By Mike Jiggens
With one Canadian Open already under his belt, Glen Abbey Golf Club superintendent Andrew Gyba anticipates preparations for July’s tournament won’t be quite as daunting as they were for 2013’s event.
It won’t be so much the preparations for the July 23-26 national championship that will prove busiest for Gyba in 2015, however, but what lies ahead in the fall.
Oakville’s Glen Abbey was one of several golf courses in the southern Ontario corridor to be hit hard by the winter of 2013-14, losing eight greens to ice damage. Although the affected putting surfaces were subsequently resodded in the spring of 2014 and were ready for play by mid-May, the remaining 10 are now awaiting conversion to bentgrass to match the other eight.
Work to “rip up” the last of the poa greens is slated to begin in October, Gyba said. Additionally, Glen Abbey’s bunkers will undergo a complete renovation, beginning in September.
The upcoming RBC Canadian Open will therefore be played on 10 poa annua greens and eight bentgrass surfaces. Gyba said he doesn’t expect that to be a problem for the PGA Tour, and that his efforts to maintain 18 greens of consistent firmness and ball speed will largely go unnoticed by the field.
He said it will take some extra work to ensure the remaining poa greens will be consistent with the newer bentgrass greens, admitting they will need to be double cut, double backtracked and double rolled to meet the same degree of playability.
“It will require different mowing and rolling practices on the old vs. the new.”
Gyba said it could present a bit of a challenge to have new creeping bentgrass greens on essentially half the golf course while the other half has older poa greens. Getting them to perform with the same consistency will be the challenge at hand.
Prior to the 2013 Open, he had the chance to meet John Zimmers, superintendent at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania, who he asked for advice in preparing for a PGA Tour event. Zimmers, whose club has been host to several U.S. Opens, a U.S. Women’s Open and a number of national amateur championships, told Gyba to be wary of advice from those with non-agronomic backgrounds, and to trust his own instincts because it is the superintendent who knows the golf course best. He advised a close working relationship with the PGA Tour agronomist because together they will form the team to best craft the event’s playing area.
Gyba, who is in his fourth season as superintendent at Glen Abbey following four years at Georgetown, Ont.’s Eagle Ridge Golf Club as superintendent, said a slower-than-anticipated start to the spring forced him to scramble to get on track with such tasks as tree work and weed spraying. If that wasn’t enough of a setback, he was forced to begin the season without an assistant.
His longtime assistant, who had followed him to Glen Abbey from Eagle Ridge, was made “an offer he couldn’t refuse” by the Halton Region, forcing Gyba to begin the new season without his trusted right-hand man. Leading up to the Victoria Day long weekend, he hadn’t had a day off in more than 40 days.
But Gyba said there are a number of experienced standouts among his core staff who have stepped up to ensure that Glen Abbey not only opened its season on time, but who are determined to see the Open goes off without a hitch.
“Everything I’ve learned since ’13 I’m just excited to put it all into practice, and, hopefully, it all pays off and we have another great event out here.”
Gyba said he has a good idea what to expect in July with one Open already behind him. He said he has already established a good rapport with the PGA Tour’s agronomist and was in touch with him frequently during the winter months.
The normal routine in an Open year involves a telephone conversation in early April with the Tour agronomist who is eager to know how the golf course fared over the winter and what issues might be expected during the spring. Near the end of May, the agronomist as well as an advance rules official will visit the golf course.
“That’s when we do our first site visit.”
The focus of the meeting between Gyba and the visiting PGA Tour officials will be to discuss rules issues, including where hazard lines are to be placed. Gyba said there was an issue in the past involving gabion walls on the 11th and 13th holes in which some natural settling had occurred, producing soft spots. It was up to the Tour officials to determine where hazard lines were to be placed in accordance with the affected areas.
Other issues such as sight lines will be addressed, and a general discussion regarding expected greens speeds, preferred height of cut of rough, tees and fairways will take place during the visit.
Whether any tweaking was required to be done in compliance with the Tour standards set for Glen Abbey in 2013 had yet to be determined at the time Gyba was interviewed for this story, but he expected things would essentially be a “carbon copy” from two years ago.
Greens speeds were expected to stimp at 111/2 in 2013 while rough was to grow to a height of three inches. Gyba said he expects an adjustment will be made this year in greens speeds.
