A Good Chair Requires Four Legs

12.10.11-usga color_logoBy Larry Gilhuly
USGA Agronomist

As you watch the upcoming U.S. Open you may hear about the exceptional weather that has occurred this past winter in the Pacific Northwest. You may hear about how it had a lot to do with why the course is in such good shape. However, just like a chair needs four solid legs to achieve balance, three other major factors were more important than the weather in bringing the greens back for this years’ U.S. Open.

During the winter of 2013/14, excess traffic on several greens at Chambers Bay resulted in very thin conditions. To bring back the greens for the U.S. Open, the first “leg” was a combination of extensive overseeding with fescue by the maintenance staff led by Director of Agronomy Eric Johnson and Superintendent Josh Lewis. This did not involve one or two seedings, but up to 7-8 in the spring and again in the fall on a municipal golf course that was open for play using a tractor mounted seeder!

Once the new seed was added, the second “leg” of stability was achieved by the company charged with the maintenance of the golf course, Kemper Sports. Under the direction of general manager Matt Allen they devised a plan to remove play from the greens during the entire winter to give the greens a break and let the fescue establish. Some of the most damaged surfaces had complete play removed while many others went from seven days a week down to as little as three during the coldest weather in the winter and early spring.

The third “leg” was getting the owner of the golf course (Pierce County) to agree to the plan through the fall, winter and early spring months. Pierce County deserves major kudos in taking this step to make the greens as good as possible. Once the decision was made to move forward, this third leg was completed by the maintenance staff. This was accomplished by placing and removing turf covers over all 20 greens that will be used for the championship. It was estimated that the covers were taken on and off 15 times with at least 15 people taking them off and putting them back on. Eight to nine hours was needed to complete each removal and replacement process with hundreds of sandbags added to hold down the covers. The results have been outstanding!

Fortunately, the fourth, and final leg in stabilizing the entire process has been the warmer than normal weather pattern enjoyed in the area for the entire winter season. February went down as the warmest month in history, but many want to climb on the “warm weather” bandwagon to give credit to the turnaround with the greens. In reality, this entire process would have worked fine even if the weather was normal. The three legs of the maintenance staff, Kemper Sports and Pierce County along with the weather have created the stability needed to now prepare these surfaces for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.

This same situation is seen frequently on golf courses all over the Northwest portion of the West Region. Giving weather the credit for quality conditions is often not the reason the course is in good condition. It is the work of the maintenance staff and their diligent efforts and programs that produce playing conditions. By the same token, when the weather goes bad we should all understand that it is usually not the fault of the maintenance staff. They can control whether something is done or not, but they do not control the weather!