USGA Women's Open Championship

Posted by Craig F. Zellers
on 22 July 2016

 

USGA Women's Open ChampionshipThe U.S. Open is one of golfing’s premier annual events hosted by the United States Golf Association (USGA). In 2016, Cordevalle Golf Club in San Martin, CA was the host golf course for this coveted event. An event of this magnitude is no small undertaking and preparation for this event begins at least one year prior. Our company, "Golf Irrigation Consultants" was contracted by OB Sports to help map, inventory, prepare, and manage the irrigation system prior and through the Open Championship. In this article, I am going to outline the events along with the many challenges we faced in an effort to produce an A+ product for the best women golfers in the world! The lessons learned will help Golf Irrigation Consultants provide better services for other clients, and share learned lessons with industry professionals should they encounter similar challenges.

Months prior to the event, our company GPS mapped the entire course. We collected detailed information which included: The mapping of all sprinklers, valves, controllers, mainlines, fairways, bunkers, tees, cart paths, and any feature which needed to be called out so an up to date As-Built could be created. This provided both OB Sports and our company the necessary tools to make smart agronomy decisions prior to the Open Championship.

Along with creating a map, we conducted an Irrigation Inventory Audit where we collected detailed data on all the sprinkler heads including arc’s and nozzle sizes. We took the collected data and went into the Toro Lynx Central Computer and corrected the data base so that the central computer matched what was in the field. This allowed for course management to fully utilize Evapotranspiration (E.T) run times based on real weather data collected on site. This was the first time in many years that Cordevalle conducted such an audit, and there were a lot of discrepancies to adjust for.

As the clock ticked down, the women participating in this year’s U.S. Open Championship were under a lot of pressure to perform and win a major; yet, they have no idea the level of pressure that Golf Irrigation Consultants and the whole staff faced running the irrigation system for this prestigious event. The ladies had it easy compared to the laborious preparations a great team endured in order to host a successful event of this magnitude. I had been looking forward to this challenge and reminded myself of one thing day and night. “Craig-don’t be the guy responsible for sprinklers activating on #18 fairway during the final round of the Championship.”

Below is my detailed journal where I wanted to share the many challenges I was faced with leading up to and throughout the Open Championship. Many lessons were learned which were worth their weight in gold, and it was an experience I cherish and will never forget.

Craig F. Zellers
Principal, Golf Irrigation Consultants

T-Minus 13 Days and counting - June 23, 2016 (Prior to Advance Week)

Craig F. Zellers - Golf Irrigation ConsultantsI spent the day checking sprinklers for arcs and any other problems that could negatively impact turf conditions. The USGA is very meticulous in their goals of keeping certain areas firm and consistent,such as greens and approaches opposed to the surrounds, roughs and fairways. We ensured that the Part Circles (P.C’s) which irrigated around the greens were perfectly adjusted so that any overspray were not irrigating the greens.

I detected a communication signal anomaly which communicated data from the central computer to the field satellites. It was a solid tone and was intermittent and sporadic. Apparently this had been an ongoing problem over the past few months which was causing erroneous errors and downloading discrepancies. At this time, it was not necessarily a huge concern; yet, it was taking about 4-5 downloads to communicate the correct run times, percentages, and active days to all 45 Toro V.P hard wired satellites on the golf course.

*Note - Cordevalle also has 4 V.P. landscape satellites that communicate via radio link to the same Lynx Central Computer while the 45 Golf Satellites are hard wired. (Why is this important to know you ask? READ ON!)

T-Minus 9 Days and counting - June 27, 2016 (Advance Week)

USGA Hand WateringMy day once again began by checking arcs and replacing any faulty sprinklers on the greens and surrounds. Little did I realize that within three days, all central irrigation to the greens and approaches would be shut down until the final putt dropped on July 10th! Under the direction of the USGA, only hand watering would be allowed on both the greens and approaches, and only on “hot spots” which were measured with the use of TDR moisture meters

I was also requested to carry a radio at all times in the event I was needed from course management. At first I thought “cool, I hope I get a radio call or two and prove myself a valuable asset to the team." Within the first couple of hours, I heard “Craig - you have a copy?" This occurred no less than five times. All the radio calls involved minor problems which needed to be fixed. By lunch time it occurred to me that you don’t want to hear your name called on the radio. Assistant Superintendent, Ken Converse and I had a good laugh over this fact during lunch.

