The TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minn., is prepping for some serious fireworks.
In July in 2018, it was announced that the course – longtime host of the PGA Tour Champions’ 3M Championship – would graduate from being home to the senior set into a new stop on the PGA Tour schedule.
The new event, the 3M Open, will break its maiden during Fourth of July week in the summer of 2019. Along with returning to the rabid Twin Cities’ golf market, its first annual PGA Tour stop since the late 1960s, the segue from PGA Tour Champions site to hosting the PGA Tour marks the first-ever instance for such a competitive course transition.
After a 26-year regional run hosting the PGA Tour Champions (the first eight of which were held at Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids, Minn.), the TPC Twin Cities had served as the 3M’s home since 2001, two years after the Arnold Palmer-designed grounds debuted. The new partnership for the 3M Open is an introductory, seven-year deal.
“This idea really started years and years ago, even when we started building the golf course with Arnold,” says Hollis Cavner, executive director of Pro Links Sports, which will manage the event. “That’s why we have all this extra room built in, for bleachers and skyboxes and hospitality. We always knew that, somewhere down the road, we wanted to be on the PGA Tour.”
Along with serving as long-time manager for the former 3M Championship, Pro Links also runs six other PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions events, including the Wells Fargo Championship, Valspar Championship, WGC-Mexico Championship and Insperity Invitational.
“We’ve literally been planning, been training for this, for about eight years since I first put the letter in to the PGA Tour,” Cavner says. “This wasn’t an overnight deal; it took a lot of planning. And we turned down multiple events over the years, just because we didn’t like the dates, we didn’t like where it was going to put us on Tour because it would’ve been the wrong time of season for us or for 3M. So, we held out.”
While the backdrop of plans and paperwork may have been long in the works, changes to the course in readying for the world’s best began taking shape in a rapid time frame.
Being referred to as “competitive enhancements,” the alterations to the TPC Twin Cities began just two days after the 3M Championship was held for the final time in early August of 2018.
And while Cavner, the PGA Tour and Palmer’s original design consultant, Minnesota golf legend Tom Lehman, all have hands on the changes, the dude in the daily dirt would be the young, yet ever-capable Minnesota-native Mark Michalski.
The superintendent at TPC Twin Cities since July of 2017, Michalski had some massive spikes to fill when graduating from his assistant superintendent duties, taking over for legendary Roger Stewart, a man undoubtedly, and deservedly, counted among the modern forefathers of environmental course stewardship.
“I interned for Roger here back in 2009, and then came back as an assistant for him in 2012,” Michalski says. “The thing I respected most about Roger goes all the way back to my first day as an intern. I was 21, I’d already worked on a golf course for seven years, and the first thing he said to me was, ‘I appreciate your willingness to learn from me, but I can learn just as much from you.’ And that hit me that, no matter how far you get in your career, you never wanna’ stop learning, and you can learn from anybody – even though they may be younger or have far less experience than you.”
Stewart’s seemingly Socratic method proved a key part in passing the superintendent’s baton.
“Even though he already knew where he wanted to get to, he passed along to me the importance of letting your staff think for themselves. And Roger would ask me pointed questions to help me get to that point,” Michalski continues, referencing budgetary line-item meetings and the course’s fertility program. “I think I had opportunities that a lot of assistants maybe haven’t had, and that’s because Roger invested in me as a person. And he wanted to make sure that, when he left, there was an obvious choice to replace him.”
Michalski intends to keep TPC Twin Cities’ environmental practices much the same, with an aggressive fairway topdressing program and leaving pollinator habit around the course circumference.
“It doesn’t all need to be a sterile environment. This is a big property, and some areas can be more natural,” Michalski says. “Usually, we only mow the natives once in the spring, we spray ‘em, and then we’re good, we just let it go. But we had such a muggy, rainy season, that we mowed the natives four times this year. So, there will be timing considerations like this (come July of ‘19). We’ll still want that healthy fescue, and not have it looked all mowed out there. We want that three-dimensional look, and to show off what this course is – it’s supposed to look like a Minnesota prairie.”
For Michalski, pride usurps pressure as the PGA Tour readies to come to town.
