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.”