There’s a bunch of thoughts rattling around my head, kind of like the golf balls in the trunk of my rust-covered, 1963 Ford Falcon when I take a sharp corner, and I need to get them out of there before I go crazy – the thoughts and the golf balls.
Pitch marks and divots are universal problems in golf that I suspect date back to the earliest days of the game when one could be called before the congregation of a church for teeing it up on the Sabbath. I’ll bet there were signs written in 16th-century Gaelic that implored golfers to take care of the course.
I like this quote from the 1915 Minikahda Club board governors’ minutes as the club was preparing to host the U.S. Open:
“Sports Pastimes Committee appointed a committee for the purpose of ascertaining the name of the members who do not replace their divots, displaced during play, and the chairman notify such members of the violation of the rules after the first offense, and to suspend such members for a period of two weeks from the use of the course, after the second offense.”
No mention of the penalty for a third offense. I suspect it was so diabolical it was never written down and only mentioned in hushed tones late at night at the bar.
Speaking of the U.S. Open, the first PGA Tour stop after Chambers Bay was TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, for the Travelers Championship. Players raved about the greens, especially those who had come right from Chambers.
Unbeknownst to them, the course had come out of the winter with the most damage that Golf Course Superintendent Tom DeGrandi had experienced in his 22-plus years there. Six of the putting surfaces on the Bobby Weed design were closed to start the golf season and two remained that way a month out from the tournament, with sodding taking place on most of the injured areas.
Working in DeGrandi’s favor was the fact that the PGA Tour agronomists have the ultimate say on turf decisions, not antsy members who think the greens look healthy enough to accommodate a three-day member-guest, when they don’t.
Two weeks before the tournament, soaking rains and warm weather had the new grass rooting and knitting together so that, come the Travelers, nary a criticism was heard from the players.
DeGrandi’s situation may have helped other superintendents in the region who suffered the same plight, many of whom had much more damage than River Highlands. Golfers seemed to realize that dead turf on their courses could not be avoided after hearing about DeGrandi’s greens in the weeks leading up to the Travelers. Various media outlets mentioned the conditions of the greens following the media day outing, when two of the putting surfaces were closed.
Helping spread the news about the predicament faced by superintendents in western Massachusetts was Russ Held writing for The Republican newspaper out of Springfield. Kudos to the person or group who informed Held early on of the impending predicaments, and hats off to Held and the Republican for realizing it was a story that should interest all golfers and that might just save a few jobs.
Held’s first piece, with the headline “Ice is the hot topic with golf course superintendents in western Massachusetts,” appeared in the March 13 edition, nearly a month before the golf season traditionally gets under way in that part of the Bay State. Held attended a quickly organized meeting of superintendents, a USGA agronomist and a University of Massachusetts turf professor to discuss ways to minimize the damage and speed recovery.
Held followed up with another story April 17 under the headline “Industry experts, Western Mass. superintendents urge patience with recovery of greens from winter damage,” which revisited the scenario just as golf season was beginning.
Back to the U.S. Open for a second. With my affinity for nine-hole golf courses and knowing that Newport (Rhode Island) Country Club hosted the first U.S. Open and the first U.S. Amateur in 1895 as a nine-hole venue, I did some digging to find out the last time a U.S. Open was held on a nine-hole facility. I discovered it was in 1901, and Willie Anderson won the event with a record-high score of 331 that still stands. He beat another Scotsman, Alex Smith, in a playoff at Myopia Hunt Club in Massachusetts. The Newport amateur was the only time it was played on something other than an 18-hole course.
In honor of the 114th anniversary of that historic event, I think I’ll go play nine holes.