T-Minus 8 Days and counting - June 28, 2016 (Advance Week)

Toro Lynx CentralI began the day by testing the central communication download to ensure that proper data was being sent and received from the field satellites. To my shock and dismay, only 2-3 satellites were communicating to the central computer! I immediately informed Sean Cracraft (Senior VP of Operations / OB Sports) and Course Superintendent, Bob Marshall of the issue. I changed my focus and went to work to solve this communication issue. This involves testing to see if the communication signal is good from the irrigation central to the Field Interface Unit (FIU). This is followed by testing the signal at the Surge Box where the outgoing signal crosses a set of fuses and surge board prior to going out the communication cable and ultimately to the field satellites. After initial testing of both the FIU and the surge box, I determined that the signal from the source was testing accurately without any noise or signal interference (*this procedure is conducted without the field wires connected in the surge box). Once I connected the field communication wires back up in the surge box, I would hear a constant tone (or interference) where there should have been none. The only noise which should be heard is the ‘double chip’ from the FIU signal output. I quickly identified that we had a major issue going on which was originating somewhere out in the field. I spent the better part of the day isolating communication wires in an effort to find the source of the erroneous tone which was causing havoc and interrupting central downloads to the satellites.

Unfortunately this problem occurred during a 3-day heat wave where temperatures were hitting 95 degrees plus. The course was starting to show signs of stress, and it needed water, and fast! A well trained and reliable staff was running multi-manual watering from the satellites throughout the course to keep up with the drying conditions. After spending 1/2 a day trying to identify the communication signal problem, I made the decision to call Ryan Wilson, the Toro Turf Star representative who I have worked with in the past. I needed another experienced brain on site, and quickly! Without hesitation, Ryan said he would be there the next day.

After a 12-hour day, my last goal was to compare the nightly flow (Projected) in the Central Computer to the actual flow from the pump station. According to the Lynx Central, we were scheduled to run over 1,000,000 gallons on the course that night.

T-Minus 7 Days - June 29, 2016

Cordevalle Early MorningUpon arrival to the course at 5:30 am, I checked the flow meter readings at the pump station so I could compare it to the projected flow of 1,000,000 gallons the night before. To my disappointment, the actual flow showed only 600,000 gallons of water went out during the nightly cycle. My concern grew due to the fact that the communication problem was affecting our ability to put enough water on the course where it was needed! Meanwhile we still had high temperatures with an E.T. rate of .28. The countdown to the tournament was quickly approaching, and the first practice day was only 5 days out.

Ryan Wilson showed up and we immediately went to work as I detailed my efforts and where the suspect interfering tone was coming from. Prior to his arrival, I had narrowed down the problem to a location between 3-4 satellites. Interestingly enough, the same erroneous tone disappeared on a couple of satellites, thereby acerbating my confusion and frustration. In a methodical manner, Ryan narrowed down the tone between two satellites. As he contemplated the situation, Ryan glanced over at a satellite near the landscape and asked about it. I informed him that it was one of the four 'wireless radio-link satellites' meant for irrigating the landscape and was not part of the hard wire system that the golf satellites were on. He walked over to the landscape satellite, opened it up and said “Hmmmmm.” I quickly asked "What do you see"? He reached towards the hard wire connector (the one with the yellow and grey communication wires) and unplugged it. Ryan said "your tone problem is gone!" Without hesitation, I said "you have got to be *%#@ me." Despite having communication wire running into the satellite, the plug should have never been plugged in, as this satellite was a radio based satellite.

When you have a radio based satellite communicating with the (FIU), along with it being hard wired to the same FIU, there are essentially two signals trying to communicate with the satellites. In this scenario, both the wireless tone, and the hardwire tone originating from the FIU were fighting each other thus preventing a clean signal to consistently download the proper information to all the satellites. Once he unplugged the radio based landscape satellite from the hard wire, the erroneous tone immediately stopped. After plugging in all the disconnected satellites on the course, we went back to the central to test communications with the field satellites. Less than two hours after Ryan's arrival, the central was now communicating and downloading the proper information to every satellite on the golf course. Course management was thrilled as was I, but that was a lesson I shall remember for life.

