Five Questions with USGA: How It Got Oakmont Ready Amid Storms

June 18, 2016

OAKMONT, Pa. — After heavy rains pelted Oakmont Country Club Thursday into early Friday morning, the USGA and Oakmont staffs scrambled to get the course ready for play. sat down with USGA director of championship agronomy Darin Bevard to find out how the team got a soggy course in shape for the U.S. Open. 

GOLF: When play was suspended Thursday, what was the next step for you?

Bevard: Planning, but more or less you’re kind of sitting there waiting to see what you’re going to get dealt, because you don’t know. You can’t really decide what to do until you know what happened.

As soon as we got the all clear on the lightning, we went out, we assessed the golf course: A lightning strike on 17 blew irrigation out of the ground practically. We had a lot of washing of bunkers, so we went out and started putting her back together. We were really fortunate to have the break in the weather we did before the next round came in a little bit after dark.

What did “putting the course back together” entail?

[Thursday night into Friday] we were just trying to clean up any debris that may have washed [up], mulch or anything that doesn’t stay where you put it when you’ve got a river running through the golf course.

And then they were shoveling sand and pumping water out of bunkers. We got as much work done so that when we came back in early [Friday] morning, we were ready to go. We were out until about 9:30 Thursday night and then we came back out at 3:45 a.m.

A lot of golf was played Friday. Were you happy with the state of the golf course?

Under the circumstances, we were very happy with where the golf course was. We didn’t need to get another six-tenths of an inch [Thursday] night. Essentially we had three inches of rain in a 48-hour period, and that’s a lot of rain for the golf course to handle, so you have to be reasonable with what you expect under the circumstances.

How fast was the turnaround midday Friday from Round 1 to Round 2?

We essentially went right behind the last groups on 1 and 10, so we started at about 20 minutes after 1 p.m. mowing greens, rolling greens, changing hole locations.

It took essentially 2 hours and 30 minutes for us to complete all that maintenance on the putting greens, so that was a pretty quick turnaround. We had a lot of people out there and it’s nice to have, one, a great staff here at Oakmont [about 50 grounds crew members], and, two, the number of volunteers you have [130-140 on a given day].

If the people are here, they wanna be here and they wanna do this. You know what you’re getting into.  It’s not like I come to a championship and it’s like, Really, I gotta get here at 3:45 in the morning? I know I have to get here at 3:45 in the morning and I’m OK with it.

How does your preparation for Saturday change from what you’d do on a typical Saturday?

Well we [normally] get started a little bit later for one, but we know that we’re going to have a golf course full of golfers — at least about 13 or 14 holes, it’s going to be a shotgun start. So essentially you have to have the entire golf course prepped, which is a bit more challenging than when you’re going off 1 tee or 1 and 10 tee. You’ve got golfers chasing you, but you can be ahead of them.

2016 U.S. Open Hub: Everything You Need From Oakmont 

We have to be done, ready to go at restart of play at 7 a.m. [Saturday], so it just compacts our window. Usually we’d be doing course set up right after maintenance in the morning. We’d have made the cut in the afternoon [the day before]. We may not have to do the maintenance we did before [Friday’s play] simply because of the fact that we’ll be able to do normal maintenance tomorrow morning.

One of the reasons we did what we did, we could only do a double-cut on the greens, we couldn’t even roll them because we were concerned about turf health and we knew they would dry down enough by the end of the Round 1 to be able to get in there and do some work.

Friday morning it was actually pretty simple, because [the grounds crew] show up at 3:45 [a.m.] and you know all you’re doing is inside the ropes [maintenance]. We’re double-cutting greens and we’re trying to get bunkers raked as neatly as nicely as we can.  It was a rough job to get sand put up.

Because of the rain, we didn’t mow fairways, we didn’t mow tees, we didn’t try to mow the rough. There was a focus on the putting greens, and a focus on the bunkers just to get ready for play.