Course maintenance rolls on Friday morning at TPC Harding Park. Photos by Almar Valenzuela
They arrive early. They leave late — real late. They should have a name. “Masked marvels” seems appropriate.
Members of the maintenance team at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco — led by golf and turf manager Kevin Teahan and superintendent Almar Valenzuela — have been beginning their workdays at 4:15 a.m. on the banks of Lake Merced, and they’ll continue that schedule through the conclusion of the 102nd PGA Championship on Sunday.
Although this labor force typically carries out their duties behind the scenes, their handiwork is on full display this week for golf’s fervent and casual followers the world over. And did we mention they’re doing it all short-handed and while wearing medical masks to comply with a city of San Francisco mandate?
“The staff has done a nice job. A great job,” says Collier Miller, TPC director of agronomy, who is on-site in San Francisco and spoke with GCM Friday.
Golfer Danny Balin agrees. Balin, a PGA club pro at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, N.Y., also played in last year’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, which, like TPC Harding Park, is a municipal course.
“For being a municipal golf course, they are both in phenomenal shape and a great test of golf,” Balin told the media at TPC Harding Park after his first-round 4-over-par 74 on Thursday.
TPC Harding Park is only the fourth muni to host the PGA Championship.
“I’m just glad they (golfers) are actually playing,” says Miller. “There was a time when we thought maybe it wasn’t going to happen.”
Professional golf came to a sudden halt mid-March and resumed cautiously in mid-June, and the 2020 major championship lineup got shaken and stirred, with the PGA Championship pushed back from May 14-17. In a normal year, majors such as the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open usually have golf course maintenance crews that number in the triple digits, buoyed by dozens of volunteers who come from near and far (often from overseas).
Not in the bizarre landscape of 2020, however. Miller says the pandemic slashed the maintenance squad at TPC Harding Park by more than 20.
The crew’s post-round work on Thursday finished after 10 p.m., and the same will be true Friday.
“Typically, with more people on hand, it would take two, maybe two and a half hours,” Miller says, “but now it’s closer to four hours. It’s a physical and mental strain on the staff, and they have to do a lot of work in the dark. What they needed is an army of people to do this. But they’re doing fine.”
Golfer Paul Casey is more than fine with what those in TPC Harding Park’s maintenance department have produced. “It’s a very, very worthy golf course. It’s got the history; it’s got the demand,” Casey said following his opening round on Thursday. “I think guys like it. It’s a really solid golf course.”
As for the maintenance team having to wear masks, Miller thinks it isn’t necessarily a negative. “It’s fairly cool and breezy, so ... it’s not a bad thing. It actually keeps you warm,” Miller says.
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.