Hosting the NCAA championships at Grayhawk Golf Club

Third-generation superintendent Ernie Pock oversees the Scottsdale, Ariz., club, which has become the NCAA’s go-to locale.


Raptor golf course
A scenic mountain backdrop at No. 8, a par-3 at Grayhawk GC . Photo courtesy of Grayhawk GC

If Ernie Pock is behind the wheel, ride shotgun. Nobody can illuminate you more about his workplace during this ride than him.

At Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., Pock’s crew is in full overdrive mode at a facility where he has worked for over two decades. Currently, Pock and his team are in the middle of back-to-back high-profile events at the Tom Fazio-designed Raptor Course. The NCAA Division I Championships are in the middle of a three-year run there. The women’s championship concluded Wednesday. On Friday, it’s the men’s turn through June 1.

No wonder Pock, a third-generation superintendent and director of agronomy who’s been at Grayhawk since 2000, cracks open an energy drink before most people are out of bed. Listening to Pock is like recalling your favorite high school history teacher. He is well versed from way back, including that time in 2000 when Tiger Woods played there. The golf course practically is a second home for Pock, whose father, Mike, was a superintendent and helped build numerous courses in the state, including Troon Country Club and Grayhawk’s Raptor and Talon courses, which opened in 1994. Mike Pock and J.D. Woodward—Ernie Pock’s great-grandfather—are both in the Arizona Golf Hall of Fame.

Ernie Pock
Grayhawk GC Director of Agronomy Ernie Pock out on the course checking on his team as it got ready for the NCAA Women’s Division I championship. Pock is a fixture at the club; he’s been there since 2000. Photo by Howard Richman

Ernie Pock took the reins from his father at Grayhawk in 2000, just six years after the course opened. Pock first laid his eyes on Grayhawk when it was dirt as his father toiled. Pock didn’t sound overly stressed as play was about to begin last week, although the grass during this drought could stress out anyone. It hasn’t rained since March 29, and that was a mere .02 inches. Temperatures hovering around 100 degrees daily compounds the situation. What did you expect from a desert setting? Pock and his crew, including Raptor superintendent Ryan Voyles and equipment manager Eduardo Ayala, have been on it before the women arrived no matter what Mother Nature throws at them. 

“Everybody talks about the golf practice round. The practice round is also for us to get our sequences,” Pock, a 29-year GCSAA member, says. Pock and his team oversee MiniVerde bermudagrass greens overseeded with Poa; Tifway bermudagrass tees; overseeded perennial ryegrass over Tifway 419 bermudagrass fairways; and overseeded perennial ryegrass over Tifway 419 bermudagrass rough. 

“It’s an unusual predicament this time of the year. Usually, we’d be taking down ryegrass to get supreme light to the bermuda,” Pock says. “We’ve been watering the last couple weeks, trying to see if I can promote as much green grass through the rye as possible. We’ve been very successful. The biggest challenge is rough and tall grass (70 percent ryegrass, 30 percent bermuda). We’ve been pumping up the wetting agents on the golf course the last couple of weeks. I mix two types of wetting agents. One is a true wetting agent, or a holder, that holds more water above the surface. And one that is dry, helping water be able to penetrate as quickly as possible but also be able to hold so that by the afternoon it evaporates off. On a weekly basis the course has been getting seaweed extracts. The compound help promote root development.”

Grayhawk GC crew
Members of the Grayhawk GC maintenance crew got after it as the sun rises in preparation for the NCAA Division I championships. Photo by Howard Richman

Hand watering is essential. Pock has three or four of his crew on each a nine that chase hot spots in the morning and return in the afternoon. 

“We’re still irrigating the whole golf course, but the irrigation systems are only just so good. With six to eight weeks of no rainfall, it starts showing your deficiencies of your irrigation,” Pock says. “The only way to make up those deficiencies is by dragging hoses. Having guys packing hoses and hand watering specific and small areas. Because if not your hot spots won’t get enough water caught back up in the soil and your low areas will get too much water if you’re just trying to deal with your irrigation system. When you’re trying to create a firmer course for the players, the only way to do is it by hand watering. You just can’t get away without it. Any little boo-boo with irrigation, you’ll pay for it in the afternoon.”

Grayhawk GC hole 18
No. 18 at Grayhawk GC features water on the right and bunkers surrounding the green. Photo courtesy of Grayhawk GC

For the women’s championship, mowing called for a single cut and roll in the morning, 2-inch rough and the Stimpmeter slightly less than 12. “Probably right around 11.8, which is very receptive and what they (NCAA) were hoping for,” Pock says. “They’ll push 13 for the men. Rock hard and fast. We won’t run the irrigation system for the men and rough will be 3 inches. Height of cut right now is .085 on greens. We’ll single cut and roll for the men in the morning. Depending on where our speeds are, if we have to add an afternoon cut, we’ll add an afternoon cut for the greens.” 

Pock is mindful of his team during this grueling marathon. “I’ve done (PGA) tour events. By far this is the hardest, just by the length of it,” he says. “You’ve got to be on, literally for us, three weeks straight, day to dark.” Pock makes sure his team is rewarded. “We are taking care of their breakfast, dinner, plus a tank of gas per week. The guys like that, plus they know there’s a monetary bonus at the end that is always a favorite with the team. We don’t need to push them because we’ve been practicing the morning setup for about three weeks now, so everyone is comfortable with the task at hand.”

Grayhawk is a cozy spot for Pock. Besides being schooled at Rutgers University and a brief period as an assistant in Southern California, Arizona always has been home. He was superintendent at Terravita Golf & Country Club in Scottsdale before coming to Grayhawk 22 years ago. He hosted the PGA Tour’s Open from 2007-09. 

Zoe Slaughter
Texas A&M University golfer Zoe Slaughter in action during the NCAA Women’s Championship. Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Athletics–Aiden Shertzer

Pock and his team’s commitment hasn’t gone unnoticed. Texas A&M woman golfer Zoe Slaughter says she felt at home with her opening-round 3-under-par 69, including a birdie at No. 18. “It (course) was beautiful. It was immaculate to be honest,” Slaughter says. “The greens were in great shape, easy to roll on, easy to read.”

Slaughter nearly notched a few more birdies. That prompted her mother, Kafi, to make a suggestion to Pock. “I wish he’d cut it a little shorter right around the cup,” she says with a smile. 

Upon hearing that, Pock grinned. That’s his job — to bring smiles to everyone who comes to Grayhawk whether it’s players in the NCAA Championship, members and his team.

“We try to create a culture that’s fun to come to work. We always talk about you’re hoping you’re whistling when you come to work because you really want to come to work and if you’re not, we need to change the culture to make it that way,” Pock says.

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.