Travis Scott (left) and Hayden Mead journeyed all the way from the Land Down Under to be part of preparations for the 2019 PGA Championship. Photo by Howard Richman
Welcome to the wonderful world of travel, Hayden Mead and Travis Scott.
The two are Australian golf course superintendents who have come to the U.S. for a taste of the massive undertaking that is hosting a major golf championship. Their destination: Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., site of the101st PGA Championship that begins today.
Oh, they got here, all right. Finally. It just took longer than expected. “We had a 12-hour delay at LAX,” says Scott, referring to the Los Angeles airport. “It was supposed to be only a four-hour layover. But that’s OK; we made it.”
Thanks much in part to a superintendent who came to visit them in Australia, Mead and Scott are at last at Bethpage, and this is their first time volunteering at a major. Todd Raisch, CGCS, from Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., was their conduit to the PGA Championship.
Bethpage hasn’t been the Australians’ only opportunity to look behind the curtain at an American club. Before they arrived in Farmingdale, they checked out Pine Valley (N.J.) Golf Club, the top-rated course on the Golf Digest list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses for 2019-20. They also made stops at historic Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., and Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. They of course visited Raisch at Ridgewood, and also saw Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in Bedminster, N.J., and Philadelphia Cricket Club.
“Incredible. Those places blew us away,” Scott says. Mead adds, “Amazing, really.”
The facility that Mead oversees in Australia is no slouch. Kingston Heath Golf Club in Moorabbin, Victoria — which is a suburb of Melbourne — was ranked No. 2 last year on the Golf Digest ratings of Australia’s top 100 courses. The private club features bentgrass greens and nearly 180 bunkers, and it has hosted multiple Australian Opens. Temperatures at the course can reach 110 degrees.
Scott, meanwhile, oversees Riversdale Golf Club in Mount Waverley, Victoria, which is the second-oldest club in Victoria. Both superintendents have come to learn that there is at least one similarity between golf in Australia and America. “We have exactly the same issues they do over here: staffing,” Mead says. Adds Scott, “This generation doesn’t seem to want to do it. It’s a massive problem. Rate of pay is a big reason why.”
This week, the Australians are paying close attention to how Bethpage State Park director of agronomy Andrew Wilson and Black Course superintendent Michael Hadley manage their facility. They’ve gotten an eyeful on how to handle a wet, sloppy course, the result of daily rains that have presented challenges for Wilson and Hadley.
That is, until Wednesday — the eve of the first round of the championship — when the sun surfaced at Bethpage for the first time since last week. “Up until May 1, we have had only 2 inches of rain back home,” Mead says.
Australia has produced golfers who have combined to win nearly 30 major championships. They include Peter Thomson, Greg Norman, Karrie Webb, Adam Scott, Jan Stephenson and Jason Day. Now that Major League Baseball and the National Football League play regular-season games in places such as Mexico and London, why can’t the PGA of America bring a championship to a course in Australia?
“I think it should happen,” Scott says. “We’ve got great courses.”
Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.