Grass-Roots Advice From Superintendents
Superintendents long have been some of the best conservationists in the nation. They handle the toughest job in golf, providing members and customers with the same playing conditions in August that they get in April, and in recent years they’ve done it with fewer chemicals, less fuel, less water and even less manpower.
Superintendents know their turf, and all of us – not just state officials – ought to listen to their advice. When they tell us we need a new watering system, it’s not because it would make their job easier; it’s because the more irrigation heads they have, the more water they can save, by directing it only where it’s needed.
When they tell us they need to aerify more often, it’s not because they enjoy punching holes in front of our putting strokes; it’s because loosening compacted soil helps get roots deeper, and that means healthier grass.
When they tell us we should expect uniform greens but not uniform rough or uniform bunkers, it’s not because they want weekends off; it’s because they recognize the difference between a playing surface and a hazard, and trying to make hazards flawless gobbles up considerable cash for no good reason.
We speak with superintendents from a dozen of the nation’s leading courses. We need to listen to these guys. There’s a reason each is called a super.
Pete Wendt, 39, golf course manager Kinloch GC, Manakin-Sabot, Va. “People need to learn to live without green conditions from tree line to tree line. Average golfers look at a course from an aesthetic point of view, when they should really look at it from a playability standpoint.”
Ryan McFarlin, 33, golf course superintendent The Estancia Club, Scottsdale, Ariz. “If we didn’t overseed Bermuda grass with ryegrass in winter, our cart traffic would create unplayable lies. In May or June, we back off the water, and back comes the Bermuda grass. It’s a natural process.”
John Zimmers, 38, golf course superintendent Oakmont (Pa.) CC. “If you ask any good superintendent, drier is always better – better for the golfer and the turf. You can manage firm, fast, championship conditions and still have quality turf and wonderful playability.”
Mark D. Kuhns, 54, director of grounds Baltusrol GC, Springfield, N.J. “My members like to play a course where the ball sits up nicely on the fairway yet isn’t so tight that they can’t hit the ball with their amateur skills. Even better players don’t want to play U.S. Open conditions day in and day out.”
Russell Myers, 37, golf course superintendent Southern Hills CC, Tulsa, Okla. “As clubs are forced to look at their financial situations, we might see a return to less-manicured bunkers with firmer, less-mobile sand. Or the old style, where they were never raked.”
David Stone, 60, golf course superintendent The Honors Course, Ooltewah, Tenn. “I’m constantly doing things to the golf course to make the habitat better for birds. Lots of people want tall roughs that are clean, with no weeds. But weeds have seeds, and that’s what the birds eat. And a lot of those weeds bloom and add color.”
Jim Whalen, 44, golf course superintendent Calusa Pines GC, Naples, Fla. “The water issue is never going to go away. Golf courses won’t be as green and lush as they were years ago. The great thing we did was modify our irrigation system so we can do a ton of hand-watering out there.”
Tom Bailey, 34, director of golf course operations Wade Hampton GC, Cashiers, N.C. “We put in almost 15 miles of drainage and new irrigation that allows us to direct water where we need it. We saw a 40-percent decrease in water, irrigating more areas more efficiently. And our power bill went down.”
Mark Wilson, 53, golf course superintendent Valhalla GC, Louisville. “I’m at a Jack Nicklaus golf course – the bunkers have to be just perfect, in case Nicklaus drops in. But if you get so strapped you can’t maintain them, you should probably fill them in – grass over them.”
Pat Finlen, 51, director of golf maintenance operations The Olympic Club, San Francisco. “Clubs are going to have to make reductions in maintenance budgets to survive. I think golfers will come to appreciate that brown is firm and, typically, fast. It can be exciting to play.”
Ken Lapp, 73, director of course operations, Cog Hill G&CC, Lemont, Ill. “Back when I started, we didn’t irrigate fairways, didn’t change pins every day. All of a sudden, we’re doing this, spraying that, and it cost more and more money. So they had to raise the green fee. Well, that’s got to stop.”
Garret Bodington, 37, golf course superintendent and construction manager Sebonack GC, Southampton, N.Y. “Getting fast greens you see on TV at your club every day is a tall task. Shotmaking and creativity are being lost. The experience should be about what the architect wanted, not about what the superintendent is told to do.”
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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.
According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.
Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.
Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.
Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.
And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.
Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.
Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:
The Monday morning headline will be …
REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.
RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.
MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.
JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.
Who or what will be the biggest surprise?
HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.
LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.
BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.
COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.
Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?
HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.
LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.
BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.
COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.
What will be the winning score?
HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.
LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.
BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.
COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.
Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty
Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.
Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.
This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):
While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:
Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.
McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.
Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.
“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”
McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.
“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”
He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.