Turf fans like this one off the fourth green at Bellerive Country Club, site of this week’s PGA Championship, have helped nurse the course’s greens through a tough summer. Photo by Scott Hollister
On Monday, more than 22,000 fans braved extreme heat and humidity to visit Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis for the first day of practice rounds at the 2018 PGA Championship.
Getting that kind of response to the first day of practice rounds at a major championship is a rare feat, to be sure, and one that tossed more than a few curve balls at Carlos Arraya, CGCS, the director of agronomy and grounds at Bellerive, and the crew preparing the course for this week’s tournament.
“We planned from the beginning to have large crowds out here all week, but the thing you can’t plan for is the feeling that comes along with that,” Arraya says. “It just feels different out here now, and you have to think about safety and things like that. It’s important for us to be careful in what we’re doing. It’s just hard to gauge and fully appreciate what that means until you’re actually in it.”
But in reality, it wasn’t the 22,000 human fans that created the biggest headaches for Arraya on Monday. Instead, there were 41 other fans that he and senior assistants Jared Brewster, Nick White and Matt Lennon had to contend with — the ones they had relied on to nurse Bellerive’s bentgrass greens through what was an unprecedented hot and dry run-up to this week’s PGA.
For anyone on property on Monday, those fans were easy to spot, and their use — along with some strategic syringing — was key to keeping the greens, collars and approaches going on a day when the heat index rose well into the 100s.
Those fans were going to need to be removed before the start of tournament play, though, and with the prospect of rain Tuesday — prospects that became reality with almost an inch of rain that fell this morning — their removal had to be greatly accelerated. Thus, new headaches for Arraya and his team.
“The original thought was to leave the fans up until about Wednesday,” Arraya explains. “But then we saw the system moving in, the forecast, and we knew that if we got too much rain, those fans would be very difficult to get down. So we had to make the decision to start taking them down now with 22,000 people running around the golf course. That makes it very difficult.”
Difficult, but clearly not impossible. On Monday, Arraya estimated the process would be a long haul. “All day and all night, most likely,” he said early afternoon Monday. “I’m hearing the guys already have six to seven down, so they’re being pretty efficient, and we strategized to make that happen. But that’s likely going to be an all-day thing.”
And it was. But on Tuesday morning, Brewster confirmed they had all the fans off the golf course before 10 p.m. Monday.
If only dealing with the 25,000 fans expected on property each day for the rest of the week were that easy.
Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.