The joke among people who tend golf courses is that, this time of year, they work half-days: 5 a.m to 5 p.m. Yes, August is a long, tough month. And in one case, the calendar isn’t even half the story.
As hard as it is to keep a course somewhat green during a heat wave with little rain, the staff at Bethpage Black has a much steeper hill to climb. It has to get everything pristine for one of the PGA Tour’s biggest events. Heat index or not, The Barclays will be here next week.
So far, so good. The Black, which has been closed to the public since Sunday, looked healthy during a tour Tuesday morning, with the brightly colored grass standing out against the tall light brown native fescue, which also is thriving. Tournament director Peter Mele said that PGA Tour officials have been impressed by the course’s condition a week before the FedExCup playoff opener.
Andy Wilson, the superintendent for the park’s five courses, said 13-hour days have been routine. “We probably would have been here a lot anyway because of this heat. We probably would have had to watch the greens all day and all night,” he said.
“It’s a daily effort. You just have to stay on top of it,” he said, crediting Mike Hadley, superintendent of the Black, for being especially vigilant. The staff uses moisture meters to know when the soil needs watering. Workers have set up huge electric fans near the third, sixth, eighth and 15th greens to provide cool air because even the nights have been hot.
“Mostly, it’s persistence,” Wilson said. “It starts to get pretty challenging. We’re trying to come up with a baseline for green speeds, how firm they will be and mowing heights. For anyone with poa annua greens in this weather, you’re going to be playing defense a little bit. With the weather we had this past weekend, you can do everything right and still lose some grass.”
It is not like tweaking a lightly trod private club, either. The Black bears a lot of traffic all year, every year. But that is what makes it so appealing to the Tour and to the PGA of America, which will bring the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup in 2019 and 2024, respectively.
The past few weeks, Wilson, Hadley and their crew have been working around the people putting finishing touches on grandstands, hospitality suites and a new wave of amenities (there’s a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse stand behind the 14th green). Plus, golfers are still playing the park’s other courses, which will be open through tomorrow. And if that weren’t enough, on the Green Course today there will be a regional final in the Drive, Chip and Putt competition, with trips to Augusta on the line for youngsters who win. It is a busy place.
By Tuesday, it will be a full-scale tour stop. The first hole of the Yellow Course will be the tournament’s driving range, right near the spectator entrance. Wilson said the Black’s green speeds are expected to be near 12 on the Stimpmeter. The rough probably will be 3 ½ inches—shorter than it was for the 2002 U.S. Open but longer than it was in 2009.
Park officials will monitor three weather forecasts every day and hope there are no surprises, such as the unexpectedly hot, dry Saturday of the 2012 Barclays.
Bottom line: Amid all the hours and the pressure, the staff would not trade it for the world. This is their major championship. “Everyone is doing their best,” Wilson said. “We’ve just got to stay on top of things.”
A little rain would help, too.
Former lacrosse team captain Bob Quinlan will be the honoree at the 28th Annual Hofstra Pride Golf Classic Sept. 19 at Seawane Club, Hewlett Harbor. Visit Hofstra.edu/PrideGolfClassic . . . Long Island Cares will hold its outing at Friar’s Head in Riverhead on Sept. 26. Visit licares.org/friarshead.
Eli Spiro, Lawrence Y&CC, 16th hole, 185 yards, 6-iron
Donny Frenkel, Lawrence Y&CC, fourth hole, 140 yards, 9-iron
Louis Minardi, Rolling Oaks GC, fourth hole, 109 yards, 7-iron
Jerry Clark (of Sunnyside), Mansion Ridge GC, Monroe, N.Y., 17th hole, 162 yards, 8-iron
Howard Charney, Stonebridge GL&CC, 15th hole, 115 yards, gap wedge
Geoff Brown, Rock Hill G&CC, seventh hole, 148 yards, 8-iron