"Never be afraid to call for help and use every resource available"

That night we were able to get a complete and proper download, and over 1 million gallons of water was pumped onto the golf course that night. This was verified the following morning as I checked the pump house flow meter which coincided with the programmed flow in the central computer.

T-Minus 6 Days - June 30, 2016

Green FirmnessUpon arrival, I gathered my tools and radio. Within minutes I heard “Copy Craig,” calls coming in over the radio. As I toured the course, it was rapidly obvious that the entire course was properly irrigated. Several greens had standing water that was slowly draining off. Although the USGA had wanted the greens profile completely filled with water, we were now two days late and the drying out began. As per the request of my superiors, I had previously created an approaches program that encompassed all sprinklers that irrigated approaches and all sprinklers on what little fairway/approach there was on all of the Par 3 holes. From then on all greens and approaches were temporarily disabled at the central. To my surprise, the hand waterers were already spraying hot spots on several greens 24 hours later. My focus now became on monitoring the irrigation system on fairways, tees, perimeters and roughs. At the same time many of the “Copy Craig” calls regarded sprinklers that may hit concession stands, bleachers or camera towers. As if by magic, all of the temporary structures were built overnight. We were four days out from the first practice round. I was asked to attend the twice daily meetings, one with key course staff members, and the other with the USGA and course management.

Greens firmness and speed became the main focus of the meetings with the USGA. It was made clear to me that no overhead watering would be conducted during the daytime on fairways, tees and roughs, but we could still water these areas during the night via the central. Fairway hand watering became the norm during both the morning and evening shifts. Two of the course irrigators and volunteer Superintendents made up the daily crew assigned to irrigating hot spots in the fairways. The greens and approaches were tended to by two groups led by Luke Beardmore, Senior V.P. of Agronomy, Construction & Landscape for OB Sports, Luke's teams used TDR moisture meters on all quadrants of the greens in order to determine when and where to hand water these areas. After several days of running around fixing sprinkler problems and identifying wet areas, I knew I needed a better system to keep track of all sprinkler changes and wet areas.

With the GPS maps in hand, my goal was to walk all fairways at least once per day. With an erasable sharpie, I noted wet areas and decreased run times in the central. I also noted sprinklers needing to be suspended or ones in which I changed the arc to avoid water blasting onto any of the structures. On most days well over 100 individual station percentages were changed in order to achieve more consistent turf conditions across the course. Sprinklers that I changed to part circles were recorded onto a large whiteboard. This white board list could later be used by staff to see exactly which stations needed to be adjusted back to their original arcs following the egress of all the ancillary equipment brought in for the Open Championship. Stations temporarily suspended were also listed in case anyone questioned why a particular area was drying out. I knew the hot spots would be covered by the hose crew, so my focus was to dry out the wet zones. It quickly became apparent that several fairways were not drying out as expected due to varying soil types. Although I was thrown into the fire with little knowledge of the various soils, I knew firm and fast fairways was the goal of the USGA and for the Championship. After daily conversations in staff meetings, I began decreasing the % of E.T. with the goal of firming up the course, but not to the point where turf would be lost. Despite rumors about the USGA dictating all facets of course maintenance including irrigation; it was our collective decision to irrigate in order to meet the goals of the USGA. *It is important to point out that the USGA made it clear that they did not want to do anything that would leave the course in unplayable conditions for membership following the Sunday final.

