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Cup preparations were demanding, Royal Montreal superintendent says


February 12, 2009
By Mike Jiggens


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Cup preparations were demanding, Royal Montreal superintendent says

Presidents Cup ALTHOUGH Royal Montreal Golf Club has served as the venue for two recent Canadian Opens, its role as host site for the 2007 Presidents Cup was significantly different and more demanding, superintendent Blake McMaster said.

Speaking Dec. 3 to more than 250 superintendents and their assistants in Waterloo at the 20th annual Ontario Seed Company/Nutrite professional turfgrass seminar, McMaster said the task involved in preparing for the tournament as well as returning the course to its normal state afterward were more demanding than when he served as host superintendent for the Canadian Open in both 1997 and 2001.

Presidents Cup
  Royal Montreal's irrigation system
  underwent upgrading in preparation for
  the 2007 Presidents Cup tournament.
"A big part of hosting an event like the Presidents Cup is having the space to accommodate it," he said. "There are so many great golf courses out there that could host these events, but you need that additional room to make it work, and that's why we were fortunate enough to host this event."

Royal Montreal, located on Ile Bizard, is a 45-hole facility spread over 880 acres. Its "elasticity" allowed its flagship Blue Course to be lengthened and strategically renovated to meet the demands of PGA Tour professionals as well as provide the necessary space for such infrastructure as bleachers for spectators, corporate areas and parking for 4,000 vehicles.

McMaster said the Blue Course had become "tired" around 2002, and the club wished to address how it could be revived.

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"It was about the same time the PGA came to us with the idea of hosting the Presidents Cup."

Royal Montreal fit the bill as a ready-made golf course that could support such an event.

"They needed about 40 acres for the corporate areas. Our whole practice range became a corporate village. The television compound required 10 acres on its own for the trailers and equipment."

Although plenty of space was available for the necessary infrastructure, the Blue Course itself needed work even after serving as the site of the Canadian Open a couple of years earlier.

"What we wanted to do was retain the original look of the (architect) Dick Wilson golf course and yet modernize it. Wilson had the vision to leave enough space-there's a lot of room between fairways and a lot of room to extend the golf course-and Rees (Jones) was able to extend a lot of holes that otherwise would have been much too short."

The renowned golf course architect was hired about a year prior to the Presidents Cup offer and was given the task of bringing the Blue Course in line with the changes in golf ball and club technology.

Jones' involvement enabled the Blue Course to stretch to almost 7,100 yards.

"Even though we have 45 holes and were doing nine holes at a time, the members didn't want to give up the golf course until mid-September which put us in a dilemma because if you know Montreal, you've got basically six or seven weeks to do nine holes."

With such a short time frame in which to work, sodding was the only option. A local sod farm was able to grow L-93 on a USGA mix for the project. Both the sod-laying and irrigation work were done in house.

In total, 36 greens were sodded. McMaster said he and his staff have learned plenty about sodding over the past 10 years, including the advantages of using smaller rolls.

The limited fall window of opportunity meant some work had to be completed the following spring. Other work which was done included ridding ponds of overgrown algae, constructing new bridges and upgrading irrigation satellites.

"When you know you're going to be hosting something like a Presidents Cup, you want a couple of years when doing a renovation like this to give the golf course a chance to really knit, the find the ideosyncrasies you've got on your course and sort these things out."

Kelly Ami Inc. of Pointe Claire, Que. provided a fully-engineered plan for Royal Montreal's upgraded drainage system, and the work was contracted out to NMP Golf Construction Inc.of Sainte Madeleine, Que.

"It's unbelievable," McMaster said. "We can have two inches of rain and have carts within an hour."

The PGA was on site two years prior to the Presidents Cup.

"Working with the PGA was a real pleasure. For the most part, they're really good people, very supportive. Members think they come in and tell you what to do. They don't. They come in and work with you. They have their agenda and want the golf course to look a certain way, but they're very reasonable people."

Among the officials from the PGA was an agronomist who had formerly been with the USGA. He considered bunkers to be a hazard and asked they be groomed the "old way" with a finishing touch around them rather than being raked in one direction toward the pin.

Greens were also to stimp at 11.5 throughout the tournament, requiring double cutting morning and night.

Unlike recent Canadian Opens at Royal Montreal, the structures erected for the Presidents Cup were larger and more numerous, including bleachers on every hole. Another major structure was erected to accommodate both the opening and closing ceremonies and fitness trailers were set up for the playing professionals.

Because Royal Montreal's regular practice range was converted into a parking lot, a new one was created for the Presidents Cup at the ninth hole of the club's nine-hole course.

Several superintendents and their assistants from neighbouring golf courses volunteered their services to help with course maintenance during the tournament.

"The volunteers we had were just a great bunch of people. The energy the brought to the event was just terrific. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to be involved."

The Canadian Opens of 1997 and 2001 resulted in little damage to the golf course following the tournaments. It was a different story immediately following the Presidents Cup, however.

"We ended up having to replace almost 20 acres."

Structures had been erected as early as April for the September event. It took until July of 2008 to repair the practice range that had served as a temporary parking lot.

About 11 acres of sod were laid in 2008 to repair the damages incurred. NMP returned to look after drainage work in areas that were badly beaten up.

Getting the golf course ready for the Presidents Cup was an experience McMaster said he won't forget any time soon, but it did provide some moments of anxiety.

"You're scared throughout the whole year because we know what can go wrong between insects, disease and that sort of thing. It's a real challenge just to hold everything together and have it peak at the right time. Like an invitational or club championship, we want to really show off our golf course at those times."