Some of the volunteers and full-time staff working in the shop at Bellerive Country Club during this week’s PGA Championship. Equipment manager Chris Rapp is third from the right. Photo by Scott Hollister
Chris Rapp is no stranger to championship golf at Bellerive Country Club.
The equipment manager has been a part of preparations for the last four big events hosted by the St. Louis club, starting with the 2004 U.S. Senior Open, continuing with the BMW Championship in 2008 and the Senior PGA Championship in 2013, and now culminating with the 2018 PGA Championship.
But even in that relatively short span of time, Rapp says it’s hard to miss just how much the scope of such events has changed between then and now.
“We might not be doing too much different in terms of our work in the shop, but what has changed a ton is just the size of it all. This one is big,” says Rapp, a four-year member of GCSAA. “It didn’t really sink in until two or three weeks ago just how much bigger everything is this week as opposed to those others. I was driving around, and it suddenly just hit me like, ‘Whoa, this is huge.’”
Huge, but by no means overwhelming, thanks to some intricate planning, the hard work of Bellerive’s full-time team in the shop — Rapp, reel technician Jim McCool and intern Codie Stroup from nearby technical college State Tech — and a unique group of volunteers, some of whom have been present this week during the championship proper, and others who lent a hand last week during the immediate run-up to the PGA.
Last week, Rapp and the Bellerive team got assistance from a quartet of well-known names in the shop business: equipment managers Trent Manning from Ansley Golf Club in Roswell, Ga.; Cory Phillips from The Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta, Ga.; Austin Wright from Sand Valley Golf Resort in Nekoosa, Wis.; and Patrick Drinkard from the Clubs of Cordillera Ranch in Boerne, Texas.
This week, a total of 10 shop volunteers have been pitching in over two shifts — one that begins at 3 a.m. and runs through about noon, and another that starts at 10 a.m. and continues until the job is done. Some of those volunteers are from golf courses around the country, while others are with John Deere Golf, the primary equipment provider at Bellerive this week, and its local distributor, Erb Turf Equipment.
Tasks have varied around the shop, but reel grinding has been an almost nonstop process. With the amount of equipment on hand to support the tournament, Rapp and crew have kept the club’s normal grinder in regular use, in addition to two others that were brought in for the week.
Superintendents have long lent their support and labor to colleagues who are hosting big events, and Rapp is grateful that he has always received support from his fellow equipment managers in the St. Louis area, and that the support he’s getting this year is spreading even more broadly.
“It just shows the camaraderie that exists among equipment managers, service people,” Rapp says. “There are some relationships that I’ve developed through GCSAA, too, and it all just shows that people want to help out and become a part of something like a PGA Championship. It’s very selfless, and illustrates the kind of dedication that we all have to the industry.”
One of those volunteering this week is Will Watson, the equipment manager at The Alotian Club in Roland, Ark. He didn’t know Rapp prior to this week, but when Nick White, Bellerive’s senior assistant superintendent who did a stint as an assistant-in-training at Alotian, asked whether Watson would be willing to join the effort, the four-year GCSAA member jumped at the chance.
“When I was in Atlanta, there was a web of equipment managers who supported each other, helped out at events, and now you’re starting to see that all over and at things like this,” Watson says. “Jobs are paying more, it is becoming more of a career than just a job, and I think it’s going to get better and better with more opportunities like this one.”
Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.