“This year, coming into ’15, I think we’re going to be trying to give them a little quicker greens speeds,” he said, expecting speeds of at least 12 feet, if not 121/2, will be requested.
On the day of the final practice round (Wednesday, prior to Thursday’s tournament start), the rough will be cut at three inches and will be left to grow out through the remainder of the Open where it could push towards four inches by the Sunday finale.
“The days of six-inch rough are gone at this tournament.”
Gyba said the feedback he has received from the PGA Tour is that six-inch rough contributes to “boring” golf. He explained the deeper rough forces a player to take a wedge and pitch the ball back out onto the fairway to a comfortable approach distance, from where he will “throw a dart at the pin” and then tap in for par.
Three-inch rough, on the other hand, promotes more excitement, he said, because the golfer can see his ball and is confident he can make the shot from there onto the green from a distance of 190 or 200 yards.
“It makes for a more exciting game.”
The normal rough height at Glen Abbey is two inches while greens are cut and rolled to stimp at 10 to 101/2 feet.
Gyba said the first of June is when greens speeds begin to be driven toward Open requirements. The goal is to see an increasing trend during that period.
“How we’re going to achieve that is through our mowing practices and through our frequency of mowing.”
Gyba said this will involve ample backtrack mowing to remove as much leaf blade as possible, focusing on grain by mowing into it, identifying the grain on every green no matter its direction, and mowing appropriately to control it.
One of the biggest issues Gyba faces at Glen Abbey is its amount of traffic. Through member play, public play and a multitude of corporate tournaments played every year, the greens’ health and vigor must be monitored constantly, ensuring they respond well to the increased speed demands.
The object is to keep greens, tees and fairways lush and green, but Gyba said firmness and consistency of firmness provide the best possible playing conditions. Speed comes from firmness, he said, and TDRâ€ˆmoisture meters are utilized to ensure consistent moisture levels are retained across an entire green.
“So the frequency of hand watering will increase, but we’ll never use our overhead sprinklers on our greens. Because they’re so undulating, we’re trying to ensure consistent moisture distribution.”
Gyba said that by turning the sprinklers on, water will run off the crown and into the lower spots. Moisture levels in the lower areas are apt to be in the high 20 per cent range while crowned areas will sit at about 15 per cent. Such an inconsistency in moisture levels also means inconsistent firmness and inconsistent speeds on the same green.
TDR moisture meters are used daily to target moisture percentages between 15 and 18.
“The idea is to try to get that entire green in that 15 to 18 per cent range,” Gyba said, adding it is hoped the 3 per cent difference is negligible.
Gyba said he is paying particular attention to the coming weather forecasts to see if the trend favours stormy and rainy weather or if conditions will be hot and dry.
“The reason I’m doing that is so I can make a decision about my wetting agents. ’13 was a good, dry Open, and hopefully we can have the same again this year.”
Glen Abbey is routed differently for the Open than the way it plays for members and public golfers. The fourth hole, for example, becomes the opening hole for the Open. Instead of the normal one-through-nine sequence of play, the Open begins with the fourth hole, continues in order through the ninth, but the third hole becomes No. 7, the first is No. 8, and the second is No. 9.
“It flows better for tournament golf,” Gyba said. “It’s actually about 500 to 600 steps shorter for the players to play that routing.”
The rerouting of holes in 2013 presented a challenge for Gyba’s staff who had become accustomed to mowing the greens in their familiar order and had to adapt to the Open routing. That year, his turf maintenance staff had six greens mowers at their disposal. Although greens were cut in time every day of the tournament, the schedule was tight, he said.
For this year’s Open, Gyba’s staff will be equipped with two additional greens mowers to relieve the stress of getting the job done in a timely fashion. He said Turf Care Products will give the staff a chance to demonstrate the latest greens mowers for the week to complement Glen Abbey’s existing fleet. Through the ClubLink network, other equipment, such as an additional fairway mower, will be provided for the week.
Gyba said in an Open year, his staff increases to about 35 workers from about 30 in a non-Open year. The additional staff will allow him to walk-mow his tee decks daily, thereby freeing up the greens mowers to double cut and backtrack.
