Having your home club host a PGA event is something of a mixed blessing. On the positive side, doing so requires a commitment to have the course in optimal condition, and as a club member, you are likely to have access to more comfortable viewing areas than the general public. Conversely, you are likely to give up play anywhere from a week to a couple of months prior to the event, and the aftermath of a tournament can resemble a war zone, what with the teardown of temporary grandstands and concessions, and the impact of thousands trampling grass.
You might have heard that we’ve had a bit of rain down this way – during the month of May, I am told that it rained enough to cover the entire Lone Star State with 8 inches of water.
In more practical terms, it was another one of those danged mixed blessings. We had experienced severe drought conditions throughout the state since 2013, so the rains filled nearly empty lakes and make trickling rivers flow again. The rains also wiped out towns (I nearly cried upon hearing what happened in Wimberley, a charming little outpost in Hays County that was victimized by waters from the Blanco River that crested 30 feet above flood level), destroyed businesses and lives, and gave new meaning to the term “hazard” as it applies to golf.
Which leads us to this year’s Byron Nelson, which was held at TPC at the Four Seasons, one of the two courses that comprise The Sports Club at the Four Seasons, home base for the Golf Nerd Goddess and yours truly here in Irving, TX. This year’s champion is Steven Bowditch, an Australian transplant who lives in Dallas and actually got married right there at The Four Seasons.
But the real hero of the tournament was not Bowditch, or any of the other players.
No, the man of the hour was a lanky, soft-spoken Texas Aggie who holds a Ph. D in Agronomy by the name of Scott Abernathy. Without him and his staff, there would be no tournament.
To give you some idea how dedicated (and anal) Scott is . . . a few years back, I arose before dawn on the first day of The Byron to ride around the course with him to see what goes into prepping it on tournament days. There were crews on each hole mowing greens and preparing bunkers. We ran into Mickey Bradley, who is responsible for setting up hole locations on the greens, and marveled at the diabolical spot he selected on #5. We also met up with Slugger White, the lead PGA Rules Official. We got around to the practice area, where part of the huge practice putting surface was being mown. Scott was explaining some nuance of bent grass when he suddenly stopped the cart and ran over to the person manning the mower. An animated conversation ensued, and he returned to the cart, shaking his head. I asked him what had transpired.
“He was mowing in the wrong direction, which impacts the speed of the green. That could really mess a player up.”
Scott is not afraid to take the occasional risk in caring for the course. Last year on Cottonwood Valley (The Sports Club’s members-only track), poa annua had spread rapidly on the first three greens*. Eradicating poa is next to impossible without temporarily messing up greens, but Scott found a product used in Korea but at the time was not approved for use in the US that killed the offending grass without disturbing the putting surface. Less than a month after applying the mystery tonic, the greens were as good as new.
So on May 1st of this year, it started to rain. And then rain some more. And just in case there was any doubt about it, around the middle of the month it rained another 3 or 4 inches. The ponds and canals on both courses flooded, submerging some fairways and leaving debris all over the place (including clothes and dead fish). The sand washed out of many of the bunkers. All of this occurring a few days prior to the PGA Tournament Advance Team arriving to inspect the condition of the course.
Scott and his team hunkered down, working close to 1000 man-hours in a 4 day period, and managed to get things back into shape. The Advance Team arrived, pronounced the course fit for play. Scott’s response was, “That’s great – but we could used a few dry days.”
That was on May 20th. Two nights later, another 3 inches of rain were dump on both courses. And just for good measure, a twister briefly touched down. The ponds and canals on both courses flooded, submerging . . . oh hell, you know the rest. Only in this instance, participating golfers were to arrive the following Monday to play in one of the pro-am’s and to start practice for the tournament start on Thursday, May 29th.
So once again, Scott & Co. pulled a few all-nighters. It continued to rain on and off throughout the week, but come Thursday, the course was ready for the tournament start – although there was enough residual moisture present so that the Tour allowed the players to lift the ball, clean it, and place it. But wouldn’t you know it, another huge rainfall hit that night – and this time, there was one problem that, in the parlance of the IT world, required a work-around rather than a fix.
A new pond was created on the par-4 14th hole as a result of this latest salvo, and there was simply no way to clear all of that standing water. The hole simply could not be played in its normal configuration. After huddling up with the Tour Competition committee, Scott moved the tees, making the normally challenging 440-yard hole into a 100 yard par 3. Not an ideal solution, but the show went on.
There was a three hour delay associated with all this, which meant that not all the groups were able to finish Friday’s round. And just for good measure, it rained again that night, causing yet another delay at the start of Saturday’s round. At this point, I’m sure that Scott’s sense of humor had gone pretty much the way of the hickory shaft … but once again, when the bell rang at 11:00 AM, the course way ready to go.
Remarkably, we got through Saturday without any additional precipitation, so Scott’s crew actually were able to mow greens and fairways (the rough would have to wait), and the festivities started on time for the final round Sunday, where we were able to focus on more traditional golfing maladies, like Dustin Johnson recording an 8 on the 6th hole, effectively taking himself out of the tournament.
The Goddess and I perched ourselves in the Grey Goose Hospitality Tent on 18, and applauded as each group complete their round, including Mr Bowditch, who finished in style, birdying two of the last three holes to win it going away.
But I hoped somebody, somewhere, was giving Scott Abernathy his due. Or that he was at least getting some sleep.
* Poa annua is a type of grass that is commonly used in cooler climates – Pebble Beach is a prime example. While it works well as a putting surface there, it is anathema to bent grass greens, as it grows at a different rate and creates uneven greens.