T-Minus 5 Days - July 1, 2016

CordeValle ChampionsThe USGA had changed the front 9 holes, but only for the Championship. Holes 1, 2, 3 were now 7, 8, 9 and holes 4-9 were now 1-6. When the “Copy Craig” calls referred to a specific hole, they were in reference to the Championship hole numbers. I would then have to convert (translate) the old hole number to the new number which often took several seconds for me to decipher. During the USGA meetings, it was the same thing. The guys were giving me a hard time for not catching on with what they called Champion holes. I quickly realized the reason for my inability to instinctively connect the correct holes was because I was dealing with irrigation maps that we created when we GPS'd the golf course. I knew the course extremely well from our previous work. During my course walks, my only reference was the “Cordevalle” hole numbers on the maps. When I needed to change some stations on Champion 7, I had to go into the central and make the changes on hole #1. During one meeting I brought this fact up and they all smiled and then understood my predicament. The USGA reps wanted to know how much water was going out, and the % of ET we were irrigating to. On fairways E.T had started at 100% and went down to 90%, 80% and as low as 70% for a seven day period. Meanwhile I had suspended a minimum of 45 sprinklers that would have distributed water to the most wet fairways that simply were not drying out as we needed them to. Hole #14 became my arch nemesis as water continuously wicked up from the soil despite not having been irrigated for well over five days.

After working five-12 hour days from June 27-July1 I was graciously given a day off to go home and rest. I returned Sunday the 3rd and began walking all fairways and making the necessary central adjustments. Practice rounds would begin the following day.

T-Minus 3 Days - July 4, 2016

Cordevalle TeamI forgot it was the 4th of July holiday until later that night. While checking the pump station at 9:00PM with one of the OB Sports Superintendents, wewere treated to the sounds of fireworks from the nearby towns of Morgan Hill and Gilroy.  From that day on the entire crew was to begin the morning shift at 4:30 am and work only until 8-9AM when the women in the Open would be playing the course. We would then report back by 5:00 pm, eat dinner (catered-thanks OB Sports), have a short meeting and then back to work until dark. This schedule would last all week until Saturday and Sunday when we were able to sleep in and report to work at 5:30 am. Some team members went back to the hotel for a nap. I tried the same but could not sleep so ended up staying at the course most days from 4:30AM until we were done between 9-10PM.

At the afternoon meeting with the USGA, I was given a list of moist areas on greens. Since we were still irrigating some of the perimeter roughs around the greens at night, my focus was directed towards checking all sprinklers within 70’ feet of greens to see which ones may be throwing water onto small sections of the greens. After finding several obvious problems and converting some full circle heads to P.C's, the moisture levels dropped significantly within 24 hours and the greens team (USGA moisture, firmness and green speed group) were able to continue their effort. Their goal was to increase green speeds and monitor moisture levels. Consistency of both moisture content and playability on each green was the primary goal. Some greens needed extra water, a double roll or cut, while others did not. Watching and listening to the process was educational, and it was then that I realized it takes a huge cohesive effort to obtain the desired results.
During the afternoon meeting, the USGA complimented the entire team as they showed us graphical charts that were evidence of daily improvement. Our collective goals were all on track.

T-Minus 2 Days - July 5, 2016

CordeValle USGA HoleAfter several days of monitoring the fairway irrigation without a word from the USGA, we chuckled nervously knowing the “hammer would soon drop," and it did! At the 2:30 pm meeting with the USGA, they asked that all “overhead” (central) watering in fairway landing zones (par 4&5’s) be cut to zero to begin drying out these zones. They asked me to identify the landing zones I did not hesitate and replied, sure, I will begin right after this meeting. Despite my eagerness to please, I had no idea what and where the fairway landing zones were. The golfers in the OPEN had only been practicing 1 day and my viewing of their tee shots had been limited to only a few holes. A couple of the OB Superintendents helped me by watching the players on several of the holes hit their tee shots; The par 5 holes had two landing zones to identify. As I watched different groups on different holes, it became apparent that the landing zones were moving targets. We were dealing with short and long hitters, amateurs and seasoned pros. To make matters worse, I found out the next day, the USGA was moving the tee markers up or back by 10-15 yards on certain holes.

We were all tired and a bit stressed but I felt that a little bit of well-timed humor couldn’t hurt. After completing the landing zone work, I took one of the maps for a par 3 hole and completely colored the entire green, identifying it as a landing zone. I approached Sean Cracraft, handed it to him and informed him that after watching several groups hit their tee shots, this was the landing zone. With a straight face, I asked “This is what you are looking for correct?” He stared at it, looked at me sternly and said “this is a par 3, what do you mean landing zone” I gave him a quick smile and laugh and told him, “I had you going there for a minute.” I’m not sure he enjoyed that moment of humor at such a tense time but perhaps in time it will be a good one to tell at a cocktail party. Following a discussion with Bob Marshall, the USGA agreed to allow us to irrigate the landing zones to 50% of E.T. The hand watering crew was going to be put to the test, especially since I continued to increase the landing zones sizes and not shorten them based upon my two days of observation.

