Long before 20-year-old Matthew Wolff howled home a tourney-crowning eagle at the PGA Tour’s inaugural 3M Open in early July, the maintenance cast and crew at the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minn. was prepping a renovated course to ready for the world's best.
As detailed by Golf Course Industry in November, the grounds’ transition from a longtime PGA Tour Champions host into a reworked PGA Tour stop was neither a task nor a timeline for the timid.
Beginning what the course referred to as “competitive enhancements” literally the day after the farewell round of Champions play in early August, the TPC Twin Cities’ grounds team was on a clock of approximately 80 days to man the thorough design changes before winter.
As players neared the cut late on the Friday following round one’s Independence Day debut, Mark Michalski, head superintendent at TPC Twin Cities, found a rare moment to observe his charge on television, and to reflect on the torrid transition that took the course from a 7,000-yard par 72 to a 7,450-yard par 71.
After laying the last sod two days prior to construction companies pulling out on October 29, the track survived a tough winter, with stretches of days with no snow cover and 30-below temps.
“We got everything done,” Michalski said. “And then, coming out of winter, we didn’t lose any grass, but the grass was just so dormant. And then we didn’t get above 50-degrees soil temps until May 30. Realistically, we only had a few months of growing weather with frost into early June.”
After a deluge of spring rain, Michalski found muggy weather in late June into early July playing to his benefit.
“If the fall gave us a little better weather, well ... the things we got done after October 10, you can still see some sod seams out there,” he continued. “It plays fine, but you can still see the scars a little. The holes we did first look like they were always there, but from a super’s standpoint, you want not the just playability, of course, but also the perfect aesthetics."
Some of the crew’s best-laid plans were at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Michalski had course peripheries and hospitality areas seeded with good germination ... which was washed away with pounding rain, affecting the reworked grounds.
“So there was, like, a foot of sand on the 18th fairway in spots,” he said. “That was discouraging; it set us back a bit. But I look back on that now, and, I mean, if we hadn’t sodded everything, with the winter we had, even if we had a good catch of seed, I think I would have lost some of that. So, without that rainstorm, I may have made the wrong decision. It was frustrating, but looking back on it now, I think I was given the weather I needed to do the job. Never get too high or too low as a superintendent, is what I've learned. You're only as good as the weather that you’ve got.”
As anticipated, a course that once played among the easiest on the Champions Tour indeed saw its share of red numbers for the world’s best. And yet, despite the lack of the grounds’ typical wind defense, TPC Twin Cities stood sturdy with a cumulative 69.455 scoring average, and saw 40 scorecards over-par for non-cut makers (Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson among them at 5-over).
In addition, the rework’s most dramatic change – a doubled lake size on the par-5 18th – saw the intended risk-reward narrative take form, ranging from Wolff's 72nd-hole eagle to world No. 1 Brooks Koepka carding a 4, 8, 7 and 3 across his respective four rounds.
For Michalski, the process was more than just turf-based; rather, seeds of knowledge grew across the 11-month window.
“I learned a lot from the design meetings,” Michalski said about observing the work of Steve Wenzloff, the PGA Tour’s vice president of design services, along with player consultant, Tom Lehman. “I’m not a designer; I’m a superintendent. I like to play golf, to think about the course, but I learned so much about the ‘why’ those guys would do certain things, and the concepts behind it. Whether it was the bailout area left on the 18th to make for a longer second shot, or all the options presented with routing on the shorter No. 16 – those things gave players opportunity to use their imagination.”
And, come tourney time, architecture lessons segued to logistical understanding.
“Just stuff like how we get back to our maintence facility,” Michalski added. “It was tight, the way it was routed with fences and barriers. This week, we're going through catering and police and stuff, so it has been a challenge, but also an opportunity to make mental notes for next year.”
For Michalski, the transition of Tours on his grounds created an apropos comparison from a Minnesota native.
“It’s kinda’ like going from the County Fair to the State Fair – it's just so much more of everything,” Michalski concluded. “Inside the ropes, we kept things the same; outside the ropes is a different story.”
John Deere celebrated The First Tee 2019 Power for Good scholarship contest winners last week on the eve of The John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill. The winners participated in a panel discussion with Scott Langley, a First Tee alum.
“As a leader in the golf industry, we are committed to supporting the next generation of golfers, and one way we do this is through our continued relationship with The First Tee and the John Deere Power for Good scholarship contest,” Deere director of global golf Manny Gan said. “The three 2019 winners are leaders both on and off the course, and we are proud to honor these young women this week at The John Deere Classic.”
The scholarship winners are Kharynton Beggs of Charleston, S.C., Katelyn Harris of Antelope, Calif., and Mombo Ngu of Jacksonville, Fla. The purpose of the contest is to recognize the efforts of young men and women in The First Tee program who, like John Deere, have a passion for improving their surroundings. Through an essay application, students are required to write a summary of the impact of their efforts and how their work is connected to the values learned through The First Tee and the game of golf.
Deere has sponsored The First Tee since 2012, working with the organization to positively impact young people through educational programs and the game of golf. The scholarship program launched in late 2016.
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.”