Normally we attend the Golf Course Superintendent Association Golf Industry Show, as our flagship educational event of the year. Being in a science-based industry, there is constantly new and emerging technology, turf research updates, and leadership/management classroom events. There’s also the traditional trade show, unveiling new equipment/technology, as well as a way to study equipment options for future capital investments. The GIS event, is also a great way to network, and meet golf course managers across the US, and world. But after over 2 decades of attendance, its delivery becomes stale, and too repetitive. Add in the ability to gain technical education via online platforms, and it’s becoming easier to keep abreast.
For the past few years, I’ve been trying to attend a different kind of educational opportunity that offered a different ROI, volunteering to help prepare Riviera Country Club for the Genesis Invitational. It’s a difficult tournament to volunteer for, as they have a strong contingent of returning individuals from around North America. Our restoration put us on the map to open the door to get in, as Riviera’s Superintendent, and staff, were paying attention on the specifics of how we expanded our green complexes, via Twitter, as they are potentially looking at doing the same scope of project in the future.
Midland’s staff has had plenty of volunteering at big golf events – Men’s and Women’s US Opens, US Amateurs, Men’s and Women’s PGA Championships, the Solheim Sup, the Ryder Cup, and the PGA Tour stop at TPC Twin Cities. But Riviera is a unique opportunity, specifically because of it’s world-class architecture (sorry TPC Twin Cities…), location (Pacific Palisades > Chaska!), and grass types (TV commentators talk about Kikuyu but have no idea what they’re talking about). It offers a completely different “classroom” experience. An elite classroom on the world stage of golf.
From an architectural standpoint, I was most interested in seeing 2 specific holes, #4 and 5, as they are both “Template” holes. The 4th being a Redan (which Ben Hogan called the greatest par 3 in America) and the 5th, being one of the greatest par 4s in the world, and very similar to a Leven hole concept. The obvious hole everyone wants to see is the drivable 10th, which lived up to the hype. We watched player after player study the hole during practice rounds, practicing second shots from all over the green complex, giving it respect I’ve never witnessed at a golf tournament before.
The Redan. Notice the kicker slope is fairway and approach height turf
The Redan’s green is relatively flat, mostly sloping from front to back, giving players that fly the green a good dose of regret. Unfortunately PGA Tour players think they can over power classic architecture, play “target golf” and immediately blame the turf conditions, instead of playing their ball to the approach and letting it roll out. I was in heaven looking through the shotlink data and scores. Very few have figured out how to play the Redan (or refuse to check their ego and play “short”)
The Leven 5th. Position A off the tee is down the right side of the fairway to get a flat lie, but the further right you go, the more the Leven mound blocks your view of the green/pin. Very similar to Midland’s 13th, but also Alps-ish like our 14th. Regardless, classic golf architecture at its best
Fortunately, Riviera’s Superintendent allowed Midland to bring all of our technical staff – Mark Ries, Tina Rosenow, Justin Hemauer, and myself, the only club to bring more than 1 individual. It not only allowed for an educational opportunity, but other intangibles such as team building, daily discussions, and potential aspects to implement back home. No, we are not comparing preparing an “elevated” PGA tournament at one of the most exclusive (and expensive) clubs to Midland. But when you take their staff of 40, many of which have been at the club for 25+ years, add in 55 volunteers from all levels of clubs, there is endless information shared on strategy, logistics, success and failure stories – intangible information that pays real dividends. Throw on top of that, preparing a tournament hosted by Tiger Woods himself, you get a massive confidence boost to prepare Midland for any, and all, future events, lowering your stress levels knowing you successfully executed Tiger’s “Invite.”
The All-World 6th
The logistics of the event is a large commitment. We arrived in LA late morning, Sunday Feb 12th, and were on the course early afternoon for a review of tasks, and to become familiar with the course in the daylight, as most of the maintenance is completed under complete darkness. And they only accept volunteers that can commit to all 8 days of tournament preparation.
The bunkering of the 10th has lights permanently mounted on the backside of the bunker faces, giving an amazing effect from the clubhouse
The morning alarm of 3:00am was the least enjoyable aspect. A morning meeting at 4:00am with tasks, goals, and details were discussed. With over 100 people working out of their Turfgrass facility, the energy is always palpable at events like this. Mark, Tina and Justin were tasked with mowing fairways. Riviera’s architecture presents some dangerous situations, with navigating the property in darkness, avoiding the barancas, and steep (hidden) fairway bunkering. A group of 5 mowers on each 9 was lead by an experienced Riviera staff member. Mowing fairways with Triplex units, on a 9-3 (side by side) mowing direction is elite, and shouldn’t be copied by your typical club.