Note: Being inside the ropes during the practice days was a privilege! It was a good feeling being able to work on sprinklers and walk the fairways in-between the gaps of the practicing golfers. I lost track of how many caddies (some demanding and others polite) approached me inquiring about the softness of the fairways and asked if we were going to dry them out. Although it was my first big tournament working inside the ropes, I knew that they were fishing for any kind of information that would give them an edge as the Championship got closer. My standard response was “You would need to check with the USGA guys." With a few of the polite caddies who realized I was responsible for the irrigation system, I would provide a tilt of my head, a wry smile and say “you know how this works, and expect things to firm up on a daily basis”

T-Minus 1 Day - July 6, 2016 (Championship begins Tomorrow!)

CordevalleMaintenanceAfter dinner I had the entire fairway watering crew in the shop for a meeting. We reviewed the maps where I had colored in the landing zones. I tried to impose upon them the fact that we did not want one drop of water hitting the greener, softer areas between the hot spots located in the “landing zones.”

My arch nemesis AKA fairway #14 was finally beginning to firm up. I took it personally and grabbed a hose and watered this fairway myself. Since I had turned off at least 23 sprinklers on this hole alone, it was more of a challenge but I wanted to take responsibility for this hole. This was the first time I had hand watered since I was a Superintendent over 20 years ago. I grabbed a hose and since all the fairways were staked and roped, I had to hand carry the hose into the fairway. Not too tough I thought to myself, and not too heavy. It felt good to provide water to some starving soils. Oops, another lesson learned– make sure you drain the water out of the hose before carrying it back to the cart. Meanwhile my radio crackled "Copy-Craig" twice.  A couple of the sprinklers where the fairway hand water crew were irrigating had broken and I had the parts and tools to repair them immediately.  It was getting dark, a cold beer was waiting in the shop but the job had to be done.

Note: Although the fairway hot spots visually worsened from morning to the evening and hour by hour, they bounced back quickly due to the marvelous efforts of the hand watering crew. I was learning the soils along with the turf, and felt some relief knowing the stressed out parts of fairways looked alive and well by the next morning.

July 7-9, 2016 (The Open)

US Womens Open FairwayAs predicted by the USGA the Championship was flying by. They were extremely pleased with the way the course was firming up and beginning to get a little more challenging each day. Green speeds were averaging over 12’ on the stimp meter and soil moisture levels were consistent across all the greens with very little deviation. Every time I saw a group teeing it up, I stopped and joyfully watched as most of the tee shots found the landing zones and rolled well forward down the fairways. I found it ironic that while I was on a sleep deficit schedule, the irrigation system was also on a water deficit schedule. I remember thinking if the turf can survive the deficit, then so can I. The entire team was on the same schedule and every morning dreary red eyes was the norm as we all crowded into the meeting room and headed straight to the coffee urn. Bob Marshall and Sean Cracraft were no different, but managed to wake up the crew with a few light hearted jabs at 4:30 am during our morning meetings. Saturday’s USGA meeting (the last) seemed more light hearted and the USGA seemed pleased that the field had nearly halved after Friday’s cut and the top golfers were rising to the occasion. The course was indeed getting tougher day by day aided by afternoon wind gusts. Just as planned, the golfers had to evaluate and change their shot strategies since their first day of practice five days earlier. It was surreal as we discussed course conditions while simultaneously watching the tournament on T.V. in lunch/meeting room with the USGA team. Comments regarding shot selction and hitting the approach rather than trying to hit the green were common and further evidence that the course was playing exactly as intended.

By Saturday evening, I had set up the irrigation in preparation for Championship Sunday which was the final day of the tournament. As I was making changes in the central, I was a bit nervous thinking that one wrong adjustment could spell disaster. I double checked every percentage adjustment and every start time and active day. On one occasion after wanting to turn a station down to 75%, I looked up and I had accidentally typed in 750%. I consciously cleared my eyes and double checked every change and move. Nobody was in the office, but I found myself talking to myself and saying “Come on Craig-get your shit together." All the while I knew this was literally my last night running the irrigation system and that came as some relief.

