Photo: Mark Kuhns: “We always try to do our best, whether it’s the club championship or the PGA Championship.” Photo: Lawrence Aylward
The start of the 2016 PGA Championship this morning on Baltusrol Golf Club’s Lower Course makes it official — Mark Kuhns is hosting his sixth major championship in his 40-year career as a golf course superintendent.
That’s six majors, as in a half dozen. Considering that many superintendents hope to host just one major tournament in their careers, six is a feat.
But the 61-year-old Kuhns doesn’t hang his hat on hosting major tournaments. His goal for any tournament is the same — to provide the best product possible.
“We always try to do our best, whether it’s the club championship or the PGA Championship,” Kuhns says.
Kuhns hosted his first major tournament, the U.S. Senior Open, in 1989 at Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. He also hosted the 1992 U.S. Women’s Open and 1994 Men’s U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, where he spent nine years as the superintendent; and the 2001 U.S. Amateur and 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol, where Kuhns has been since 1999.
“One of the hardest parts of putting on a major tournament is just getting to the event intact — with green grass, a few blemishes and little or no areas of ground under repair,” Kuhns says. “We have reached that point pretty well this year even under the stressful conditions and severe heat of the summer.”
If you listen to some of the players, it sounds like Kuhns and his crew have done their jobs in providing a top-notch golf course that is playing 7,450 yards for the tournament.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Jordan Spieth said of the classic A.W. Tillinghast design on Tuesday. “I consider it one of the top American golf courses that there is.”
Rory McIlroy, who is playing the first two rounds with No. 1-ranked Jason Day and Phil Mickelson, who won the PGA Championship at Baltusrol in 2005, said Tuesday that Baltusrol is a fair golf course.
“I think the PGA does a great job in choosing its venues,” said McIlroy, who won PGA Championships in 2012 and 2014. “Everything is straight out in front of you. You don’t really need to trick it up much. I feel like I can play my game in PGA Championships. I can hit driver off the tee the most time, and from there, if I drive it well, I feel like I have a big advantage.”
There’s no doubt that McIlroy is a favorite this week, as is Mickelson, who finished second in the Open Championship two weeks ago.
“This is a special tournament and golf course for me, because of having won the PGA Championship here in 2005,” Mickelson said. “A lot of history has taken place here, and for me to be a part of it means a lot.”
Kuhns is also part of Baltusrol’s esteemed history. He realizes the 2016 PGA Championship could be his last major, considering he might retire from the golf industry in 2020 when he’s 65. It’s why Kuhns plans to enjoy this major like no other major.
“I’m excited to make this enjoyable for everyone, including our members and guests, the players, the volunteers and the PGA of America,” he says. “I want everybody to be in the shining light for this. I want this to be one of the best majors ever.”