“It’s the absolute perfect time of year to have something thrown on us with such short notice,” he says. “There is beautiful weather typically in October. Cooler days, cooler nights. Grass starts slowing down, but doesn’t lose that much color yet. You’re not chasing your tail on maintenance. You’re getting caught back up from the summer.”
Most golf course superintendents have ample time to prepare for a tour event. If their facility is a regular PGA Tour or LPGA Tour stop, they likely know the tournament dates a year in advance and can plan accordingly. If they’re hosting a major championship, they likely have several years of lead time.
Brandon Hayes is dealing with a challenge of a different sort. Hayes is the superintendent at the Great Waters Course at Reynolds Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Georgia, which is hosting the LPGA Drive On Championship the week of Oct. 19.
The tournament was officially added to the LPGA schedule on Sept. 15. Hayes was advised several weeks earlier that the event would likely become a reality; he had roughly eight weeks to prepare.
“I didn’t know 100 percent that it was a go until the official announcement went out,” Hayes recalls. “It was one of those: ‘We think this is coming, we’re 99 percent sure it’s going to work.’ But until that official announcement went out, nobody knew for sure.”
While Hayes and his team of 20 including himself, would likely have done a few things differently had they had more lead time, several factors were working in their favor.
Tournament week coincides with the one-year anniversary of the conclusion of a year-long renovation effort.
A Jack Nicklaus signature design, the Great Waters Course, one of six on the property, opened for play in 1992 and closed for the renovation in June of 2018, The “new” Great Waters Course features rebuilt green complexes with TifEagle Bermudagrass, Zeon Zoysia fairways and tees, TifTuf Bermudagrass rough, revamped bunkers, and new drainage and irrigation systems. “The only thing saved was some storm drainage and some cart paths,” Hayes says.
The tournament has had little impact on his maintenance schedule. “There’s a few things that we did differently,” Hayes adds. “We’re mashing the greens a little bit more than we would. Going into the fall with Bermuda greens we would typically be creeping up on our mowing height a hair by the time the tournament gets here, but it won’t affect our long-term maintenance that much.”
One step Hayes did take in the weeks leading up to the event was to spray more frequently. “We did go in and sod some areas and we’ve been topdressing a little extra,” he says. “We did spray a few extra preventative things on the Zoysia for Zoyisa patch and for army worms, so we’ve done a few extra sprays that we probably wouldn’t have done, but I won’t tell you 100 percent we wouldn’t.”
During tournament week, Hayes expects the rough to be mowed between 2 ¼ and 2 ½ inches and the greens to be rolling at 11 ½ to 12 on the Stimpmeter.
A graduate of the University of Georgia, Hayes has spent his entire professional career at Reynolds Lake Oconee. He’s been stationed at the Great Waters Course since 2007 and has been its superintendent since 2013.
Hayes admits he’s had an anxious moment or two since the tournament was officially confirmed. “Initially, it was a little bit scary,” he says, “and honestly, still is, but we try to keep things around here at a pretty high level anyway and I’ve got a pretty solid crew around me.”
That crew includes first assistant Brad Nixon and second assistant Daniel Mendsen. “They’re both solid guys,” Hayes adds. “Brad’s been with me four or five years as my right-hand man. When I told him about (the tournament), he was thrilled. He’s been wanting something like this for quite some time. Daniel is just the same.”
Hayes also leans heavily on equipment manager Eric Dickerson, who this year was named Most Valuable Technician by the GCSAA. “Eric is basically a third assistant for me.” Hayes says. “He’s way more than an equipment manager and an outstanding guy for me to have on my team.”
Hayes has plenty to do before the LPGA arrives. The Great Waters Course will be open for member and resort guest play through Oct. 19, the Sunday before the start of the tournament. Hayes anticipates the course being closed on Monday, Oct. 20, although the range and putting green will be open.
When Hayes spoke with Golf Course Industry, he was preparing to attend to some last-minute details but was confident he and his team would have the Great Waters Course ready for the best players in the world.
“We’re in good shape,” he says. “We’ll be ready for them. I think they’ll find a very challenging and fair and fun golf course to play.”
Meanwhile, in New Jersey
When the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer was shifted from its usual post-Memorial Day dates to the first weekend in October, Mike Bair, the director of agronomy at the Seaview resort just outside Atlantic City, had to readjust his schedule. But nothing too dramatic.
“The tournament) didn’t change things too much drastically,” he says. “We still stayed on our programs, still did what we had to do, so nothing in those kinds of respects really changed that much.”
The biggest change the players found on the Seaview Bay Course was on the greens.
“They’re always used to the tournament being in the early spring,” Bair says, “and things are actively growing, so you do have that inconsistency a little bit from morning to afternoon. This time of year, things have slowed down, the weather has changed and the Poa is not growing as profusely as it would in the spring.”
Rick Woelfel is a Philadelphia-based writer and frequent Golf Course Industry contributor. He’s also the host of the Women’s Golf Report podcast.