July 10, 2016 (Championship Sunday)

Cordevalle MowersAfter checking the course, I saw a few dry rough areas on hole #7 (Old #1). It was 6:30 am, so I decided to run a couple of stations just to keep the turf looking decent for the Fox T.V. cameras. I previously failed to mention that all camera views would be on T.V. and that was something we should be aware of during our preparations. That’s when it happened again. “Craig you got a copy?" “Yes go ahead” – “Craig the USGA said no more watering, it provides a bad visual." “Copy that” and I shut it down. All I could do was smile and laugh thinking, wow-my job is just about finished here. The course looked fantastic and I looked forward to getting back to the maintenance shop and setting up the irrigation schedule for the night. We wanted to replenish the thirsty soils but not too much all at once. They asked me to run the greens for three cycles with the first one starting at 5:30 pm, a time supposedly long after the ceremonies would have ended on the #18th green. I spent the next few hours watching golf live from areas on the course and then watching it on T.V. in the lunch room. We were asked to be near the bleachers on hole #18 when the final putt dropped. With about four holes left for the last group, I double checked the greens starting times.

The 5:30 pm start showed up in the projected flow but nothing showed up under scheduled activity. I immediately placed a call to the Toro National Support Network (NSN). I knew they were on call on Sundays so I left an urgent message and they responded quickly. I explained my dilemma and the situation to the NSN technical representative who quickly and remotely accessed the computer from their home base in Abilene, Texas. He informed that there was some type of “issue” and he would need to work on it for a little bit. I informed him that I needed to leave for the 18th hole for the awards ceremonies and that he should call me on my cell when the "issue/problem" was fixed. By the time I reached the 18th hole, he called and the problem was solved. At this time I allowed myself to indulge and have an ice cold celebratory beer and enjoy the final moments of the tournament and our hard work. I got there just as the last group was putting out. Due to a tie in regulation, there would be a three hole playoff. “Oh no – I must go back and cancel the 5:30 pm greens start." I quickly turned around and on the way back to the central, ran into Bob Marshall who was trying to call me to tell me the same thing.

Luke Beardmore (who was in charge of the hand watering green's team) enlisted his team to cool down the greens on all the holes where play had ended. After days of double cutting, rolling, and mowing heights lowered, the greens were stressed and needed some tender loving care.

I double and triple checked to make sure the greens would not come on before the scheduled 9:40 pm start time. I grabbed another cold beer and headed back to hole #18 to enjoy the last putt of the playoff and watch the ceremonies. It did not end as I’d hoped with me being able to sit on hole #18 watching the last dozen or so groups come in, but it didn’t matter. I had a job to do and that was of utmost importance from Day 1 thru the final putt.

Epilogue & Respects

1. I wish to thank OB Sports (Bob, Sean and Luke) for providing me with the opportunity to work with them for what I will remember as the most exciting and challenging job I’ve ever been faced with.
2. The team of volunteers who flew in from all over to help were great people to work with. The hand watering team on fairways “saved my butt” as I continued to decrease the water on the fairways. I did thank them but I think half the time, they wanted to aim the hose at my head as retribution.
3. The Cordevalle maintenance staff was top notch, professional and treated all of us temporary workers with respect.
4. Never once did I hear somebody say “that’s not my job” when a radio call blasted and somebody needed a hand or had a broken piece of equipment, somebody jumped in to help.
5. The mechanic, Cliff always had the equipment ready by 4:30 am and 5:00 pm at night. He didn’t complain and he answered every call with poise and professionalism.
6.  I had a lot of questions and many specific needs that only the Assistant Superintendent, Ken Converse could help me with.  Thank you Ken!

7.Never forget to use your resources and always be communicating with the entire team and especially your superiors.

8. The USGA team was great to work with and I walk away with insight and education that I previously did not have.
9.  Enjoy the moment!

Lastly, I must admit that I do miss hearing those radio calls “Craig-You got a Copy?”

By:
Craig F. Zellers
Principal, Golf Irrigation Consultants