Like most courses across the Midwest, TPC Deere Run received far more rain this spring than history says should fall around the Great Lakes as the calendar turns toward April and May, inch after inch pouring down on its 385 acres of bentgrass tees, fairways and greens. Unlike most courses across the Midwest, TPC Deere Run still needed to open its gates for the crowds and cameras that accompany a summer PGA Tour event.
How to prepare an expansive property for a weeklong television showcase when rain relegates you to the cart path? Ask Alex Stuedemann, the veteran director of golf course maintenance operations.
Now in his sixth year back in the Quad Cities after TPC stints in Minnesota and Texas, Stuedemann normally prepares the course for the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois with a thorough 12-week plan that starts around Tax Day and runs right up to tournament week. This year, though, the course received 13 inches of rain from April 13 through May 12.
“We’d get an inch-and-a-half of rainfall,” Stuedemann says, “and then it’d be dry for 18, 19 hours, then we’d get half-an-inch, then we’d get four-tenths of an inch, and then a quarter-inch, and it just kept stacking, stacking, stacking on top of a very snowy winter — it was the second- or third-snowiest on record for the Quad Cities — so the soil was already charged and now we had all this rain.”
The rain never relented. “It was just so continuous,” Stuedemann says. “It wasn’t like we were getting blown out. The bunkers were fine, and for the most part, the golf course maintained its integrity, we just couldn’t get on it.”
Golfers were permitted to drive off the path just four days during May. More important for the tournament ahead, Stuedemann and his crew of 25 mowed fairways only two or three times during the month and were unable to mow the rough even once. An incredible fleet that includes 109 pieces of John Deere equipment remained in park.
“We ended up having to spend pretty much the entire month of June playing catchup once things started drying out and getting a little more hospitable for heavy equipment to get out,” Stuedemann says. “We were picking our battles. What was imperative to be done prior to the event? What were the things that we might see but the professional golfer or the spectator coming out here wouldn’t know the difference? Those are tough choices to make, because it’s kind of a bug in your craw, not having something done, even though in your eyes almost everybody else can’t see it.”
Schedules shifted toward odd hours for a while. Assistant superintendent Alex West recalls mowing during plenty of afternoons into the evening, once or twice staying atop a mower past 9 p.m. Andy Cooper, one of two assistants-in-training alongside Jarrett Chapman, sprayed four hours one night from 6 to 10, then returned the next morning, just like normal, by 4:15.
“The course dries out throughout the day and then you still have golf out there,” Cooper says. “So you’re working around the weather and the golf, and our window was now nighttime. That’s when most of our mowing got done. Looking back, we were so glad we did come in at night, because the weather the next couple of days was normally complete garbage.”
Equipment director Bruce Phillipson describes the stretch as “a little bit of a break,” though he followed that statement by saying, “and I don’t want that to happen again.” Phillipson would much rather prefer to tune up the 14 John Deere 220 E-Cut Hybrid walk-behind greens mowers, the eight 220SL Precision Cut walk-behind greens mowers, the quartet of 7500A E-Cut hybrid fairway mowers, the dozens and dozens of Gators. He can find other ways to fill his days — like designing and welding a dew drag that allows a single Gator to skim overnight moisture — but he would rather work on the Deere equipment whose triennial order form alone weighs more than a can of pop.
“You have to be able to adapt, come up with new ideas, and do things you don’t normally do” West says. “I think we adapted well to the climate and ended up with a pretty decent product for the tournament.”
The pros on the course and the tens of thousands of fans all around it will likely attest to that. The tournament teed off Thursday for the 49th straight year in the region — and for the 20th straight year at Deere Run — with the course as gorgeous as ever. Every corner appears perfect and prepared.
Maybe all that rain helped more than hindered.
“Trying to get too aggressive in that weather would have been disastrous,” Stuedemann says. “Whether it had been ripping up rough, scalping down turf that wasn’t ready to be cut. I think we lose sight of that sometimes as superintendents. We do more benefit when we don’t do something instead of going out there and trying to be the hero.”