VILLANOVA, Pa. – Rain can be both a blessing and a curse for golf course superintendents and their staff.
After play was stopped at 9:10 a.m. Thursday morning due to heavy rain, the grounds crew was able to get the course ready for play and the players remaining after Wednesday’s cut were able to resume play at 11:30 a.m.
Sam Butler has been the Senior Assistant Superintendent at Overbrook for the past year-and-a-half and has plenty of golf course maintenance experience. His resumé includes stops at courses in Chicago, Utah and Florida. Butler said these types of situations require the utmost caution and quick decision-making.
“First and foremost, we have to allow the players a playable course,” said Butler. “That is why we were preparing today by working late last night. We cut the greens last night so that allows us to try and carry the speed we had coming into the beginning of the tournament. We have to toe the fine line of playability and making it a tournament-ready golf course.”
Butler said his staff was on-site until about 9 p.m. Wednesday night preparing for the second round and they started at 5:30 a.m. Thursday.
“What we wanted to tackle last night was a lot of the extra mowing we couldn’t get done today,” said Butler. “Tees is another one we like to get out of the way by cutting them and cleaning up the debris and divots. Because we had some wind gusts last night we had a group of five guys go out and clean up any tree debris from the course early this morning. When you are prepping for an event like this with a two-tee start you have to split up the crew. It is a mixed bag of doing what we usually don’t.”
There are 25 workers on the maintenance staff including all of the superintendents making sure the course continues to be playable in the most uncertain types of situations. Butler said locating the right staff may be challenging, but he knows when he has the right people for the job.
“Being a grounds crew member is truly a niche,” said Butler. “Some guys last a season and some guys last a day. You start to understand what type of people you are looking for. It comes down to people who love to work outside and appreciate detail. The dedication to be able to come in every day whether it is rain or shine is a hard thing to come by.”
These types of situations can be stressful for all involved but Butler said the best way to get through these days is to have a little humor and a little fun.
The efforts of the staff didn’t go unnoticed. It is times like these where their efforts are vital to getting players back on the course in a timely fashion to keep the tournament running smoothly.
“The job done by the grounds staff was unbelievable,” said Overbrook member Chris Lange, Jr. after finishing in a three-way tie for second at 2-under-par. “I live near the seventh tee and there was actually a stream running down to my house. I thought there would definitely be casual water on the course. There wasn’t any casual water on the course and we had rain for eight hours. I don’t know how the course drained like it did but it was in great shape.”
“Superintendent Brandon Collins and his staff did a great job to allow us to even get back on the golf course and they have been very proactive as far as course conditions are concerned,” added Golf Association of Philadelphia Tournament Director Chris Roselle. “Crowning a champion after 36 holes is a great accomplishment and we couldn’t have done it without their help.”
From his house, Llanerch Country Club’s Dan Brown can hit the Golf Association of Philadelphia office with a golf ball.
“I’m right around the corner. In my business (resident mortgage sales), I’m always in the same building as the GAP office. I’ll see guys like Chris Roselle and others in the elevator whenever I’m over there,” said Brown, of Broomall, Pa.
After his #GAPMidAm performance, Brown has become more than just a neighbor. He’s now made a name for his golf game.
Posting an even-par 70 on Wednesday earned the 30-year-old a spot in the third-to-last grouping Thursday at Overbrook. Despite the rain and soggy surfaces, Brown managed a 4-over 74 placing him 11th in his first career GAP Major appearance.
Consider it a success.
“Yesterday I made some putts while today they didn’t fall, but it’s been a great couple of days. There are a ton of huge names on that leaderboard, and then there’s me,” he said. “I was super pumped after my round yesterday and to have had an experience like this.”
More opportunities – at least Middle Amateur opportunities – are on the horizon now thanks to his high finish. He’ll receive an exemption into next year’s championship, with the possibility of others pending.
“We’ll see what ends up happening, but that would be clutch. If I don’t have to scrap and claw that’d be a big benefit for me,” he said.
Speaking of qualifiers, it was just two years ago that Brown carded a 94 in a 2015 Mid.-Am. Qualifier at Meadowlands Country Club. This year, he finished just one off the medalist lead thanks to a 2-over 74 at Whitford Country Club. The results don’t lie – Brown’s game is on the upswing.
“I’ve been working with new irons for the last two years that have really changed my game. Swings are better and misses are less often,” said Brown, a member of Llanerch’s undefeated Division B team this spring.
Brown is all-in on playing more GAP golf moving forward this calendar year. Although he failed to qualify for the BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship due to missing the cut Monday at French Creek Golf Club, and has yet to sign up for the GAP Open, he’s already got his sights set on the Joseph H. Patterson Cup to be played Aug. 9-10 at Wilmington Country Club (South). The hope is this week’s result translates to more success on the Major circuit, and at his home club.
“I love that place. It allows my game to travel well to other places. We’ve got a lot of really good, young golfers over there,” said Brown. “I really want to build on this, so hopefully this week was a step in the right direction of making the upper-echelon of players at [Llanerch].”
Driveable par-4 holes – are they worth the risk?
The stats from Overbrook’s 253-yard 13th can only add to that debate. Playing from the hole’s lower tee today, the field’s scoring average played under par (3.82). Yesterday the hole played at 382 yards.
Birdies were aplenty from the shorter tee, and so were realistic eagle chances. But ultimately, eagle chances were all that they were. Just one was converted all day, by Philadelphia Country Club’s Chris Button.
The 13th’s forward tee was an idea of Overbrook’s Chris Lange. Sr., who has called the club home for the past 56 years. It’s opened up an intriguing option for course setup like today’s.
“I was over there a couple of years ago and I thought it was a beautiful view,” said Lange, Sr., a two-time Middle-Amateur Champion and 10-time GAP Major winner. “I said to former superintendent Tom Gosselin that we needed to get a little tee there. It is a beautiful hole, but it is now dwarfed by the length of how far guys hit it nowadays. For the future, we should probably put another tee in about 50 yards back so the long guys have drivers in their hands. If we can move the tee back and make those guys hit driver it will be a fantastic hole.”
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Golf Association of Philadelphia
Founded in 1897, the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) is the oldest regional golf association in the United States and serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. Its 151 Member Clubs and 57,000 individual members are spread across parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. As Philadelphia’s Most Trusted Source of Golf Information, the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.
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