0 The Ohio Program - A ‘major’ opportunity

For Ohio State University intern, Rupert Collett, working at the Scioto Country Club on the US Senior Open has been the highlight of his career to date. In this article, he provides a working diary for the Championship, including an extra day thanks to rain and lightning storms across Columbus

Scioto Country Club, located in Columbus Ohio and designed by Donald Ross, held the 2016 US Senior Open, and marked the long awaited return of major golf to the club. Surrounded by history, Scioto isn't new to holding major tournaments and is a part of an elite number of courses to have hosted five different major golf tournaments, including the 1926 US Open, 1931 Ryder Cup, 1950 PGA Championship, 1968 US Amateur Championship and the 1986 US Senior Open.

The 2016 US Senior Open was played on an enlarged course from the previous championships after various renovations and lengthens to the land locked course. The course, now measuring 7,140 yards, Par 71 features many challenging holes, both for the golfers and the maintenance staff.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of the turf management staff for six months as a result of The Ohio Program. It was an unforgettable experience working on such a historic course. Superintendent Bob Becker was fantastic to work for. His guidance, along with Assistants Jason Spencer, Seth Rainer and Mike Greene, helped to boost my own personal knowledge and give me my first championship experience.

Having previously worked with fine turf, I wanted to undertake the program to gain further knowledge of working with turf abroad and experience the different ways of undertaking processes I have become familiar with back in the UK. The program and Scioto didn't disappoint. The time and effort spent to make Scioto look and play the best it possibly could was worth it when the championship came around. Knowing that you have been a part of history at a country club, as prestigious and historically important as Scioto, is something I will never forget.

It took time and effort to get to the championship from when I arrived in Columbus late March. The following brief diary style notes will give an insight into the days before and during the championship.

Saturday 6th August (5 days until the championship)

The weeks leading up to the tournament had been hot and dry, providing ideal conditions for golf. Hard and firm fairways and greens, along with perfect grass conditioning and texture, meant that the course was in the best shape all season right when it mattered. The daily high was 84 degrees fahrenheit and the humidity was at 87%. The chance of any rain was at 0% and a 7 mph wind was blowing all day, so the surfaces were drying out. This meant that hand watering needed to be done across the course on all surfaces. Myself and Sam Jarv were sent to ensure the fairways were in top condition, hand watering any wilting patches or dry areas that we found when probing the soil. If the areas were dry and crumbling under the grass layer, we needed to give them a precise enough shot not to overwater and cause the area to soften up, but to get water in and keep the surface as hard as possible.

Sunday 7th August (4 days until the championship)

A similar situation to that of Saturday, daily high temperatures of 88OF and humidity at 93% meant that hand watering needed to continually be done and kept on top of from sunrise to sunset! Again, no rain was forecast, but the wind speed had decreased to 3 mph. The same guys were out doing the same jobs as the previous week, due to knowledge of the areas requiring attention. Sam and I were on the fairways and approaches with Charles Lowery focusing on the tee surfaces. All the surfaces were vital and drying out. Irrigation was to be turned off on Monday to allow a full dry down of all areas; therefore, what we were doing, focusing upon the drier areas, was important to keep the surfaces and soil profile as even as possible. Other jobs undertaken by the staff included all mowing across the course and detailed maintenance to path edges, weeds in bunker faces and walkways, that type of finer details.

Monday 8th August (3 days until the championship)

The beginning of championship week and the week everyone had been building towards. All the volunteers had arrived on Sunday evening and had a run through of the expectations required of them and the crew for the week ahead. Uniforms were handed out and assignments given. Therefore, when everyone met at 5.00am, we all had an understanding and knowledge of what we were doing and where we were going.

My assignment for the championship was changing holes on the back 9. I had been changing holes for a large part of the summer already and couldn't wait to get underway with the task for the championship. Working with the USGA officials, including Jeff Hall and Darin Bevard, was something I couldn't wait to do. Being involved in the decision making process with regard to hole placements for the championship, and generally involved in their conversations, was an eye opener and highlighted just how much really went into the finer detail at each and every USGA Championship.

As Monday was the first of three practice rounds, the holes needed to be placed away from the championship holes, but still in areas that were fair to be played to, giving a true representation of the greens and the Scioto course.

The process undertaken is an interesting one. Jeff and his team placed flags at all hole locations for both the practice rounds and the championship, these were all the same colour. They then placed a blue flag where the pin location was to be for that day. This helped to give a true location for all pins for the week and a chance to see if any were interfering with another, or perhaps too close to a previous day's location.

All the marked out areas were putted on and checked for gradient, which they didn't want over 2.5%. If any of the marked areas were outside of this range, they were moved or edited accordingly. The entire process took a little over four hours - just for the back 9! There were two teams of officials; one on the front and one on the back.

Once the cups had been changed, it was right back onto the hand watering to help Sam on the fairways and approaches. Highest temperature of the day was 84OF with humidity down to 78%, which is still very high. The wind speed had increased to 8mph, so the same challenges were ahead of us to keep the surfaces perfect.

Tuesday 9th August (2 days before the championship)
Tuesday brought higher temps (90OF) and higher humidity (96%), so the challenges were continuing for all of the crew. These conditions, however, were as good as we could ask for. Hot and dry meant that we had control over the moisture level in the playing surfaces rather than having to extract water and moisture and dry areas down.

With all the assignments in place and everyone following their routine, it was holes and hand watering for me for the week, whilst following all USGA requests and any changes that Bob wanted to make.

Wednesday 10th August (the day before the championship)

The final day before the championship got underway. The temperature was around 87OF with 94% humidity; the routine was vital to be stuck to. The USGA officials had made requests to fully saturate a few fairway areas that were on top of the slopes, due to the run off that they have, and the fact that players would drive over these areas; so they weren't a factor in play, it was more to do with aesthetics for the camera.

The morning hole changing had been going well, with only a few minor issues identified for the first day's championship play. In the event of any issues, the hole was re-marked as close to the original location as possible to keep it in line with the pre-set hole locations and to avoid interfering with other days or close to where the practice rounds had been. Number 11, specifically, had the day 4 pin right at the back left of the green. However, there was an issue with an old plug from weeks before looking weak and not too good for the TV audience. This had the officials worried and moving the flag around each day to find the perfect location.

Thursday 11th August (Championship Day One)

A 4.15am alarm call and I went straight to the course to get all the machinery out, ready to be taken onto the course as soon as the morning meeting was completed around 5.00am Although we had been building towards this for months, and continued working through all the bleachers (grandstands) being put up, it wasn't until this morning when it really hit me that we were actually working an important Senior Championship.

Everything started well and everyone was into the swing of the routines that they had become so familiar with. The greens were running within the boundaries that the USGA requested (around 12) and the firmness was right where they wanted it. If anything, they may have been a little too firm for the time of the week, but they weren't overly concerned at this point.

It was another hot and humid day (93OF and 94% humidity), meaning that we had the best of the conditions and just needed to hope that the course wouldn't burn up too much before we could get back on with water. 6mph winds meant that the players had a little breeze to play with around the course, but the surfaces were kept a little cooler, although always drying out.

Once we had the all clear to get back out in the evening after play, hand watering, greens, approaches, fairways and collars were all cut, and the course was smartened up with divoting and clean-up of divots and debris that may have fallen onto the course. The course was inspected and examined by the USGA officials all the time to give specific instructions on watering spots or extra rolling on greens, if required, to keep the speeds up and the surfaces perfect.

Friday 12th August (Championship Day Two)
Weather conditions still up at 93OF and 84% humidity and, again, everything was going well in terms of job completions and course set up. The officials were still editing and changing the hole placements for a few of the holes, but not moving them far. The major concern was that of firmness on the greens. The readings being taken were becoming too firm and, therefore, quicker than would be ideal. The decision was made to put more water down in the evening to help avoid becoming too firm for the next day. This is predominantly why the hole locations were being edited daily, in some cases, as the ball wouldn't stop or hold up on a green fast enough, making some of the selected locations hard to play to and unfair.

Everything else was going as it should do. The fairways weren't cut in the evening as the focus was on the rough. Getting that cut after the second round was a request from the USGA, so the main focus was on that, plus the continuation of hand watering and divoting.

Saturday 13th August(Championship Day Three)

90OF and 96% humidity, but the biggest change was the chance of rain, which we did receive. In the late evening, we had 0.28 inches of rain on the course, but this didn't stop us preparing the course as per normal.

Sunday 14th August (Championship Day Four)

The Wash Out

The day the championship was meant to be concluded and the trophy handed out to the overall winner was a complete washout. The bad weather came in and we received 1.49 inches of rain throughout the day. Although the course was hit hard and there were puddles on the playing surfaces, it did soak away quite fast once the rain stopped, but there was lightning in the area, meaning that the players couldn't get out to play and we couldn't prepare the course.

We didn't get the rain and bad weather until around 10.30am, so we were able to set the course up for the final day. Holes were cut, all surfaces were ready for play and everything was set. The day was much cooler at 78OF, but the humidity was up to 100%, a clear sign the weather was coming in bad.

We all had to stick around for the day, as we could be called into action at any moment if the weather were to break, but this didn't happen until around 2.30pm with, for light reasons, the latest time play could start being 3.30pm. We managed to get the course halfway ready before the weather kicked back in and the day was declared over. It would take a fifth day for this major championship!

Monday 15th August (Championship Day Five)

Nobody expected a fifth day, and nobody could prepare for it either. All the volunteers had left the previous day as they needed to get back to their own courses, the team was split in half because of this, and the rain was on its way back again! Temperature was up at 82OF and the humidity was at 100% again. Another 0.59 inches of rain fell across the day, but wasn't enough to stop play as there were no lightning storms in the area.

Play was delayed though and, again, we sat around in the shop area waiting to get back out to ensure the course was playable. The holes were left the same from the day before, a repaint and a trim was all that was required. The greens were mown, but that was about it. Fairways were left, as were the bunkers, as the focus was to complete the championship. The bunkers were in good condition, so it wasn't a major issue. There was still squidgying to be done and water to be removed after the rain hit between 9.30am and midday, but that was taken care of and the players were out around 1.00pm. It felt like the championship that never wanted to end, but eventually it did and Gene Sauers was crowned the champion.

And finally ...

The 5-day championship that myself, the crew and volunteers worked at was an unforgettable experience. With the weather fluctuations and long days came challenging times, alongside the realisation that we were actually preparing for a US Senior US Open being broadcast around the world. All the hard work and effort over the five months leading up to the championship, everything from spraying rough, fly mowing bunkers to double cutting greens daily was all worth it. The opportunity to stand alongside the eventual winner Gene Sauers, edging Miguel Angel Jimenez by one stroke, made me realise I was part of history at Scioto.

It wasn't until after the trophy ceremony that the story of Gene Sauers battle against cancer, putting his life at serious risk, was made aware to some of us within the crew. This really made it hit home that this championship was not only a life changing experience for the five international guys and girls, but also for the winner himself, who, like us, won't forget Scioto Country Club.

I'd like to thank Bob Becker, and the team he put together at Scioto, for the opportunity to play a part at my first championship; and at such a prestigious place.

I'd also like to acknowledge and thank Sam Jarvis, Charles Lowery, Tao Meng and Ryan Burton who all were internationally placed at Scioto for the championship. Without these four, it wouldn't have been the same experience. And finally, Mike O'Keeffe. The Ohio State University program he runs is one I couldn't recommend any higher. Placed at Scioto with four other awesome people to undertake the same experience was fantastic. Thank you Mike.

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