Corbin Parker’s PGA Championship fear was that one of the Oak Hill Country Club flagsticks would appear crooked for millions to see during the TV broadcast of the golf season’s last major championship last month in Pittsford, N.Y. Parker cut the golf holes at Oak Hill during the tournament. It’s also his regular job as a full-time employee on the Oak Hill maintenance crew.
But Parker’s fear was never realized. The 34-year-old, a seven-year veteran on the staff who has been cutting holes on Oak Hill’s East and West courses for six years, takes a meticulous approach to his job.
“I always pay special attention to detail,” Parker said while cutting holes on the morning of the final day of the tournament.
Parker is as serious as a surgeon about his job. His focus on his craft was evident during the tournament.
The golf hole is arguably the most important component on a golf course. The greens get tons of attention, as they should, and many courses’ bunkers look as well manicured as a GQ model. But the golf hole has a distinction.
“It’s the one spot where everybody goes on a golf course,” says Rob Porter, president of White Metal Golf, which develops and manufactures products to maintain the golf hole. “Everybody ends up at the golf hole.”
Parker’s MO is always to cut a perfect cup. His advice to others: Slow down and do the job right.
“This business can be go, go, go, but for certain things you need to step back and take your time,” he says. “For instance, you don’t want to cut a hole next to a ball mark.”
Of course, cutting a new hole on a green means there’s an old hole that needs to be plugged, which requires the utmost attention. If the hole is too low, a golf ball’s roll could be hindered; if it’s too high, a greens mower could scalp it. Parker’s goal is to plug an old hole so well that it can’t be seen.
“If I can cut 18 perfect holes and set 18 perfect plugs, then I’ve had a good day,” says Parker, who also paints the cups after cutting them.
Tools of the trade
In his quest to cut the perfect golf hole, Parker utilizes the tools of the trade. And there’s no shortage of tools and accessories to help superintendents and their crews spruce up the golf hole.
Consider the ezLocator pin placement system. Jon Schultz, an avid golfer, created the technology-based software program that enables superintendents to set pins in locations they might not have considered, which can ultimately help improve turfgrass health. After a GPS system locates all the possible placements on each green, the information is entered in a program, and with the click of a button the superintendent can get the job done, allowing club members to enjoy tournament-quality pin sheets every time they play, according to Schultz.
Schultz, a member at the Dallas Athletic Club, developed the system after chatting with members of his weekend golf group at the club bar. He calls it game-changing technology.
“It’s a tool that helps superintendents find optimal pin location, maintain healthy greens, and enhance the golfing experience for players,” he says.
Schultz says many superintendents are accustomed to using restrictive quadrant systems to place pins, where they often put the pins in the same locations. Schultz says this strategy is bad for the turf, leading to increased foot traffic and turf stress.
“Originally, I was coming from a players’ perspective [when developing the technology], but the more I dug into it the more I appreciated the tough task that superintendents have – they have to consider wear and tear on turf, disease, and have a feel for what players expect,” he explains.
One superintendent using the ezLocator told Schultz it suggested spots for the golf hole that he never considered before. There isn’t a superintendent who doesn’t want to hear from a golfer, “I’ve never seen the hole there before, but that’s a fabulous location,” Schultz says.
Superintendents will see the condition of the greens improve because they’re not placing golf holes in the same spot every three to five days.
“This system offers flexibility,” Schultz says. “Agronomic conditions of greens change all the time. Our system allows superintendents to adapt better to those changes.”
The ezLocator is gaining popularity; the fact that Merion Golf Club and TPC Sawgrass have the system has helped. Schultz expects sales to double this year over last year.
And he’s still enhancing the technology. Soon, ezLocator will be able to correlate green speed with specific hole location, which means superintendents can expand or contract the amount of puttable area.
Regarding the golf hole, there’s the cup itself. Porter has been on a quest to develop the perfect golf cup in terms of durability, performance and appearance since he began his company, White Metal Golf, in 1997.
Porter, who has a product design degree from Stanford University, says superintendents liked metal cups, but complained about having to paint them frequently to keep them white. And while plastic white cups retained their color, superintendents also had issues with them – they often broke and didn’t sound right when a golf ball rolled into one.
“It occurred to me that a hybrid of metal and plastic together should give superintendents what they want, which is a clean, white hole that doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, lasts a long time, and sounds good when you make a putt,” Porter relates.
