An expecting father, superintendent Steve Link had the time of his life volunteering on the Chambers Bay maintenance crew.
U.S. Open tournaments, like the one that just ended at Chambers Bay, don’t just happen. They take hours and hours of work and dedication from thousands and thousands of people. Many of them, of course, are volunteers.
No more so is this evident at a major championship than on the maintenance end of things. How could any tournament go off without some outside volunteer help? Often these maintenance volunteers are superintendents, without who these tournaments simply couldn’t happen.
A great example of one of these volunteer supers at Chambers Bay is Steve Link, golf course superintendent at Skagit Country Club in Burlington, Washington, located a good 110 miles north of Chambers Bay. Link started his volunteer run at Chambers Bay on the Sunday before the practice rounds began. The agronomy volunteers were put up at fraternity houses at the University of Puget Sound, located about 15 minutes from the course.
“Can you imagine a bunch of middle-aged superintendents returning to college life?” Link said. “It’s exactly as you may picture it in your head!”
Link stayed in a room with a super from Vancouver, Washington, and another from Maryland. He said he met superintendents from the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Canada and many different states.
“We wake up at 2:30 a.m. and grab a school bus at 3:00, arriving to the agronomy tent by 3:30,” Link says. “Quick slugs of coffee, cereal and other consumables are had, and Josh Lewis (Chambers Bay superintendent) gives a quick rundown of the morning schedule.
“The fairway mowers leave first,” he continues. “Over 20 [crew members] fire up the Toros and drive in single file to their route. They drive behind a skilled staff member in a staggered line that looks vaguely war-like, and they weave through the course quick and nimble as one unit.”
Link says behind them go the trim mowers, bunker crew, hand waterers, greens mowers, course set-up guys and rollers. He was in the roller group.
“The roller crew is an eclectic group of six. I guess we have to be to roll back and forth sideways all morning,” he says.
The rollers roll not only the greens themselves, but the entire greens complex, including steep slopes around the greens.
“Sometimes we roll into the fairways up to 50 yards,” Link says. “I really enjoy my rolling duties when we start seeing the players’ balls roll and roll and roll … sometimes with spectacular results! Bubba Watson hit a putt that rolled back to his feet on ‘my green,’ while Phil Mickelson chipped it to within a couple inches on the same green.”
After the morning duties, the crew headed back to the shop to refuel and have a better breakfast. “After breakfast, some head out to experience the course and the massive event, others max out their credit cards in the merchandise tent, while many others catch a van back to the frat house for a nap,” he says. “The nap is a wonderful thing.”
Prior to their evening duties, they eat a hearty dinner and then return to the course.
“In the evening we mainly clean up divots and tees and bunkers behind play,” Link explains. “There are also hand waterers pulling 200-foot hoses that water the turf to just the right moisture.”
About 9:30 p.m. they catch a bus back to get a few hours of sleep before doing it all over again.
“Some people don’t immediately sleep,” Link says. “With the excitement of the day still pumping through their veins, and perhaps a need to rehydrate, these fellows share a beer or two before turning in.” An interesting twist in Link’s story is that his wife is back home about to have a baby any day. As the actual tournament was about to begin on Thursday, he received the news that his wife was having contractions. This is her first pregnancy. They are expecting a boy.
“Now I’m nervous,” Link said at the time, “and doubting whether I have made the right decision to come here.” Turns out the contractions were a false alarm. Labor is not imminent.
“I find my attention being divided by a million things. My colleagues support me and offer experience and advice, and my nerves are settled,” Link says.
He says many of the controversial and negative comments about the course are hard to take for him and the others, but these have to be consumed with a grain of salt.
Link says, “One Internet “expert” said they should have planted bermudagrass instead of fescue. Need I even respond why this is ridiculous? The course is stressed from heat, dryness and traffic. From what we are told, it is right where the USGA wants it. They measure firmness with a penetrometer, water with a moisture meter, and ball roll with the infamous Stimpmeter. They adjust their plans accordingly.”
As the tournament winds down, Link looks back on his week at the U.S. Open.
“It has been a wonderful experience, and I am blessed to have been given it,” he says. “Now I eagerly await the arrival of our son, who (so far) has allowed me to stay here at Chambers Bay. … My wife has been very supportive of me as well. She has wanted me to experience this for years now and urged me to attend. I can’t wait to get back to her.”
All I can say is, with dedicated volunteers in the mold of Steve Link and many others available to the USGA, the future of the U.S. Open is in good hands.