In addition to his regular staff, Gyba will get help from another 30 to 40 volunteers who will come from other ClubLink and nearby courses, as well as suppliers who were once superintendents themselves.
“The support you get is phenomenal.”
In spite of the additional help, Gyba said he and his assistant worked a total of 243 hours apiece in 2013 over a two-week period which spanned both the lead-in week and tournament week.
“I’ve never worked that many hours in my life.”
Both were on call during that critical time to deal with any issues that might have arisen.
The PGA Tour focuses on clean and crisp edges and lines, and Gyba must ensure his mower operators never scalp a collar and that clean, crisp, defined lines separate the collar from the rough, the collar from the green, and the intermediate rough from the primary.
Gyba said that because it was his first, the 2013 Open proved to be somewhat stressful, but he expects this year to be more calming.
“There’s a little less stress this time around in the fact that in 2013 a lot of the questions we had weren’t answered until a couple of minutes before.”
This year, he hopes to enjoy the experience that much more and develop a greater peace of mind.
Some of that peace of mind derives from the fact that one of his foremen is arguably the most experienced tournament course setup individuals in Canada, who will be marking his fifth Canadian Open.
Had 2014 been an Open year at Glen Abbey, Gyba said he probably could have pulled it off in spite of having to resurface eight of his greens in the spring due to the previous winter’s devastation. Whether the Tour would have green-lighted the course once the winter damage was realized could have been debated, he admitted.
Gyba said the key to having his resodded greens ready for play by May 15 last year was due to aggressive aerification.
“It was all about aerifying them.”
Gyba went with T1 creeping bentgrass which, he said, met with tremendous success. Mountainview Turf in Ottawa is currently growing the T1 sod that will be used this fall to resurface the remaining 10 greens.
The original greens at Glen Abbey were believed to be an older Penn variety at the time of Jack Nicklaus’ design, but evolved into “a Heinz 57,” Gyba said.
As was the case in the spring of 2014, temporary greens will be employed while the new greens become ready for play.
Golf will also be allowed to continue in September while existing bunker sand is replaced by a newer silica variety. The work will be done one hole at a time.
Gyba said golfers actually enjoy seeing improvements to the golf course taking place before their eyes.
“It’s their golf course and they like to see it improve. It’s pretty exciting for us.”
In recent years, Glen Abbey has fought a losing battle against the emerald ash borer, and between 50 and 100 ash trees have had to be removed over the past few years. Last fall, the club embarked on a large-scale tree planting program during which several 40-foot-tall maples, spruce and pine trees were planted.
Spruce and pine trees planted on the sixth and ninth holes (Open Nos. 3 and 6) will make those holes more difficult to play this year if players stray into the rough. Some original Nicklaus design trees have been replaced on the fourth hole, representing another change since 2013.
Immediately after the Victoria Day weekend, the construction and erection of infrastructure for the Open got underway. Gyba said that although he works closely with the operations manager from Golf Canada regarding infrastructure setup, the superintendent is responsible solely for course setup “inside the ropes.” He said it is a stipulation of the PGA Tour that the superintendent separates himself from all activity happening outside the ropes such as the erection of grandstand seating and dealing with on-course vendors.
Once the Open has concluded and the infrastructure has been removed, getting trampled and damaged areas back into shape again becomes the superintendent’s responsibility.
There are about 400 members at Glen Abbey who have dual memberships at other ClubLink courses.
“We’re an incredibly busy and incredibly successful corporate event venue,” Gyba said, adding there are also several public golfers anxious to play the course each year.
Glen Abbey’s members enjoy having the Open at their golf course, Gyba said, and are rewarded with Open-themed men’s nights afterwards in which pins are placed in the same locations as they were during the tournament. The club championship in an Open year will also feature such additions as Sunday pin placements.
Gyba, a native of Oakville who said it’s a dream come true to serve as Glen Abbey superintendent, said if the PGA Tour decides it wishes to return to Glen Abbey in the future, he’ll be ready with 100 per cent new bentgrass greens and brand new bunkers.
He said the role of superintendent at Glen Abbey is a demanding one.
“You always seem to be pulled in a million and one different directions and kind of live in a fish bowl here. The key for me is putting good, strong guys in leadership roles, and when you can depend on those people and have them help you execute your plans, you can just oversee a group of five or six people, and they have crews underneath them.”