By David McPherson, PGATOUR.COM contributor
Thomas DeGrandi is a creature of habit. Every morning, the superintendent’s alarm clock rings at 3:30 a.m.
That strict schedule is especially important this week with the PGA TOUR in town. The director of golf course maintenance operations at TPC River Highlands says the course is in great shape for the Travelers Championship thanks to Mother Nature — who is expected to deliver ideal temperatures throughout tournament week.
“It’s been a really good weather week so far,” DeGrandi said. “It’s even been a little on the cooler side lately, allowing us to do a lot of maintenance practices we might not normally do such as grooming and brushing greens. We’ve been able to get slightly more aggressive than if it was really hot.”
Mother Nature’s role in golf course maintenance operations is something a lot of the golfing public doesn’t completely understand, DiGrandi said. “We can have the complete arsenal of equipment, manpower, and all the stuff you think you need … great drainage, etc., but if Mother Nature chooses to dump a storm on you, you can’t contend with it … it’s that simple.”
DeGrandi felt this wrath last fall when a freak snowstorm arrived on Halloween. This blast from Mother Nature caused $200,000 in tree damage and felled 38 trees. The superintendent had to keep half a dozen crew on last fall just to chip all the wood, which ended up filling 80 dump trucks.
“That was a really big challenge,” DeGrandi said. “We were concerned from a safety point of view because we put a couple hundred thousand people around this course during the tournament. We waited until a lot of the leaves came down and then our arborists got up into the trees and spent all winter cleaning each one out.”
The recent cool weather has also benefited the greens, helping them firm up at just the right time. As of Monday afternoon, they were running around 10.7 and by the weekend DeGrandi said that number will creep closer to 11. The goal is to not go much higher, however, to keep them fair for the players, especially after the penal putting surfaces they faced last week at the Olympic Club.
“If the players had to play U.S. Open conditions every weekend, they would have a fit,” DeGrandi said. “It would be a very stressful occupation … no one can have that crunch on them every day! They need to come back to something that is mundane and manageable.”
“Mundane” is an understatement. The greens at TPC River Highlands are still quick. DeGrandi said they use “The Thumper” to test their firmness.
“We drop this machine on the green and the target is to stay below 4,” he explained. “Most of the readings so far have been between 3.8 and 3.9, so they are firm and quick. We don’t like them to get too fast as it can get unfair, especially on No. 16 and 13.”