Turf & Rec

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Turf crew beats clock to produce LPGA-worthy course


December 3, 2015
By Mike Jiggens


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By David McPherson

“I’M a man of few words,” laughs Tom Kinsman, when we chat a few weeks after his club — Whistle Bear — hosted the LPGA Manulife Classic for the first time.

He may be humble, but he shouldn’t be. What the superintendent and his crew accomplished in such a short time last spring is remarkable. Sixty days. That’s how long Kinsman had to prepare a golf course to host some of the world’s best female players.

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After 10 years working at St. George’s Golf & Country Club, and learning from Keith Bartlett, the greenkeeper was ready for a change. When prepping Whistle Bear to host the LPGA event in Cambridge, Ont., he relied on his experiences, which included hosting the RBC Canadian Open in 2010, at the prestigious private club in Etobicoke that is perennially ranked as one of the nation’s top tracks.  

“It all happened fast,” Kinsman recalls. “I started officially at Whistle Bear the last week of March, the first week of April. It was quite the experience to jump in and hit the ground running. It was also a rough winter, so we were set back from the start. There was lots of poa on the greens and lots of ice cover from early January until the end of March.”

It wasn’t just the course that was new. Kinsman also needed to learn to lead a whole new maintenance team and settle into a new home.

“Everything just came to a head,” he explains. “There was minimal sleep and minimal time spent with my family. There was a lot of pressure on me; I also bought a new house in Galt,  but I survived the chaos!”

Tom’s talented team helped him survive this craziness. He gives kudos especially to his assistant and his mechanic.

“He was my tournament MVP,” says Kinsman. “There was a lot of hard work that got us there. I’m just so pleased with the efforts from my team. Everyone gave a lot personally to make this happen and turn it into what it was. I feel with 60 days to pull this off, combined with the winter we had, the conditions we provided were bar none; I couldn’t be more pleased.”

LPGA players, tournament officials, and spectators all lauded the playing conditions. Kinsman’s past experience working with the PGA TOUR at St. George’s certainly helped him prepare this time around.

“When they come in, it’s a storm of activity,” he says. “You need to work with them to achieve what they need to do without damaging the golf course. You are prepping for tournament conditions and they are running around putting up structures and tents.

“Communication is the key to have a successful tournament,” Kinsman adds. “John (Gaskin) was the director of operations for the tournament, and he worked in a similar position when the Canadian Open was at St. George’s. We had that connection, which is huge. It was on a smaller scale, but you’ve seen what had happened, so you are prepared … that was a big help for me just knowing how a major tournament functions.”

John Miller (LPGA Tour agronomist) was also onsite and helped Tom and his crew prepare.

“It’s always good to have an agronomist who tours with the Tour to help you along, talk things out, and keep things on the right track. He knows what the players want and you provide their standards.”

Whistle Bear Golf Club is known for setting the bar high when it comes to course conditions, so it was just tweaking some things for the tournament and meeting little touches the LPGA requested.

One wonders whether Kinsman had any concerns with the low scores; the winning score was 22 under par by Suzann Pettersen. Did the course play too easy? No, was his definitive answer.

“This golf course has huge fairways, big greens, and the wind was not blowing for us,” he explains. “The LPGA determined the course setup, the pin placements and the yardages that they felt was right for the ladies. For me and my team, when players are that good and shoot that well, it just proves our greens were pure, rolling true, fast, and the players had good reads. It was fun to watch them play.”

Mother Nature stress

Kinsman’s main stress preparing for the event was recovering from the harsh winter and the dry spring. Southern Ontario saw only about five millimetres of rain in the two months leading up to the LPGA event.

“We were in summer drought conditions,” Kinsman says. “The property was very dry. The last bit of rain that hit right before the tournament really helped to green up the course. Mother Nature helped us with the late rain after such a dry spring. We were prepping for a late May tournament with August drought conditions. It was very challenging.”

One wonders what Tom did for Mother Nature since the rain held off during the event.

“It just goes to show you that when managing a golf course you can put everything in place to have it ready to go, but Mother Nature still plays a huge role in the golf environment … you can’t predict what she will do and she will turn on you quick, or help you out. It’s all in her mood.”   

Besides his team at Whistle Bear, Tom relied on many volunteers from area golf courses such as Deer Ridge and Westmount. It was a tight crew of around 40.

“I applaud those in the industry because without them it would have been tough,” Kinsman concludes. “We had people start just two weeks before the tournament. Getting that help was immense to the tournament’s success … everyone rose to the occasion.”

David McPherson is a freelance writer and communications consultant. He started golfing at Kitchener’s Westmount Golf & Country Club as a kid. A love of words soon followed. As a golf writer for the past 14 years, his work has appeared in a variety of publications. As president of McPherson Communications, David helps a wide range of corporate clients. Besides golfing, he enjoys playing tennis. listening to music, travel and spending time with his wife and two young children. Follow him on Twitter @mcphersoncomm.