Topanga, Calif.-based White Metal Golf debuted its hybrid cup in 1998, and has since presented six other variations, made with a base material of brass, aluminum or zinc with polycarbonate plastic. The best cup must withstand the elements and even physical punishment, such as unruly golfers slamming the flagstick back in it after four putting a green.
While Porter continues to study ways to improve the cup’s durability, he also developed a product to make painting it easier. In 2009, White Metal Golf introduced the Tidy Whitey System, an easy-to-use hole cup painter. The company is introducing a new version of the system in a few months. Porter invented the Tidy Whitey because he knew superintendents needed a tool to paint cups fast and efficiently.
Previously, the Tidy Whitey required the applicator to push down on the can while turning it to apply the paint evenly. With the new version there is no pushing down.
“It’s as simple and error-proof as possible,” Porter says. “You put the can in the hole, and just the act of turning it activates the paint sprayer. The new version speeds up the process.”
When researching and designing new products to improve the golf hole, Porter is sure of one thing: He will respect the game.
“There’s a delicate balance to the process,” he says. “While innovation is very important, tradition is also key.”
Speaking of tradition, the Standard Golf Co., which has been in business for more than 100 years, offers an array of products pertaining to the golf hole, including its own painting system, the E-ZEE White Hole Whitener System. A can of spray is inserted into a tool and rotated. A built-in shield protects the cup and green from overspray. It takes just a few seconds to paint a golf hole.
“We made it simple,” says Jim Nygren, director of marketing/sales for Cedar Falls, Iowa-based Standard Golf, which introduced the product three years ago.
According to Nygren, a huge key to the E-ZEE White’s success is the paint. The system features Rust-Oleum paint, which is specially formulated to maximize whiteness on dirt, says Nygren, who credits Rust-Oleum’s technological know-how for paint for helping the product succeed.
“We worked with Rust-Oleum to develop a paint that doesn’t drip and provides great coverage,” Nygren says. “It’s also safe to apply on exposed [turf] roots.”
The E-ZEE White system enables superintendents to provide “a tournament look” to their golf holes, he says. That “tournament look” also sends a message to golfers that the maintenance staff is paying attention to detail and providing the best conditions possible, he adds.
“Because we’ve made it easier to get that tournament look, superintendents are [painting golf holes] three or four times a week instead of just one or two times a year,” Nygren notes.
Standard Golf offers several golf cups and has improved them dramatically over the many years it has manufactured them. Nygren says the company’s go-to cup has been the ST2000 Smart Fit Cups, which debuted in 2000.
“The ST2000 has really been catching on the past few years,” Nygren says.
When paired with Standard Golf’s Smart-Fit Ferrule, the ST2000 cup locks the flagstick into place so it doesn’t twist and turn, eliminating wear. Dirt and debris are prohibited from clogging the ferrule.
Early next year, Standard Golf will introduce a new bunker rake that Nygren says will provide a more “professional look” to greenside bunkers. Called the Tour Pro, the rake features a shallow furrow pattern design that makes bunkers look like they were power-raked, he adds.
“Everything we do is about making it easier for superintendents to do their jobs, and to do them well,” Nygren says.
James Buckholt, managing director of British Manufacturing Solutions (BMS), is all about that approach. That’s why his Luton, England-based company recently introduced the Railmaster Golf Hole Cutter.
The Railmaster features a bearing guide for parallel blade travel when cutting holes, allowing users to avoid crowning on plug removal. The hole cutter has two blades that the user pounds into the ground with a mallet.
“There’s no dome effect,” Buckholt says, noting that the Railmaster’s construction is stronger but lighter than the company’s other cup cutters. “The quality of the repaired hole can be just as important as a new hole that’s created. You don’t want golfers tripping over the old hole, or the greens mower scalping it because it’s too high.”
Another benefit of the Railmaster is that it can cut holes efficiently whether on a soft, sandy green or a green that features a harder surface, Buckholt says.
“There’s a push in Europe for more greens specced by the United States Golf Association,” Buckholt says. “The adverse effect is that the surfaces of these greens are more compact, which makes it harder to cut holes.”
BMS also offers the i-PRO hole cutter that features a “slide hammer” function, which makes it easier to extract a plug.
“You pump the plug out, so it’s easier to get out of the hole,” Buckholt explains.
BMS also offers its popular hole-trimming curved scissors so superintendents can trim the turfgrass around the edge of the hole. It’s safe to say that no superintendent wants a golf hole that looks a little rough around the edges.