“Honestly, I haven’t felt crazy pressure in replacing him,” he says. “The way he set it up, Roger paved an easy transition for me to take over as superintendent. Yeah, my job title changed, but the things he allowed me to do as his assistant all empowered me.”
Despite losing a legend, event brass by no means sees Michalski as a Scotch Tape successor.
“Roger had a great system in place, and he had been grooming Mark for several years,” Cavner says. “The last year-plus, Mark really had been running things, and that’s the way a good transition should work. Roger gave Mark the wherewithal to go out and work, to make mistakes and to learn from that. Part of being a good leader like Roger is ensuring that you have a good succession plan in place.”
An industry vet of high-end plays, Cavner sees in Michalski a budding star.
“I think he’s one of the best young course superintendents I’ve met in years and years, and I’ve worked with a lot of superintendents while running tournaments over the last 30 years,” Cavner says. “Mark is an old soul. He knows what he’s doing, he’s anxious to have the course be the best. And I love that attitude. And you can tell by the way his crew works, by the way they respect him, that he’s way advanced beyond his years.”
The competitive enhancements at TPC Twin Cities were provided a construction timeline of 45 days. That’s not 45 weeks – that’s days.
“We really felt this was the timeline, and we had to get all this in because we need to re-grass,” Cavner says. “I mean, we re-sodded almost everything and that work, refilling those seams, all needs to get done before winter.”
Lauding the work of Steve Wenzloff, vice president of design services, player liaison for the PGA Tour, Michalski does find amazement in the alacrity of the project. “It was kinda’ crazy,” Michalski says. “We were in advance week of the last 3M Championship, and starting to basically finalize plans for the changes.”
In prepping to host PGA Tour play, Michalski didn’t hesitate to seek out advice from the TPC network of superintendents, including Alex Stuedemann at TPC Deere Run, Tom Brodeur at TPC Boston, Stephen Britton from TPC Potomac at Avenel Farmers and Jeff Plotts at TPC Sawgrass.
“The conversations with these guys are generally about the magnitude of the buildout,” Michalski says. “There are so many more things to think about, stuff like the TV camera perspectives.”
As for the enhancements, viewers and attendees should focus on the course’s finishing tests.
“Lehman and Wenzloff have done a tremendous job, and, all told the changes are pretty dramatic,” Cavner says. “I used to think that 15 and 16 were two of the weaker holes on the course, and now it’s like, man, they’ve really got some new teeth. And then, on 17, we’ll have the new high-end hospitality area we built. And I really can’t thank Lehman enough. I mean, he donated his time to us. Just tremendous. He said, ‘I’m here to help, and this will be good for Minnesota.’ Very classy.”
Changes on the 16th include replacing rough with bengtrass areas around the green, moving a bunker from the front to 30 yards farther into the approach and shifting bunkers on the left side of the fairway, thus narrowing the hole. While the slight changes to the par-3 17th will present new tee boxes, the most dramatic enhancement will be seen via the deep fairway pond guarding the green on the par-5 home hole. In late August, yeoman’s work was being conducted in earnest to expand the hazard, thereby reducing the space to layup.
For Michalski, seeing the massive project in progress on 18 provides a sense of the gravity soon to come.
“The whole tee complex isn’t even in the same location. It all went way to the right, and the back tee is almost an entirely flipped hill from where the forward tees were on the 17th,” he says. “And then the lake before the green is going to be expanded quite a bit with a more narrow landing area. It will definitely be a harder finishing hole. For the PGA Tour guys, it still won’t be a really hard par 5, but it’s definitely more risk-reward when taking on the water.”
From a turf perspective, Michalski doesn’t envision much, if any conditional changes when readying for the Tour pros in lieu of the Champions players. Yet, as the Minnesota winter swings back toward spring, the young super will no doubt have the event’s enhanced optics in mind.
“I’m still going to try and present the best conditions possible,” Michalski says. “I’m sure once the tournament grows closer, yeah, there will be some, ‘Oh boy, here it comes.’ But, right now, I’m very much a take-it-one-step-at-a-time guy.”