they did that!’ or ‘How
are we ever going to do that?’,” says Holmes. “The other thing we think about
is the weather here in the north. We all like to have our courses open by the
time The Masters is on because Michigan golfers are just chomping at the bit at
that point. They want to play and then go home and watch the tournament. It makes
them appreciate how difficult it is for the pros to play at that level day
after day.”

 

 

 

Schweihofer
keeps an eye out for changes in the course from year to year. The changes might
be subtle but it is a fun challenge for him to try and ferret them out.

“There
is always something new; different bunkering, different hole set up,” says Shweihofer.
“Augusta National is the epitome of perfect golf course maintenance and pushes
the industry forward because everyone always wants their course to look that
good.”

Pine Trace Superintendent Matt
Kraemer tries to figure out the exact maintenance techniques used to achieve
the perfection that is Augusta National. He is particularly impressed with the
bunkers which are always perfectly raked and have no ragged edges.

“I honestly do not even know any
of the young guys who are playing in The Masters,” says Kraemer. “I just enjoy
watching from the course maintenance point of view. I’m interested in course
setup and those sorts of things. I’ve gotta say that it is on my bucket list to
visit Augusta National in person. It would probably make the hairs on the back
of my neck stand up.”

A trip to Augusta National is on
Holmes’ bucket list too. He would love to spend time with the head
superintendent and the maintenance crew and just pick their brains.

“I would have 100 questions,”
says Holmes.

How many weeks before the
tournament does the Augusta National maintenance staff begin prepping? Are they
closed for all of the prepping and if they close the course, how far in advance
of the tournament is it closed? These are the kinds of things that prey upon
his mind.

“We have done the Champions Tour
here for many years and the week prior to the tournament is the hardest week
for us,” says Holmes. “So one of my questions would be how many weeks they have
just wearing their staff out to prep the course.  I would also like to know how many touches it
takes on the day of the tournament before the first player puts his tee in the
ground. Who opened the gate? Who got the coffee going? Who mowed the green? I
did a quick count here one day and came up with 35 people. It just struck me
that the average person has no idea what kind of prep time it takes and how
much has already happened before they tee off at 6 a.m.”

 

 

 

Much as Michigan superintendents
try to groom their courses to be as splendid as possible, they recognize that
Augusta National is in a class all by itself. The Masters host course has the
advantage of a much larger maintenance budget and staff than the average golf
course as well as the ability to close for at least part of the tournament
preparation. Some viewers also forget that The Masters is a production and
certain things – such as the sweetly chirping birds – might be enhanced for
television. Not that Augusta National doesn’t have its share of songbirds, but
surely the sounds are amplified for the pleasure of the television viewer.

“I’m thinking of sending each of
my staff out with a different bird call,” says Holmes jokingly.

The staff at Augusta National is
able to focus its energy on the week of The Masters – a luxury other courses do
not have.


“The reality is that Augusta National is targeting one week a year,” says Dr.
Kevin Frank, Associate Professor at Michigan State University and Turfgrass
Extension specialist at the Michigan Turfgrass Foundation.  “It is the closest thing golf has to a
sporting stadium venue. It is not a course that someone is playing every day of
the year.”

Frank says the greens are the
most impressive thing to him because they are flawless year after year. He also
marvels at the crispness around the bunkers.

“Just incredible,” Frank says.

For Holmes, watching The Masters
is a double-edged sword; he appreciates the total beauty of Augusta National
but knows that beauty makes his job at Egypt Valley that much harder. Golfers
expect their respective courses to deliver as much as possible, even if they do
understand that there is only one Augusta National.

“Most people understand it
doesn’t work the way it does at Augusta at most clubs, but the pressure is out
there,” says Holmes. “As superintendents, we notice a lot of things watching
The Masters that most people don’t pay attention to. We give the grounds crew a
lot of credit because we know how much it takes to get a golf course to that
high level of expectation. We have a much different perspective.”

GAM PARTNERS