Mowing the 2nd Green under darkness
Cutting the cup on the 1st
AGCS Mark Ries
AGCS Tina Rosenow
AGCS Justin Hemauer
After mowing, they then transitioned to dew whipping any accumulated fairway grass clippings, as well as knocking down dew on tee boxes and walkways to fairways. This was a great time for them to network with Riviera staff, and other volunteers about their own operations. As you can see from the above pictures, the real color of the turf doesn’t show on TV. The obnoxious filters they use makes everything much greener than reality, drowning out the fantastic patina color palate of the dry Kikuyu fairways, and eliminating much of the classic golf course feel.
I was tasked with assisting Riviera, the PGA Tour, and USGA on collecting data on firmness, trueness, smoothness, and green speed. A good friend of mine, who was the Superintendent of the Cal Club in San Francisco, is now a Tour Agronomist for the PGA Tour. We’ve stayed in contact over the past 10 years, mostly about philosophies of growing turf, and worked together collecting data at the 2016 Ryder Cup. The PGA Tour collects 1000’s of data points at each tour stop, creates baselines and thresholds, as well as where the numbers should be trending throughout the tournament. However, the USGA recently unveiled new technology with a golf ball that contains several internal sensors to take all 4 measurements. The Genesis Invitational was the first tour event that the technology was being used for the entire week. Being able to take the data for the USGA, and relate it to past techniques the PGA Tour was using, as well as communicate to the Riviera Superintendent, was an interesting and sometimes political experience. Let’s just say, all three parties wanted to achieve different numbers. It will take some time, with this new technology (GS3 ball), to create a new data set to find correlations to cultural practices and results. I collected data during the morning shift, as well as night, to accumulate as much information as possible, to keep a close eye on the data trends, communicate to the PGA Tour Agronomist and Superintendent, that lead them to adjust maintenance as necessary, and correlate that with future pin locations, as well as feedback from PGA Tour players.
Collecting firmness data on the 10th
Collecting smoothness, trueness, and ball roll data on the 3rd
After the morning shift, we had ~4 hours to watch golf, go back to the hotel and get some much needed rest, or sightsee, which we did a combo of all of that throughout the week. Wednesday was a treat, as spectators weren’t allowed in for the Pro-Am, giving the staff and volunteers the ability to watch golf close up. Who knows how many more times we’ll see Tiger play, so getting to see him for a few holes uninterrupted by the masses was a treat. He looked stiff as a board Wednesday morning as he teed off at 6:30am in 39 degree weather.
Tiger up close during Wednesday’s Pro-Am
The Tiger Effect on Thursday
Not in Kansas Anymore….
Point Dume Nature Preserve, Malibu
Daily night shift started at 2:00pm, with another meeting to discuss what we needed to improve upon, logistics, changes, player feedback, and individual tasks. Mark, Tina, and Justin worked on filling fairway divots, and I continued with data collection. Night shifts ended around 7:30pm, giving us a chance to “network” in downtown Santa Monica the rest of the night…..
Me astounded at the fact that the average golfer THINKS they want green speeds they see on TV. Trust me, you don’t
Only a handful of clubs in the country hand roll greens, as this process allows you to fill the roller with a specific amount of water, to achieve a very specific amount of firmness and speed, based on the objectives and turf health
Looking back towards the fairway on the 5th
Overall, it was a great experience to not only represent Midland Hills at Riviera, but to expand our exposure to fantastic turf professionals. The networking and connections made will form life-long friendships, as well as hopefully open other doors in the future for Mark, Tina, and Justin. Riviera is the most interesting stop on the tour architecturally, demanding creativity, precision, and patience. There’s a reason it’s Tiger’s Invitational. Their Golf Course Maintenance staff is expansive in knowledge, resources, and lives up to the highest expectations. Even under a frost delay Thursday morning, they kept extremely calm, and you’d never know they were on the world’s golf stage. Their culture welcomed us easily, and instantly entrusted us with being an integral part of their success, another reason we enjoy our industry.
A big thanks to Midland’s leadership for allowing us the opportunity to attend, and enjoy such a great experience. We’ve come back home better turf professionals