Miles of TV cables ran along the fairways of the Cochise golf course at the Desert Mountain Club. Camera towers rose above putting greens at strategic locations. The golf course was in pristine condition — there wasn’t a tire track or patch of dirt to be seen anywhere — and the four-day major PGA Senior’s Golf Tournament called The Tradition begins tomorrow, April 1st. We’re proud to show off our work on television.
It’s taken an immense amount of time and effort to get this Top 100 golf course ready for a televised golf tournament. Because desert golf courses, like the Cochise course, require edging 90 acres of turf and grooming 30 acres of playable granite transitions, the typical Desert Mountain maintenance crew numbers 30 employees. We start preparing for the tournament in January, working normal 8 hour days. February our hours increase to 10 hour days, and when March comes we work 12 hour days, seven days a week. We are scheduled to work 16 hours a day during the tournament, then eat and sleep onsite so we’ll be ready to prep the course at 2 a.m. for the next day of the tournament.
After three months of intense effort, we’re so tired that sleeping onsite wasn’t hard to do. We slept on a folding cots, or air mattresses on the parking lot, or on top of seed and fertilizer bags in the storage bin. Sleep didn’t last long this night. A major thunder storm brought a 3 in. downpour that soaked us and flooded the golf course. Our work was ruined, we had to start all over in the morning.
By 2 a.m. the next morning, we were wet and tired from lack of sleep. The crew left the maintenance yard in the deep dark of night, led by pencils of light from their work carts. We followed tractors pulling generators with two three-foot diameter lights that shone like the sun. The washes we use to get around the golf course were streams of running water, making moving around very difficult. When we reached the first fairway, and fired up the generators and lights our hearts sank at the sight — the front half of the fairway was completely under water. It had to be gone by the 7 a.m. tee time.
After hours of work, my feet were wet, I was sweaty, and my back hurt, but I had to keep pushing water toward the drain to clear the flooded fairway. Normally we use squeegees on greens to make them playable after a rain. But not me. The first time I used a squeegee was on a fairway. Quite odd. Twelve of us were using every squeegee available on the property to shove water down the drain. Lupe, our irrigator, stood in water over his knees pounding the drain grate with a pole to dislodge the pile of debris left by the downpour.
Perfect! The course had been perfect when we went to bed. What a disaster. It wasn’t good enough to open the drain and get the visible water off the fairway… no… we had to squeeze the water out of the turf too. Otherwise the USGA wouldn’t deem the hole playable.
As the sun rose we only had one hour before the first tee time. While we worked our superintendent stood with the USGA official ensuring him the fairway would be playable by seven a.m.. Observing the mess before him, the official crossed his arms and shook his head in disbelief.
Relief came when the USGA official dropped a ball on the fairway and it didn’t sink into oblivion. When the ball stayed up on the turf, he looked at our superintendent and said, “You were right, it’s playable. I’m surprised you made it.”
1999 was my eighth year preparing the Cochise golf course for the PGA Tradition golf tournament. The tournament always started on April 1st, and every year a major issue appeared. Some years were too dry, some too hot, and of course some too wet. All creating their own unique maintenance problems. But, like the flooding of my first tournament, my eighth and last year was even more memorable.
Everything had been perfect when be bedded down on the night before the third day of the tournament. We didn’t have any thunder or lightening to wake us like my first Tradition tournament. No, we woke up to 4 inches of snow blanketing the whole golf course! First tee time was 7 a.m. and we were in deep, deep trouble.
As we tried to prep the course it was sooo cold, and we were soaking wet. It was only 5 am! Things got worse when the sun came up. The USGA, sponsors, and club management could see the damage, but had to get this 3rd round in, or cancel the tournament. The sponsors didn’t want to pay out prize money for playing only half a tournament, so things on our end got crazy.
We heard the boss over the radio, “I want everyone working the first four holes to go back to the first green immediately. Get the snow shoveled off that green as fast as you can.”
After snow was shoveled off the green, the edges looked like your driveway does when a snowplow clears the street and leaves a barrier for you. Although we could see the grass, there was a foot high ring of snow around the green that would never allow a golf ball to roll onto the green. Standing in snow and looking down a white fairway, it seemed obvious there would be no golf today.
Next thing we heard from the boss was, “Don, get your crew over to the eleventh hole and rake the snow out of the bunker to see if it could be playable.”
We cleared snow out of the bunkers with shovels and rakes. Although we could see sand, the approach and green were covered in snow. I looked at this foolishness and asked myself . . . What are they thinking? They can’t play golf today.
We were asked to make attempt after attempt to make the course playable. It was ridiculous! Everyone on the crew knew there was too much snow to play golf. What were they thinking? Time was passing rapidly. A decision to play or not had to be made by the PGA and sponsors soon. The whole crew was convinced no one would play golf today. But we waited. And waited. Standing out in the cold freezing wind wondering where all the common sense had gone.
The head agronomist finally spoke over our radios, “Okay, pack up everything and head to the shop. The tournament has been cancelled.”
As I drove across the course towards the shop I was so grateful to get out of the cold, but disappointed that three months of intense work had gone to waste. And fully aware of the disasters I’d experienced, where my first televised tournament started badly and my last tournament ended even worse. Fitting bookends I suppose.