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Digby man volunteers at famed Riviera golf tournament


From Feb. 15-22, I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles to volunteer at the Northern Trust Open hosted at the Riviera Country Club.

I was able to spend the week, along with 25 other volunteers, helping course superintendent Matt Morton and his staff prepare and maintain the course for the event.

This was the first time that I was able to experience a tournament of this size and it allowed me to gain valuable insight into what it takes to prepare a golf course for some of the world’s best players.

Throughout the week, I was fortunate to be tasked with mowing greens on the back nine (holes 11, 12, 13, 15 and 17) each morning, while fitting in wherever needed during the evening shift. These miscellaneous jobs included rolling greens, cleaning debris on the course, and helping take moisture readings on the greens.

The PGA Tour has hosted tournaments almost annually at Riviera under various names as the Northern Trust, Nissan, and Los Angeles Opens since 1973.

Riviera was designed in 1927 by famed architect George Thomas who provided a routing through a winding riverbed that is still relevant in today’s modern era. Built on a fast draining sandy soil, the course is predominantly covered by Kikuyu grass, which makes up the fairways, tees, approaches, and rough.

This was my first experience with warm season turf grass and it was interesting to learn the differences in managing this type of turf as well as how it affects playability. The combination of thick leaf blades and a dense mat of vegetative tissue present different challenges to players than those seen on golf courses in the northeast region. Drives that find the fairways are dampened by the sponge like turf reducing the amount of roll, while approach shots that land short of the green are prevented from running up onto the putting surface.

The greens at Riviera Country Club are made up mostly of Poa annua with varying levels of bent grass mixed throughout. Although the type of grass on the greens is very similar to that of Oakmont, the way which it is managed and the expectations in terms of playability are much different.

The expectations for the golf course set forth by the PGA Tour head agronomist Jay Sprol, was to have the greens running at an average speed of 12.5 on the stimpmeter, moisture levels of 16-20 per cent, and firmness readings of 240-280.

It was explained that these levels would allow for a challenging yet fair test of golf while still allowing for low scoring and a somewhat fast pace of play. This was planned to be achieved through cutting the greens twice each day, once in the morning and once in the evening, followed by a single hand roll after the evening cut.

However, due to very dry conditions in the month leading up to the tournament, this changed as the greens were already faster than expected. Throughout the week, the evening cut on the greens was pulled in order to ensure that the speed of the greens did not get out of hand.

This is the one difference that I found tough to get used to, as at Oakmont we try to achieve the firmest, fastest playing conditions possible at all times.

This certainly put into perspective the uniqueness of a venue such as Oakmont and allowed me to gain an even greater appreciation for the championship playing conditions we are able to provide on a daily basis.

Even with measures taken to keep the greens from speeding up too much, the greens dried down throughout the tournament and speeds of 13.5-14, moisture levels of 10-14 per cent, and firmness readings of 180-220 were reached making for challenging playing conditions for the players come Sunday.

While this entire experience allowed me to network with other professionals in the industry as well as giving me a chance to see another historic golf course, the most important thing I gained from my week at Riviera was the insight into what it takes to manage both the turf and crew for an event like this.

It was interesting to see the importance of quickly familiarizing the volunteers with the golf course and tasks they would be performing through the week to ensure that come tournament time everyone was ready. With volunteers arriving only a few days before the start of the event, and most of the work being done in the dark, efficient preparation of the course could not have been achieved without proper management and delegation.

One of the things that surprised me most about the whole event was the amount of input that PGA Tour officials had regarding playing conditions and how their goals can sometimes conflict with those of the course superintendent. While the main focus for the PGA Tour was to ensure that pace of play was reasonable and that the tournament was entertaining for the fans, the superintendent was looking to make the course as challenging as possible for the players.

Even with exposure to all of the new things that I saw during the week of the tournament, the biggest thing that I gained from my time at Riviera was a greater appreciation for not only the design of the golf course here at Oakmont but for the conditioning that we are able to provide each day.

Each time that I am able to visit another course that is considered to be elite, I always walk away with a better understanding of what makes Oakmont stand at a level that is obtainable by very few.

 

(Digby native Brandon Turnbull, son of Peter and Sandra Turnbull, is now on the greens crew at Oakmont Country Club, which has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the U.S., including eight United States Opens. Oakmont sent Brandon to California to help with course work at this year’s Northern Open tournament and he sent us this report. - Ed.)

