GCI's Bruce Williams sits down with The Olympic Club's Pat Finlen to discuss the challenges of hosting a major tournament.
GCI's Bruce Williams sat down with Pat Finlen, CGCS, about his recent challenge of hosting the US Open at The Olympic Club before, during and after the event, providing some key insight into the challenges of hosting a major tournament.
How far in advance did the preparation for the 2012 US Open begin?
Preparations for the 2012 U.S. Open started shortly after it was announced in 2005 that The Olympic Club would host the Open. We knew we had the U.S. Amateur in 2007, so we made changes to numerous teeing grounds in preparation for the Amateur as somewhat of a test for the Open. Since the end of the Amateur we have been continually preparing for the Open.
What were your major challenges over the last several years in preparing for the tournament?
Our major challenges on the Lake course were trying to keep the greens in good shape with the large number of rounds we were doing as well as keeping poa annua out of the greens. In addition, the logistic of putting on an event this size are tremendous. The infrastructure is tremendous and takes up a lot of space on our other course.
Tell us about the many additional tasks outside of the golf course….such as building a tent city for hospitality and getting ready for the TV trucks and such.
Most of the work for the infrastructure started on January 3rd of this year. Over 25,000 tons or rock was put down on our Ocean Course to build the roads and storage areas needed for the Open. We had two to three staff members work every day since that time locating lines and helping with the installations. Since our Ocean course closed in March, we also started rebuilding the greens, tees and fairway bunkers on the Ocean Course. Ten green complexes were completed before Championship week, and another five will be done after the Open. Three were rebuilt last year.
At what point did you start running on a tournament schedule as though it were Thursday, June 14th?
We didn’t go into Championship mode until Monday June 4th. Our last day of member play was June 3rd, so the free week allowed us to gear up ahead of time.
How many volunteers are you utilizing and how many total people will be working under your department this week?
We have 55 full time staff members working the week of the Open and nearly 100 volunteers working. With our staff and the volunteers, we have sixteen countries represented at the Open.
During the tournament what is your biggest challenge to prepare the course for such a prestigious event?
The biggest challenge for us is adapt and make changes based upon what the USGA wants. Greens speed and firmness are the two biggest requirements and getting to the right numbers can be hard.
What is a typical workday like for you and your team…..i.e. long hours and not much sleep?
We started Sunday with dinner and an orientation at 4:00 pm, then out to the course to complete a morning preparation at night. Our goal was to orient them to the course and their morning job in the daylight. For many, it was their first time on the property, so it was important for them to be in the daylight and know their job well.
On Monday through Friday we started at 4:00 am and were done by 8:00 am. and then breakfast was served. The afternoon work started with dinner at 4:00 pm and out on the course by 5:00 pm. Saturday and Sunday were similar except we started at 5:00 am.
Most nights the majority of the staff was done by 9:00 pm, except for the greens watering staff that stayed until 11:00 pm a couple of nights.
How much of your time is being spent with media during the event?
The week before and the week of the Championship required my attendance at around twenty media events, either in person or on the phone.
Are there any unexpected surprises that have popped up?
The most interesting surprise was a call at 3:57 am on Sunday to inform me that a trash truck drove across four fairways before crashing into the canal next to the thirteenth hole. My first reaction was to the safety of the driver and then to the golf course. Fortunately the driver jumped out of the truck and there was absolutely no damage.
Was/is weather a factor and how so?
The only weather issues we faced was four days of sunshine that is a rarity in June. We expected fog everyday and only saw fog in the afternoon on Sunday. The sunshine and warmer temperatures caused much of outer rough to dry up very quickly. Other than that, the weather didn’t hamper us in any way.
Hosting a major is a daunting task. It doesn’t happen without a well-trained team. Who would you like to give a shout out about that made your week go so smoothly?
Our entire management staff along with our interns did a fabulous job. I remember telling our manager back in January that they would be inundated with problems that they would have to make an immediate decision on without consulting me. I gave them some parameters in which to make those decisions, and they did a tremendous job.
If you had it to do over again what might you have done differently for this tournament?
It’s very easy to look back and say we should have done this or that. You always learn from doing something for the first time. I am sure if we did this again we would make changes, but nothing substantial.
How much and what kind of work is ahead of you to get the course ready for member play and also to tear down the city that was created?
We have mowed our rough all this week and we are now down to three inches.
The work on our Ocean Course will be substantial. We opened the Lake Course on June 22nd, and will open the Ocean course on September 8th. It will be a long summer, but well worth it once September 8th comes.
Did your family have some time to enjoy the fruits of your labor during the US Open week?
Being Fathers Day weekend, my Father and son were with us that day. In addition two of my sisters along with my wife Denise were here. It was a great ending to a long week.
Some guys say there is a letdown after hosting a major while others are glad to have it behind them. So my final question is….Are you ready to host another significant event down the road????
I can easily say that I would love to do another, but it might be some time as there is nothing planned for the short term at The Olympic Club, and I am not leaving here.
PHOTOS: Top: NCGA.org; the course: GolfWeek.