By David McPherson, PGATOUR.COM contributor
For Curtis Tyrrell, the director of golf course operations at Medinah, this week’s Ryder Cup is a "once-in-a lifetime event.”
It’s taken several years of preparation, though, as Tyrrell has worked closely with Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s managing director of championships, and U.S. Captain Davis Love III to deliver a course set to their specifications.
Love wanted the rough kept short and tight to create excitement and that’s what awaits competitors this week. They’ll also putt on firm and fast greens that were rebuilt in 2009 and 2010.
Six of the original push-up greens — putting surfaces that are literally pushed up or slightly elevated to distinguish themselves from the other landscaping around it — were rebuilt to USGA specifications to achieve better consistency while all the others were resurfaced
That was the heart of the changes the certified golf course superintendent oversaw after arriving at Medinah in 2008. The other major project was a redesign of the 15th hole, which the superintendent said was a pretty “mundane” par 4. Drainage issues are why the club originally voted to give a facelift to the 390-yard hole.
“It’s the lowest elevation point on the course and it was prone to flooding,” Tyrrell explained. “That presented many challenging maintenance issues. It fit well with what Rees [Jones] wanted to build … a drive-able par 4 with a water hazard on the right.”
For the average golfer the large pond comes into play, but for the Ryder Cup this week, it’s more of a risk-reward scenario. “If they block their tee shot right, everything feeds that way and they can end up in the hazard.”
Despite living through some of the toughest growing conditions in their three years of existence — hot and wet in 2010 and ’11 that gave way to a drought this year — Medinah’s greens are ready to roll. “They made it through this summer beautifully,” Tyrrell said. “We installed fans in some of our tighter locations to improve the air movement, but they are in excellent shape and are going to play wonderfully for the Ryder Cup.”
Since 2008, Medinah has caught up on long overdue tree work. Some trees were diseased and had lived their useful life, while others were cleared to promote sunlight, air movement and eliminate root competition in low-lying fairways. In total, 1,100 trees were cut down in the past four years — more than half that total felled this past winter.
One of the many trees eliminated was the famed one on the 16th hole where a then 19-year-old Sergio Garcia found his ball lying on its roots and made a heroic recovery shot in the 1999 PGA Championship.
“That thing was hollow all the way to the base, so we got rid of it,” Tyrrell said. “We saved the trunk though. It’s currently a landscape feature in front of our maintenance building and we’ve got a few other pieces of the tree in case the membership ever wants to do anything with it.”
With all tees in play, the course is set to create lots of options to vary up the holes on any given day of this week’s competition.
“That’s the interesting thing,” Tyrrell concluded. “When you host a major championship, you are always focused on the back tees or maybe one other tee here or there, but our focus has been on keeping them all tees in shape because they may decide to play a hole shorter one day or longer the next. … They want to see the guys play and create some excitement for all the spectators and viewers.”