The Blue Monster has hosted PGA Tour events for over 40 years. Past winners include names like Nicklaus, Trevino and Norman. This past weekend was no different, with the course hosting the World Golf Championships – CA Championship. After the Event I caught up with John Patterson, Fleet Manager of Doral Resort. I asked John to give me some insight to the equipment preparation and daily routine to put on a Tournament of this caliber…
When does course preparation begin for the event? (Aerifying, topdressing, verticutting etc.)
At our Friday staff meeting following the tournament we debrief and add any notes to the setup book for the following years’ event, so you could say it begins there. We are constantly evaluating the course and any notable changes to the course are first communicated to the PGA representatives. Cultural practices for Tees, Collars, Approaches Fairways and Greens are performed in the summer months. Greens get a light “dusting” topdressing on the Monday before tournament. Course preparation begins in earnest eight weeks before the event.
Is the course closed to play for the prep work?
The Blue Monster sees over 52,000 rounds a year, so the course only closes for one week prior to the event. The majority of prep is accomplished during play.
Are any special preparations done for the driving range?
We close the upper tier of the range tee for several weeks prior to the event to heal. The driving range tee is overseeded every year with Perennial Ryegrass.
What is the normal height of cut for the different areas of the course?
Rough: 2-1/2”, Intermediate Rough: 1”, Tees and Fairways: .500”, Collars and Approaches: .400”, Greens: .120”.
Are any of these changed for the event?
Roughs are allowed to grow up to 3”, then we go out the week before tournament and just even out the lumps and top the seed heads with rotary mowers set to 3-1/2”. In the weeks leading up to the event the Collars are lowered to .300”. Greens are lowered just enough to get the speed the PGA wants while maintaining plant health during the event, usually .090”-.100”
Do you always follow PGA recommendations?
Generally speaking, yes. It’s our opinion here at Doral that it is their show, after all. There are some animated discussions at times, though.
What types of grasses are on the course?
Brand new TifEagle Bermuda Greens this year (not overseeded), 419 Bermuda on all other surfaces, Tees overseeded with Perennial Ryegrass.
When do you begin equipment prep work for the event? (Changing HOC, grinding reels, new bedknives etc.)
I basically work backwards from tournament Sunday for budgeting time and money. Everything on the course is fresh ground with new knives two months ahead of the event. Roughs are ground again one month before the event, but this is more for after the tournament, as we let the Rough grow. Fairways get a light grind bi-weekly, scheduled so the last mower is finished by Tuesday of tournament week. Tees/Collars/Approaches are ground weekly, then usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday of tournament week. Greens mowers are always looked at every day of the year (Except Christmas day). HOC changes are made very gradually over the eight weeks prior to the event.
Seeing as there is a Pro-Am and other events earlier in the week prior to the actual Tournament, when do you REALLY need to have the course ready?
Well, beginning this year it is a WGC event, The CA Championship, so the field is set. There is no cut or Pro-Am. We are REALLY ready for the tournament at 0700 EST on tournament Thursday. There are always last-minute things which need attention, no matter how much planning you’ve done – Murphy always makes an appearance!
Are any equipment manufacturers or distributors involved in helping out for the tournament? What do they do?
Jacobsen had their tournament support staff here for the event and brought the big trailer with a full-dress Cushman vehicle (Generator, air compressor, hose reel, work lights.), satellite T.V. for the crew to watch the event, and a large gas-fired barbeque grill. The crew loved it! Gary Kuhl and Vollie Carr from Jacobsen are a welcome addition to any staff, as they have many years experience (Gary is a multi talented factory-level technician and Vollie has over 25 years in at the Masters). Having their eyes and talent on board is a great benefit, whether it’s actually put to use or not. Luckily there wasn’t much for them to do at the shop other than cook lunch for the crew, share “war stories” and talk about new technology. We did demo the new Eclipse mower while they were here and I was impressed with the unit. Our local Toro distributor, Hector Turf, donated the walking Tee Mowers used for the tournament and Hector has always been great at providing anything we need. Toro sales and service personnel were also here on each day of the event to check on us (And the Jacobsen guys, I’m sure!). Much to their credit, everyone behaved as consummate professionals while here. As Gary puts it: “Come tournament time, it doesn’t matter what color it is, it’s all just iron out there”.
What type of grinders do you have?
Bernhard Express Dual and Anglemaster 3000, and Foley 650 and 670.
Are the reels ground each day of the event?
No. Greens/Tees/Collars/Approaches are typically ground Monday, Wednesday and Friday of tournament week, depending on what we see when they come off the course. I let the mowers tell me what they need rather than grind on a set schedule. Each cutting unit is inspected after use and I believe in the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
How about bedknives, are they also ground or faced?
See above. Everything is as-needed. We perform as many inspections as necessary (with multiple sets of eyes) to ensure as close to perfect operation as possible, but if it cuts, is square and adjusted properly, going through the teardown/buildup process is allowing room for mistakes and accidents which is not justified in my opinion. This year the bedknives of the Tee/Collar/Approach mowers were faced .010” on Friday. Greens mower bedknives were ground to my specs when they were installed on Monday, then ground Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and a total of .006” was ground from the top face and .012” was ground from the front face; just enough to maintain a .045” front face.
Do you do any preventative spraying for disease before the event; who preps the sprayers?
I am not aware of the specific tank mixes, but the sprayers do go out the week before tournament and we do P.M. and repair work on them as necessary. The I.P.M. Technicians are responsible for sprayer calibrations and changing sprayer tips.
What types of mowers and how many are used in the daily operation for the tournament?
