Oregon course races to ready for LIV Golf event

Staff at Portland’s Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club are scrambling to prepare for upstart professional league’s U.S. debut.


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
The public Ghost Creek course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside Portland, Ore., will provide 12 of the holes for the composite routing when the LIV Golf Series visits in July. Photos courtesy of Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club

Eric Feldhusen has but one reservation associated with serving as director of agronomy at the first United States golf course to host a LIV Golf Series Event: He simply wishes he and his team had just a little more time to prepare for it.

The upstart professional (and well-funded) golf tour will make its international debut June 9-11 at Centurion Club in London. The next stop, July 1-3, will be at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club just outside Portland, Ore., where Feldhusen, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 21-year association member, has served just over six years. The Pumpkin Ridge staff learned the official news the first week in April.

Yup. Feldhusen and staff had just over 90 days — 90! — to prepare.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Feldhusen says. “We’re doing our best. I just want people to realize, courses usually get years to prepare for something like this. We’ve had 90 days. We went basically 0 to 100 in no time.”

It’s not that Pumpkin Ridge, located in North Plains, 20 miles west of Portland, is unfamiliar with championship golf. The facility features two 18-hole courses — the 7,017-yard private Witch Hollow course and the 6,839-yard public Ghost Creek course. Tiger Woods won his third consecutive U.S. Amateur Championship in 1996 at Witch Hollow, which also hosted the 2003 U.S. Women’s Open and, for seven years, the Korn Ferry Tour’s season-ending WinCo Foods Portland Open. Ghost Creek hosted the LPGA’s Safeway Classic from 2009 to 2011.

Feldhusen was at Pumpkin Ridge for five of those seven Korn Ferry Tour events.

“Agronomically, it’s the same — the same conditions, just at a different time of year,” he says.

Every year except the last, the KFT season ended at Pumpkin Ridge in mid-to-late August. “That’s probably a pro this year,” Feldhusen says. “The rough is in better shape. We haven’t gone through the whole season, like we had in August when we’d host the Korn Ferry Tour. And there’s more daylight to work around. The thing we never had with the Korn Ferry Tour is the type of build-out of infrastructure for stands and media and all that. It’s tenfold for this event.”

Which is why a little heads-up would have been nice.

"Agronomically, I wish I had known last fall,” he says with a laugh. “In the Northwest, a lot of things happen in the fall. I would have done a lot of things differently. This spring, we’re coming off the wettest and coldest April we’ve ever had in Oregon. It’s been challenging. If we had known last fall, on the fairways, we would have been a little more aggressive with our topdressing program. We would have done a lot more preemergent in our natives. We would have done more preemergents wall to wall. Now it just comes to projects, fitting in what we can in a short time frame.”

Aerial view of Witch Hollow golf course
Witch Hollow is the private course at Pumpkin Ridge. Six of its holes will be used in the LIV Series event’s routing.

The nature of the course compounds the difficulty. Feldhusen says the courses feature 100% Poa annua greens, Poa and bentgrass tees and fairways and a “Heinz 57” mix of Poa/bentgrass/ryegrass roughs. The LIV Golf Event at Pumpkin Ridge will be played on a composite course — six holes from Witch Hollow and 12 from Ghost Creek, a 7,600-yard routing that has never been used.

“It’s a beast, the best of the holes on both courses,” Feldhusen says. “But there’s a whole set of challenges with combining a private course with the different expectations of a public course. The private site is aerified a little more frequently. The detail is a little higher. We’re topdressing more on the Witch side than the Ghost side. There’s more thatch on the public side.

“And we’re not yet hitting on all cylinders. Everybody in every department … you know, we’re coming out of the COVID years, and we were seeing record rounds. There’s hiring, staffing, procuring resources. Getting everything you need for one of these events is a challenge. We’re of the mindset that we’re going to do what we can this first year. It’s a three-year contract for us here. We’ll do what we can for this event, make improvements and be better in the second year and even better in the third year.”

Though the Pumpkin Ridge staff has been given plenty of guidance from the LIV Golf Series team and its Escalante Golf ownership group (which also owns The International Golf Club, which in September will host another LIV Golf Series event), it is dealing with several unknowns.

“They don’t have a tournament agronomist,” says Feldhusen, who says he has been consulting with former PGA Tour rules official and tournament director Slugger White, who came out of retirement to join LIV Golf as its vice president of rules and competition management. “We take a lot of direction from rules officials. Slugger and I work through things. And Escalante has held the Shell Houston Open and the Accenture World Match Play for a lot of years. They have a lot of tournament golf experience, so we’re confident in that aspect of it, as far as direction from them in how to set up.”

Also unknown are crowd sizes and infrastructure needs.

“I know we will have TV here. We will have cameras and all that here. Where it all ends up, I don’t know. I’m not in that loop at all,” Feldhusen says. “As far as fans, I don’t have a good idea. I don’t have a feel for that. It might not be the biggest build-out they envisioned. We’ll have grandstands, just maybe not as big as we all envisioned. I just put my head down and take care of the agronomics. We just want a good experience for the fans and everyone involved.”

Aerial view of Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club
A view of the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club from on high. The fledgling LIV Golf Series will make its U.S. debut there July 1-3.

Though Feldhusen isn’t fully staffed — he says his crew now numbers 20 for the 36 holes, which he hopes to get to 24 or 26 as the tournament nears — he reckons the event’s format should help. The field, vying for a massive purse of $25 million, will be capped at 48 players. They’ll play just 54 holes (LIV is 54 in Roman numerals) and utilize a shotgun start. All those factors should make for shorter golf days and make the maintenance team’s mad dash between rounds a little more manageable.

“That should work to our advantage,” said Feldhusen, who hopes to supplement his crew with a handful of primarily local volunteers (and maybe old school buddies) for the tournament proper. “It’s a different dynamic than the Korn Ferry, when you had guys grinding to get their (PGA Tour) card. We can do some things differently.”

He figures that will be the case when the series returns for the second and third years. In the meanwhile, Feldhusen asks, cut the team some slack.

“Any superintendent would say we love our jobs to be behind the scenes,” he says. “Am I an in-front-of-the-camera guy? No. Can I do it? Absolutely. I know not everything will go smoothly. There are a lot of things floating out there, and it’s stressful, but we have support from LIV Golf and my ownership. There will be some bumps. But at the end of the day, it will be nice to see Pumpkin Ridge and these great courses that might get a little lost. It’s a great opportunity to showcase the Northwest again, to show we have a big-boy course and a great product.

“I just want people to realize it’s literally less than 100 days I had to flip this around. The weather has been horrible in April, the wettest and coldest it’s ever been. We’re doing our best. Courses have years to prepare for this, and we had 100 days. There’s going to be outside noise, but my team and I aren’t a part of that. We’re just trying to put our best foot and Pumpkin Ridge’s best foot forward.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor.