101st US PGA Championship: A greenkeeping grand slam

In August 2017 it was announced that the 2019 US PGA Championship would be moved from its traditional August spot to May for the first time in 70 years. The objective was to create a more uniform schedule for the players and provide a strong and exciting six month calendar:

  • March: THE PLAYERS Championship
  • April: The Masters
  • May: US PGA Championship
  • June: US Open
  • July: The Open
  • August: FedEx Cup playoffs

I made the journey over the Atlantic to be part of the agronomy team preparing the Bethpage Black Course for the 101st US PGA Championship. There were around 140 – 160 full time staff and 80 volunteers from all over the world (11 different nationalities!).

Bethpage is situated in the North East of America on Long Island, 40 miles east of Midtown Manhattan (NYC).

Bethpage is a public state park and is over 600 hectares, twice the total size of the Links (excluding The Castle Course). The park includes tennis courts, picnic and recreational areas and a polo field. It’s best known though for its five golf courses – the Red, Blue, Green, Yellow and Black. The Black Course has hosted the 2002 and 2009 US Opens as well as The Barclays in 2012 and 2016. It will also host the The Ryder Cup in 2024 but until this year it hadn’t hosted a US PGA Championship. It’s one of the world’s most challenging and feared courses at a length of 7,468 yds.

The famous warning sign at the first tee

Unsettled cool conditions from Sunday to Tuesday evening saw over 50mm (2inches) of rainfall, which wasn’t the ideal start to the tournament. This meant that only selected surfaces could be worked on until conditions improved.

Wednesday, the last day of practice, was the first day all surfaces could be worked on. A settled weather front moved in late on Tuesday evening bringing warmer temperatures and a gentle breeze which assisted in drying out the course.

Above are a team of 10 mowing the fairway surfaces in tandem covering a large amount of ground in one go. Presentation and definition between the narrow fairways and the varying heights of rough was truly impressive.

The weather on tournament days was ideal for course set up with blue skies throughout showcasing all the team’s hard work over the years. This allowed the spectators and worldwide TV viewers to witness the course in picture perfect conditions.

The bunkers play a big feature. They dominate the Black Course landscape and are aesthetically stunning. The total area of these bunkers is three hectares which is a similar size to the greens on the Old Course.

The greens team pedestrian mowing followed by some performance testing / data collection (measuring green speeds, soil moisture and firmness of surfaces)

Overall I thought the course was set up perfectly, creating a challenging but fair test for the world’s elite players.

Brooks Koepka; a worthy winner for a second year in a row 

My congratulations to Andrew Wilson (Director of Agronomy), Michael Hadley (Superintendent, Black Course) and all of their team for the years of hard work preparing for this event and achieving pristine conditions for a very successful championship week.

Grand slam

Being part of this tournament was another great experience and also extra special as it meant I had achieved my goal of working at all four of golf’s major tournaments. The 2005 Open Championship at St Andrews was my first major which also happened to be my first season at the Links. The sheer scale of the tournament was inspiring with the grandstands providing that stadium feel especially around the 1st and 18th holes. The excitement in the lead up to and during the event, the spectator atmosphere and my golfing hero Mr Woods winning, made it very special.

Being involved in that event inspired me to go on and experience the other three majors: 2011 US Open (Congressional Country Club), 2013 The Masters (Augusta National) and last month’s US PGA Championship.

My experience from working at these major events regularly impacts my practices here at the Links. It’s now time to turn my attention to the New & Jubilee surfaces for another busy season ahead!

Words by Gavin Neill, Deputy Course Manager – New & Jubilee Courses

Related Posts

Comments are closed.