Championship experience

Columns - Game Plan

February 8, 2017

To the untrained ear, the quiet whispers of winter prevail at the Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C. But behind the scenes, where superintendent Keith Wood and team are preparing for the 2017 PGA Championship, there are the unmistakable sounds that come in the days leading up to a major golf championship. Soon the season’s solitude will be replaced by soul-shaking roars rolling like thunder through the Carolina pines, and Wood knows, there’s not a moment to spare.

Here is a preview of what is afoot as Quail Hollow readies for the 99th PGA Championship, with a few lessons sprinkled in for those who may never see a major at their course.

The Process of Preparation

“There are three keys that I watch: agronomics, playability and personnel,” says Wood, who began work on the championship when he came to Quail Hollow in May 2015. “Agronomically, it’s is all about plant health and making sure the turf has enough fuel to make it through a very busy lead up to tournament week without too much stress.”

Wood is hosting his 10th professional tournament, and past experience tells him he needs to harden the turf so it can stand up to heat and severe mowing heights, but without appearing stressed. “Playability is all about grain control on tightly cut Bermudagrass fairways, greens and approaches. Also, conditioning the Bermudagrass rough to play very difficult without being out of control at an insane height of cut,” Wood adds.

He must also make sure his team is ready for any contingency – especially those doled out by Mother Nature. Even more of an unknown are the volunteers, for whom his staff will share leadership duties prior to and during the week of the championship. “The prep that goes into recruiting volunteers is something we take very seriously,” he says. “Then the training that is done by our full-time staff during tournament week really sinks in and the entire team comes together.”

Learning from Others

Building the infrastructure to accommodate a championship event is a phase of preparation that largely goes unnoticed. General manager Tom DeLozier and his team have been learning from other professional venues and events since 2009, working as part of the team at the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship.

Of course, Quail Hollow is no newbie to PGA events, having hosted the highly regarded Wells Fargo Championship for a number of years. But there’s nothing quite like a major championship, DeLozier says.

“The PGA of America is an exceptional organization that has a tremendous championship team who are experts in hosting major events,” he says. “They have been critically involved in everything we have done since the beginning. The core championship team has relocated to Charlotte and been on our property since the fall of 2015.”

Patrick Finlen knows the long hours and anxiety that are now the norm at Quail Hollow. Finlen was the director of golf course operations (who rose to the GM job) when The Olympic Club near San Francisco hosted the 2012 U.S. Open Championship.

“The best preparation would be to work at a course hosting a major,” Finlen says. “If you can’t do that, I would attend as many majors as you can as a spectator and as a volunteer. That gives you a view from two very important perspectives. Outside the ropes you get to see the course as thousands of fans will. Inside the ropes you get to understand what it takes to prepare a course the week before and during a championship. Each superintendent and course prepares in similar and dissimilar ways. The more you can experience that, the better prepared you will be.”

Enjoy the Experience

Those who have lived through a major championship know the week will fly by and soon enough the crowds and their roars will be gone. “The absolute best lesson I learned was to be patient and enjoy the experience,” Finlen says.

But what if the biggest event happening at your facility this year is the club championship? As Wood, Finlen and others will tell you, many of the same lessons apply:

  • Preparation never starts too early
  • Train your people for the unexpected
  • Take advantage of the knowledge of others, and never be too proud to learn
  • Take time to stop and smell the roses or, in this case, the Bermudagrass.

Henry DeLozier is a principal in the Global Golf Advisors consultancy. DeLozier joined Global Golf Advisors in 2008 after nine years as the vice president of golf for Pulte Homes. He is a past president of the National Golf Course Owners Association’s board of directors and serves on the PGA of America’s Employers Advisory Council.