By Murray Gleffe
HOBART-Staging an LPGA event doesn’t happen overnight.
A plethora of factors can influence the winning score such as the rough size length, green speed, and of course the amount of rain before and during the tournament.
Last year’s winner Katherine Kirk had 27 birdies and an eagle for the 72-hole event.
There were 12 rounds of 65 or better (par is 72).
Will the second year produce the same low scores, or will the golf course show its teeth like Shinnecock Hills?
The old cliché that the pro golfers drive for show and putt for dough is never more evident with purse increases up exponentially on tour.
“We do a number of practice tests on the greens with speed and quality leading up to the event,” said Justin Fox, General Manager at Thornberry Creek at Oneida. “We will fertilize and do some verticutting.”
Some may ask, “What is verticutting and how does it help a golf tournament”?
It is the process of mowing vertically to increase turf density and produce an upright grass that is important for the golfers when they are putting. The better the greens hold up the more putts are made when the ball rolls true to form.
“The bentgrass greens came through the winter very well,” Fox added. “We had to keep an eye on them (since they are very sensitive to the heat) in late May for a few days when the temperature rose into the mid to upper 90s. However, we put a few wetting agents down and did a bit more hand watering than normal to energize them and be ready for tournament week.”
The average player experiences a stimpmeter reading of 10 on the greens.
A stimpmeter is a low-tech metal ramp device that the course superintendent uses prior to the tournament to measure the speed of each of the 18 greens.
The LPGA players will most likely see a reading of around 12 (if the director gives the go ahead) to start which means they have to be cognizant of all putts.
They will not want a return putt of more than three feet if they miss.
Last year, the participants could drift on their tee shots and not have to worry about a recovery shot from the rough.
This year will be a different story.
“The LPGA wants fast courses,” said Fox. “We have had a lot more moisture this year to work with, and our hope is to get the second cut of rough up to a consistent three inches. This will mean the player will have to really think about their lines off the tee before they pull the trigger. We will mow once to twice a week a month prior, and then not cut it the week of the tournament.”
Keeping the golf course in tip top shape involves a 365-day year long process including the offseason.
“Our maintenance staff has increased by around 10 percent with the staging of the tournament,” Fox said. “There are a number of different chemicals, fertilizers, and insecticides that we have to put down to maintain to tour level standards. These involve keeping weeds out and maintaining grass strength. However, keeping these conditions also makes our members and amateurs happy because they get to enjoy the golf course at the appropriate tee level and they can experience the same shot value as the pros.”
With the golf course situated on a vast plot of land and the farthest point from the clubhouse reaching more than a couple of miles out, safety has to be a vocal point.
“We will have security on site 24/7 during the week of the tournament,” Fox added. “In addition, Oneida and Hobart/Lawrence PD will have personnel patrolling the neighborhoods around the course to ensure our residents have peace of mind with the addition of many fans. We have to coordinate with them well in advance for scheduling.”
Each hole will be lined with staked ropes around the perimeter of each of the 18 holes to ensure the players safety but still give the fan a great vantage point to view their favorite golfer.
Multiple gates will be on the perimeter as well to keep patrons out of those designated private areas.
Thornberry Creek at Oneida will play between 6500-6600 yards for the week.
Scoring opportunities could present themselves on the third, ninth, thirteenth, and fifteenth holes.
The par-5s yielded many birdies, and some eagles in 2017.
If all or a few are set up to be reached in two shots you may see the pros produce low numbers once again this year.
No matter what the final score might end up, the LPGA has grown immensely in the last couple of seasons.
In 2018, they will stage 34 tournaments with over $67 million available in prize money.
“The tour level player is just getting better and better because of coaching and better video equipment to analyze one’s swing,” Fox said. “It’s exciting to see the birdies being made and great finishes to boot. The LPGA is in a great place right now and we are honored to be one of the tour stops this year.”