We use primarily Toro equipment on the Blue Monster. Roughs are topped with a 4700-D and 328-D rotaries, Intermediate Rough is cut with three 2000-D trim mowers, Fairways are cut with four 6500-Ds, Tees are cut with six GM 1600 walk mowers, Collars are cut with two GM 1000 walk mowers, Approaches and Par Three Fairways are cut with four GM 3250-D triplex mowers, and Greens are cut with six GM 1000 walk mowers.
Is the routing of the equipment during the Tournament the same as a normal day?
Well, it varies because Thursday and Friday the players go off the front and back, but Saturday and Sunday they all go off the first tee. So yes, we do different routings, but they are no different than if we had a shotgun on the course (which happens often, so we’re used to changing things up).
Do you use Tournament or Micro bedknives on the walkers?
Greens mowers? Micro.
Are all the clippings removed from the course during the Tournament? How is that accomplished?
Clippings are collected from everything except the Par 4 and 5 Fairways. Collection carts meet the mowers at each hole and the baskets are emptied directly into the carts for transport to our horticultural waste area. Par 4 and 5 Fairways are dew whipped after the morning mowing.
Are bunkers hand raked, or do you use machines?
Both. Fairway bunkers are spun with a machine first, then finished by hand. Green side bunkers are done by hand.
Are any maintenance practices for the event different from the normal routine? (Double cutting, rolling greens, grooming etc.)
Besides allowing the Rough to grow, we begin “burning in” the Fairway and Approach stripes two months before the tournament by mowing the same direction. Tees are walk mowed beginning two weeks before the tournament and they stripe well because of the overseed. The Greens mowing seems to be different every year, but this year especially because of the new TifEagle grass and no overseed vs. the old overseeded Tifdwarf Greens. We do cut and roll more than any other time of the year.
Do you do any mowing after the last player is off the course in the afternoon or do you begin the following morning?
We mow everything twice a day during the tournament. Equipment is staged at strategic locations adjacent to #1 and #10 so we can begin as soon as the last pair is out of earshot.
How much time is there in the morning between the last piece of equipment off the course and the first tee time?
In this format we stay well ahead of play. Greens mowers are in at least an hour ahead of the first tee time, but Fairway mowers are usually just getting off the course when the first players tee off.
At any given time during the Tournament, how many guys might we find in the shop prepping equipment for the next day?
Four to six. At tournament time we team up people to have everybody double-checking each other’s work (myself included). We are all dead tired, so it is the best to have as many eyes looking at things as possible.
Having four other courses on the property gives you the ability to tap into multiple resources. Do you have extra equipment already prepped and ready in case of an emergency, and do you access it only if the need arises?
Yes, and yes. We have three Fairway mowers, multiple triplex mowers, vehicles and walk mowers on standby.
Walk us through a typical Tournament day; the time you get there, any equipment prep, the time needed to complete each mowing task etc…to the time you leave.
0430: Arrive and open shop. Make coffee.
0445: Oversee equipment hook-up. No dropped trailers.
0500: Attend Associate pep-rally and morning labor assignment meeting.
0515: Top-up coffee. Go out on course to observe equipment operation.
0630: Meet Superintendent on first Green to check speed and discuss. Superintendent talks it over with PGA representative via telephone so nobody can hear the conversation (Shhh!).
0645: Continue checking machine operation.
0700: Back to shop for coffee exchange. Meet with Jacobsen Technicians.
0730: Meet with PGA Agronomist and company Superintendents, Directors and Vice Presidents on the Putting Green to discuss course conditions and any issues or concerns for the day’s round. Make lots of notes. Get Starbucks coffee from the resort. Tell some people who call I can’t get them tickets.
0830: Back to the shop to check equipment. Evaluate mowers and determine the day’s maintenance requirements for each group. Assist technicians with various tasks.
0930: Make coffee. Open office and check e-mails. Breathe. Relax. Think.
1000: Ride the course and walk #9 and #18 Greens. Make notes. Think. Make more notes. Pick up some tickets from the Tournament Office.
1030: Back to shop for coffee exchange. Check cutting unit maintenance. Share and compare notes with Shop Supervisor. Meet with Toro representatives.
1100: Lunch. Visit with Jacobsen technicians and share “war stories”. Attend Associate pep-rally and afternoon labor assignment meeting.
1200: Watch a little golf. Soak it in.
1300: Back to shop to help with machine maintenance and one or two repairs.
1400: Visit with some people who stop by for their tickets.
1500: Back to the shop to check equipment going out. Repair low tire.
1530: Repair a vehicle for the Tournament Office.
1600: Make coffee. Check e-mail. Think. Say goodbye and thank you to the people not staying for evening checkouts. Go back on course to check Fairway mowers.
1630: Meet Superintendent on first green to discuss conditions and mowers. We don’t tell anybody specifics of what we talk about (Shhh!).
16:45: Meet with Jacobsen technicians. Talk shop. Drink coffee.
1730: Check a Fairway mower with an issue. Make the call to swap it out for another machine. Return to shop to diagnose and repair the machine.
1900: Check Greens mowers and determine maintenance needed.
1915: Call my wife to say goodnight to her and my 15 month old son, who have gone to her mother’s for the weekend. She points out a couple of flaws she saw on T.V. and I tell her I love her anyway. She laughs.
1930: Back to the shop to check progress and assist with mower checks and adjustments. Thank everyone profusely for their dedication and hard work. Shake hands and slap backs. Send them home.
2100: Shut down the shop. Stare at things and think. Shut down the office. Prep the coffee pot for the following day.
2130: Go home. Seventeen hours is about right. There are always some variances, but that’s the gist of it.
When on Sunday can you finally call it “a wrap” and relax?
I start to unwind when I see the Greens mowers come in on Sunday. I watch almost the entire final round, and then can really start to relax when I see the last put drop on 18 and I know there won’t be a playoff. I have to help rake bunkers if there is...