By Mike Jiggens
PROPERLYâ€ˆpreparing for a large tournament well in advance of the date
will help eliminate any associated stress or anxiety and will ensure
things progress smoothly and as planned.
Braydon Gilbert, an assistant superintendent at Winnipeg’s St. Charles Country Club, spoke about his role in getting the course ready for last summer’s CN Canadian Women’s Open at the Canadian International Turfgrass Conference and Trade Show in March in Vancouver.
“Once you find out you get an event like this, you really start working and planning the right way, even though it’s a year in advance to get ready for it,” he said.
In his capacity as assistant superintendent, Gilbert said his added responsibilities included leading and motivating the maintenance team.
“You’ll also be monitoring golf course conditions even more so than you probably normally do,” he said. “You’ll be keeping an eye on the health of turf and on the progress of projects going along.”
Additionally, Gilbert said his duties included communicating with various officials, including the Tour agronomist and rules officials with respect to the course setup as well as anyone else associated with the tournament’s infrastructure.
“Most importantly, you’re going to be supporting your golf course superintendent.”
Due to the importance of such a tournament, which adds greatly to the superintendent’s already long list of responsibilities, the assistant must step in to help shoulder the load, Gilbert said.
About a month prior to the tournament, trucks began arriving with equipment necessary for the erection of such infrastructure as grandstands, washrooms and tents. Although the infrastructure setup was conducted by contractors, the task required supervision since none of the personnel involved had a vested interest in the golf course. It was Gilbert’s job to assign maintenance staff to oversee the infrastructure setup to ensure proper routes were followed and that damage to the golf course was minimal.
“The last thing we wanted to do was to do a whole pile of last-minute sodding right before the tournament, especially with how busy we were already.”
Gilbert said the assistant superintendent doesn’t actually do any of the infrastructure setup, but rather keeps an eye on the contractor to ensure he sticks to the areas where he is supposed to be.
Although the movement of trucks in and our of the property created some traffic jams that affected such activities as league play and weddings, Gilbert praised the contractors for their efficiency.
“It’s amazing how fast these guys could move. They had everything set up in about a month.”
During the infrastructure setup, Gilbert assigned an irrigation technician to see that no inadvertent damage would be caused to the system.
“He probably worked a month straight of 12 to 13-hour days, just making sure these guys weren’t going to damage any irrigation on the golf course and they weren’t going to damage any drainage.”
Because the contractors weren’t aware of the exact location of irrigation lines, it was necessary to have a technicians present at all times in order to avoid any unexpected setbacks.
Other preparation work was done about a year in advance of the tournament. A main landing area on the second hole had been draining poorly and required renovation work in the event of significant rainfall during tournament week. Bunkers were also touched up—the first time in 107 years.
“They needed a good, firm edge so that we knew exactly what the ruling would be if a ball landed in the bunker.”
After learning St. Charles had been awarded the CN Canadian Women’s Open, evaluations of the golf course were made to determine where the course currently stood and where it needed to be in time for the event. This included projects needing completion and the necessary cultural practices which had to be enacted.
“In our case, preparation meant recovery from significant winter damage,” Gilbert said.
The area experienced a particularly dry winter of 2009-2010 and didn’t get any snow cover on some greens until late in January, “which is a complete rarity in Winnipeg. Right away, this wasn’t the start we wanted to have, but we put the smile on and got to work right away.”
Temporary greens were put in place while work got underway to address the winter damage. Affected greens were overseeded four or five times with additional fertilizer applications.
Prior to the LPGAâ€ˆTour event, St. Charles was home to a charity event hosted by Mike Weir in early July. The fundraiser served as a dry run for the women’s tournament with efforts made to have the course in the same tiptop shape.
“We were going to practise our program that we planned out for the event itself,” Gilbert said.
As the LPGA tournament drew nearer, “the one thing I learned pretty quickly was to expect the unexpected.”
Gilbert said the golf course was hit by a 21/2-inch rain about a week and a half prior to the tournament. Staff had already attended the front nine holes, checking bunker sand depths and moving sand where necessary, and the heavy rain had essentially wiped out their efforts.
Another setback was realized before the rain storm when wind gusts of about 90 kilometres an hour knocked down a signficant number of elm and oak trees on the property.
“This required significant cleanup which was going to further delay our preparation for the golf course.”
In spite of the natural disasters, the St. Charles crew remained positive, Gilbert said.
“If we let these events rattle us, that’s going to move right down through the team and you end up with a negative atmosphere, so we tried to maintain positivity.”
A “draft” was held in advance of the tournament to see which maintenance staff members would be performing which tasks. A team of volunteers was recruited to plug the gaps with the assigned jobs “because the maintenance demands were certainly going to be much more than we’d see for everyday member play.”
Gilbert said the Manitoba golf community rose to the occasion, helping to generate about 40 volunteers to assist with the tournament.
“It wouldn’t have worked without them.”
During the week of the tournament, the weather remained fairly dry which allowed staff to get away with a single cut and roll each morning as well as another single cut and roll in the evening, and still achieve optimum green speeds.
Tees and fairways were mowed morning and afternoon, greenside bunkers were raked in the morning, and fairway bunkers were raked in the afternoons. Divot-filling teams went out each night.
“The last thing you wanted to see was a ball landing in a half-filled divot.”
Another important task for the grounds crew during tournament week was the repair of ball marks on the greens. Gilbert said the Tour professionals didn’t do as good a job in fixing their ball marks as staff had hoped.
An unanticipated task which had to be done once the tournament got underway was to control the number of mosquitoes which came out to wreak havoc.
“The mosquitoes came out on Saturday and players were wrapping their heads in towels, so at the last minute we had to fire up the mosquito mister and go out and manage that.”
Strong winds gusted throughout the tournament, requiring regular leaf cleanup. With temperatures reaching about 30 degrees Celsius each day, Gilbert and staff had to stay on top of moisture requirements. Greens, tees and fairways were either hand-watered or sprinkler-watered almost every night.
St. Charles’ greens are almost 100 per cent poa annua while tees and fairways range from 50 to 80 per cent poa annua, “so they certainly can wilt if you’re not on them,” Gilbert said.
The challenges didn’t end when the tournament did. Heavy rainfall came shortly after the Open ended, and the grounds were already compacted due to spectator traffic.
Gilbert credited much of the tournament’s success to the healthy amount of time which had been allotted for planning. The banding of everyone as a team was also critical to its success, he added.
“The most important thing for us was to make this a team event with a team atmosphere. We wanted to make sure it was going to be a lot of fun for everybody.
“It’s the week of your life if you’re fortunate enough to host something like this.”