The Road to Shinnecock: ‘I’ll be very proud of our people’

The Road to Shinnecock: ‘I’ll be very proud of our people’

Final preparations, the value of volunteering and why running is a key part of his routine. More thoughts from Shinnecock Hills GC’s Jon Jennings.

June 4, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third installment in a diary series in partnership with BASF describing the people, maintenance practices and agronomic programs at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. 

The U.S. Open has been a constant focus since the day I started working at Shinnecock in 2012. I was hired as the golf course superintendent to provide day in and day out playing conditions for the people who are coming out to enjoy the golf course. But the target of the U.S. Open and 2018 was always on the calendar and it has been a constant thought with everything that we have done as far as maintenance programs, organization, equipment and getting the right people in place.

It has made us focus on being extremely organized, largely because there are so many things to do all the time. It’s a big commitment for anybody who has been involved, from assistants, interns, to our staff just to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to make the golf course the best conditioned playing surface that we can within the given timeframe we needed for 2018.

My advice to those hosting their own big events would be to go volunteer at an event ahead of time. Go see how it’s setup, what they are doing, what it takes to get playing surfaces into championship condition. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a U.S. Open, but it can anything from a PGA Tour event to a local state qualifier. Any event that I have gone to – and I have volunteered at many of them – it’s very appreciated by the superintendent and host facility. But, secondly, it gives you a great opportunity to network with other people in the industry and see what is occurring on the golf course for maintenance. Every time that I have volunteered at an event I have gleaned at least five ideas that I can bring back to the place where I have worked and implement them to make our operation better. 

The week before is really when things start to tighten up. The final structures are going up. Inside the ropes, it’s increasing the mowing frequency, making sure we have our mowing schedule in place and all the mow lines are precise, and we start to get into that repetitive aspect of preparation where the same people are going out and doing the same tasks to make sure they know what they need to do and what they need to achieve within a given timeframe.

Running is a big factor with me. In fact, I was looking at my miles and I have logged more miles this spring than I have in prior years. Running is important to me because it allows me to focus on my mind and keeps me in shape. It also gives me some time to myself just to think. I run as soon I get up in the morning. It’s not uncommon for me to be out running at 3:30, 3:45 in the morning. I’ll go out and run 45 minutes to an hour. It just settles me down so much as I go into the day. I have no idea what time my day is going to end and when I’m going to be leaving. If I don’t run first thing in the morning, there’s a good chance it’s going to get away from me. I prioritize it. It’s the first thing I do in the morning. It’s out of the way and I’m glad I did it. 

I wouldn’t even call it so much an outlet. I’m not running out of anything. It’s important, especially in this business, to take care of yourself, watch what you eat and exercise. It’s easy to get wrapped up and get busy and neglect your health. But if you don’t have your health, the rest of your world falls apart.

I am going to run the week of the U.S. Open. I probably won’t put in the miles that I typically do, but I have kind of an OCD personality. I don’t remember how many days straight I have run, but there’s a group in the United States for running streaks. I have run every day since Jan. 1, 2015. The criteria for that group is that you have to run a minimum of one mile a day. As long as I can squeeze in one mile a day, I can maintain that streak through the Championship. Running a mile takes me 7 ½ minutes. I’m sure I can find 7 ½ minutes in the morning before I get to the course.

The industry support has been tremendous. Leading off the charge is The Toro Company and BASF. The Toro Company has provided us with an entire fleet of equipment for our staff and volunteers to use on the golf course. BASF has been a tremendous partner as well. We use their products as the foundation of our plant protection program. It’s extremely important for us to be confident that we are not going to have disease breakthrough at an important period of time.

It will be fun seeing everybody at the U.S. Open. There’s a lot of local support from the Long Island and New York area, and some real local support from the Southampton area. Being right next to National Golf Links of America, Sebonack and Southampton Golf Club, those superintendents have offered their staff and will be coming over to help us out. But if you go broader than that, there’s a great cross spectrum of people that are coming in, from past interns to past assistants. My mentor, Mike Chrzanowski from Madison (Conn.) Country Club, will be coming in for the week. He was the one who directed me to go into school for turfgrass management. A good friend of mine from middle school and high school, Pat Sisk from Milwaukee Country Club, will be here for the week. He will be working on course setup. It’s a great reunion period.

I will be feeling extremely satisfied when the tournament starts. With all of the hard work our staff has put into the course, building it up to this moment and then having it get underway … I’ll be very proud of our people. Our senior assistant superintendent Mike Ford has planned and helped me for six seasons here and before that he was an intern for me at Chicago Golf Club. And (assistant superintendent) Bobby Bolin with the spray programs and getting those all set and (assistant superintendent) Lindsay Brownson with the volunteer experience and all her organization … those are the people who really do the heavy lifting. And then all of our staff members. They put so much into this golf course, so many hours getting it ready just for the moment. It will be extremely exciting to have this underway and see the world’s best players out on the course, giving it a test and enjoying the fruits of our labor.

The U.S. Open is one chapter and it will end June 17. At that point it will be a matter of getting the club back, organized and ready for the next phase, which is regular daily play. I’m looking forward to that as well. I don’t dwell on things. I tend to just keep looking forward and enjoy the new experiences that come to us. Beyond June 17 will be the next new experience.