From Feb. 15-22, I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles to volunteer at the Northern Trust Open hosted at the Riviera Country Club.

I was able to spend the week, along with 25 other volunteers, helping course superintendent Matt Morton and his staff prepare and maintain the course for the event.

This was the first time that I was able to experience a tournament of this size and it allowed me to gain valuable insight into what it takes to prepare a golf course for some of the world’s best players.

Throughout the week, I was fortunate to be tasked with mowing greens on the back nine (holes 11, 12, 13, 15 and 17) each morning, while fitting in wherever needed during the evening shift. These miscellaneous jobs included rolling greens, cleaning debris on the course, and helping take moisture readings on the greens.

The PGA Tour has hosted tournaments almost annually at Riviera under various names as the Northern Trust, Nissan, and Los Angeles Opens since 1973.

Riviera was designed in 1927 by famed architect George Thomas who provided a routing through a winding riverbed that is still relevant in today’s modern era. Built on a fast draining sandy soil, the course is predominantly covered by Kikuyu grass, which makes up the fairways, tees, approaches, and rough.

This was my first experience with warm season turf grass and it was interesting to learn the differences in managing this type of turf as well as how it affects playability. The combination of thick leaf blades and a dense mat of vegetative tissue present different challenges to players than those seen on golf courses in the northeast region. Drives that find the fairways are dampened by the sponge like turf reducing the amount of roll, while approach shots that land short of the green are prevented from running up onto the putting surface.

The greens at Riviera Country Club are made up mostly of Poa annua with varying levels of bent grass mixed throughout. Although the type of grass on the greens is very similar to that of Oakmont, the way which it is managed and the expectations in terms of playability are much different.

The expectations for the golf course set forth by the PGA Tour head agronomist Jay Sprol, was to have the greens running at an average speed of 12.5 on the stimpmeter, moisture levels of 16-20 per cent, and firmness readings of 240-280.

It was explained that these levels would allow for a challenging yet fair test of golf while still allowing for low scoring and a somewhat fast pace of play. This was planned to be achieved through cutting the greens twice each day, once in the morning and once in the evening, followed by a single hand roll after the evening cut.

However, due to very dry conditions in the month leading up to the tournament, this changed as the greens were already faster than expected. Throughout the week, the evening cut on the greens was pulled in order to ensure that the speed of the greens did not get out of hand.

This is the one difference that I found tough to get used to, as at Oakmont we try to achieve the firmest, fastest playing conditions possible at all times.

This certainly put into perspective the uniqueness of a venue such as Oakmont and allowed me to gain an even greater appreciation for the championship playing conditions we are able to provide on a daily basis.

Even with measures taken to keep the greens from speeding up too much, the greens dried down throughout the tournament and speeds of 13.5-14, moisture levels of 10-14 per cent, and firmness readings of 180-220 were reached making for challenging playing conditions for the players come Sunday.

While this entire experience allowed me to network with other professionals in the industry as well as giving me a chance to see another historic golf course, the most important thing I gained from my week at Riviera was the insight into what it takes to manage both the turf and crew for an event like this.

It was interesting to see the importance of quickly familiarizing the volunteers with the golf course and tasks they would be performing through the week to ensure that come tournament time everyone was ready. With volunteers arriving only a few days before the start of the event, and most of the work being done in the dark, efficient preparation of the course could not have been achieved without proper management and delegation.

One of the things that surprised me most about the whole event was the amount of input that PGA Tour officials had regarding playing conditions and how their goals can sometimes conflict with those of the course superintendent. While the main focus for the PGA Tour was to ensure that pace of play was reasonable and that the tournament was entertaining for the fans, the superintendent was looking to make the course as challenging as possible for the players.

Even with exposure to all of the new things that I saw during the week of the tournament, the biggest thing that I gained from my time at Riviera was a greater appreciation for not only the design of the golf course here at Oakmont but for the conditioning that we are able to provide each day.

Each time that I am able to visit another course that is considered to be elite, I always walk away with a better understanding of what makes Oakmont stand at a level that is obtainable by very few.

 

(Digby native Brandon Turnbull, son of Peter and Sandra Turnbull, is now on the greens crew at Oakmont Country Club, which has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the U.S., including eight United States Opens. Oakmont sent Brandon to California to help with course work at this year’s Northern Open tournament and he sent us this report. - Ed.)

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