Black beauty: The Black Course at Tiburón Golf Club welcomes the 2021 PGA Tour Champions’ Chubb Classic April 16-18. The tournament will be the first time the Black Course has been used for professional play. Photo courtesy of Troon
Considering everything that goes into hosting a professional golf event, putting on one a year — heck, putting on one in a career — can be plenty for most golf course superintendents.
But for Grayson Grainger, the GCSAA Class A director of agronomy at Tiburón Golf Club in Naples, Fla., hosting a single event in one 12-month period sounds like a walk in the park. This week, the 17-year GCSAA member and his maintenance team are preparing Tiburón’s Black Course for the PGA Tour Champions’ Chubb Classic, which will be the third professional event contested at the facility in a span of just five months.
Truth be told, this one might be the easiest of the three to prepare for (relatively speaking, of course). The first two chapters in this triumvirate came in back-to-back weeks last December, both on Tiburón’s Gold Course — the QBE Shootout, an unofficial PGA Tour team event, was played Dec. 11-13, followed immediately by the LPGA Tour’s CME Group Tour Championship, played Dec. 17-20.
Even with four and a half months between the second and third events, though, there hasn’t been much rest for the weary crew at Tiburón. Winter is high season in golf-mad southwest Florida, and the busy resort facility managed by Troon Golf saw a near-record number of rounds during that stretch. “We needed time to recoup after the back-to-back tournaments, for sure, but we still had a lot on our plates between then and now,” Grainger says.
Hosting multiple professional events in a short period of time isn’t completely new to the folks at Tiburón. The club has been the home of the QBE Shootout for 19 years, while the CME Group Tour Championship has been played there annually since 2013.
What has been new is Grainger himself, who came to Tiburón last October after 15 years at The Clubs at St. James, another Troon-managed facility located in Southport, N.C. And while he had volunteered at events previously, the December events at Tiburón were Grainger’s first real immersion in the world of tournament golf.
“Right into the fire,” he says with a laugh. “I was fortunate that I knew the person I replaced here (Jeff Cathey, who is now a regional agronomist for Troon in Florida) pretty well, so I had a good road map of what to expect. Plus, we have a great team, and a lot of them had been through these before, so they made sure I was going in the right direction.”
Also new was the timing of the QBE and CME Group events. Traditionally, the LPGA Tour comes to town first during the week before Thanksgiving, with the PGA Tour rolling in a few weeks later. Because of schedule tweaks necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, however, the events flipped in 2020 into back-to-back slots in December.
“Obviously it was a long stretch. There’s advance week and then two straight weeks of early mornings, evening shifts. At the end of it, everybody was pretty fried,” Grainger says. “That said, everyone seemed to like that better than having two weeks in between. You kind of get up for everything and ride it out. Even with two weeks in between, you can’t really let your guard down a whole lot and then you're right back into it. Of course, we had really good weather, so that helped a lot. I might have thought differently if that hadn’t been the case.”
2020 QBE Shootout course prep
Crew member Eric Longoria rolls the second green on Tiburón’s Gold Course. Photos by Grayson Grainger
Crew member Wilfredo Acosta Reyes sets up the second hole.
Dew-removal duty for crew member Brandon Stroud.
Crew member Nick Lunstrum walk-mows the Gold Course’s No. 4 green.
Tiburón Golf Club has hosted the QBE Shootout annually since 2001. Tournament founder and host Greg Norman designed both golf courses at the facility.
Tiburón didn’t officially learn about its hosting role for this week’s Chubb Classic — an event that has been played at courses in and around Naples since 1988 — until last fall, and at that time, the event was to be played in February. It was bumped to April in the hope that spectators would be allowed to attend, but alas, that won’t be the case. That’s a blessing in disguise for Grainger and his team, not just for this week, but for all three events.
“There’s some structures that were built for sponsors and Tiburón members around the clubhouse, and there are still ropes out on the course, but that’s about it,” Grainger says. “That’s actually been nice for us, not having to deal with grandstands and all the extra traffic.”
Editor’s note: In July 2020, two golf facilities 1,300 miles apart took on the tall task of hosting two professional tournaments in two consecutive weeks. The superintendents discuss making the doubleheaders happen in Double visions: Venues prep for back-to-back tournaments.
For the most part, Grainger says the agronomic practices and course prep that have gone into all three tournaments mirror standard operating procedures at Tiburón. “It’s a cliché, I know, but we try to be tournament-ready every day. That’s what the people who come here to play expect,” he says. “We obviously are mowing more frequently, working morning and evening shifts, which was different. But other than that, our practices have been pretty much the same as they are normally.”
Grainger says surviving and even thriving during this stretch would not have been possible without his top lieutenants — GCSAA Class A superintendents Ryan Sherbert, Black Course superintendent and an eight-year GCSAA member, and Mike Meisenhelter, Gold Course superintendent and a five-year association member — and the rest of the club’s maintenance team. “They’ve just crushed it. It’s been a heck of a busy season, but everybody has just been awesome.”
And come next week, they’ll all have earned some much-deserved downtime — if they can find any. “Things typically slow down at this time of year, but that might not happen this year. We may stay busy through May and into June,” Grainger says. “Like a lot of places, it’s been an extremely busy year for us. We’re thankful, and we’ll find time to unwind a little, but it’ll really be on to the next thing for us.”
Fast facts: The Black Course at Tiburón Golf Club
Greens: TifEagle ultradwarf bermudagrass, maintained at .115 inch
Tees: Zorro and Trinity zoysiagrass, maintained at .300 inch
Fairways: Celebration bermudagrass, maintained at .400 inch
Rough: Celebration bermudagrass, maintained at 1.75 inch
Year built: 2001
Architect: Greg Norman
Renovation: Greg Norman in 2017
Average green size: 5,500 square feet
Acres of fairway: 35
Acres of rough: 15
Number of sand bunkers: 36
Number of waste areas: 21
Number of water hazards: 14
Number of holes on which water is in play: 6
Soil conditions: Sandy
Water sources: Well
Grayson Grainger, director of agronomy
Ryan Sherbert, Black Course superintendent
Mike Meisenhelter, Gold Course superintendent
Dan Fore, assistant superintendent
Lee Spotts, equipment manager
Chad Nigro, director of golf
Number of employees: 45 for both golf courses
Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.