Chris Zugel, CGCS, shares what it’s like preparing for professional tournaments

By |  June 27, 2023 0 Comments

I have seen a few tournaments in my 20-plus years at Destination Kohler, home of Whistling Straits and Black Wolf Run. I’ve worked the 2004 PGA Championship; the 2007 U.S. Senior Open; the 2010 and 2015 PGA Championships; and the 2020 Ryder Cup — which they played in 2021. I’ve also volunteered at the Honda Classic at TPC Heron Bay.

Historically — if you’re doing it right — the week before the tournament is busier than the week of the tournament. In the week before, the circus has already arrived, and it’s full steam ahead with crews going from before sunrise and past sundown.

By the time tournament week arrives, the golf course is typically where you want it. You’re just finalizing mow lines, detail work, topping off divots and ensuring the equipment functions correctly.

You and your staff work more hours the week before the tournament. You have limited time in the morning and evening to do what you want, but the course is yours. We’re out there working as long as the sun is up, and the weather is cooperative.

The week before, key staff will work well over a hundred hours. You don’t want everyone doing that because you don’t know what will happen with the weather. Everyone else needs to be rested and prepared.

I’ve done a lot of endurance sports, so physical fatigue is something I think I’ve become comfortable with. When you’re tired, you tell yourself, ‘It’s not going to be like this for the rest of your life. Just push through it.’

The mental fatigue is worse. We have three or four radios with us at all times, on different channels. You have the set-up crew on one channel, the PGA Rules Officials on another, the PGA office, the volunteer channel and our own radio and cell phone.

As the week goes on, you start to get confused. You don’t know which radio just called and which one to answer. You try to turn one a little louder than the others, but then you’ll get a call on your cell phone anyway.

Sometimes, you just need five minutes to go to the bathroom. You’ll head to the maintenance facility and get stopped three different times. Somebody stops you, and then somebody pulls over to talk to you, then the radio, then the cell phone rings.

Next thing you know, it’s two hours later, and you realize you never used the bathroom. Thankfully, there are always a lot of bathrooms on the golf course during tournament week.

If everything goes smoothly, we want to enjoy the championship as much as anyone else. We want to enjoy the fruits of our labor and see people enjoying themselves. You put in the hard work the week before when you don’t have a million people plus watching you on TV.

That adds extra pressure. We put pressure on ourselves the week before so that we don’t have to worry about it the week of the tournament.

I have a family, and they know what that week is like for me. I won’t be picking them up from school or taking them to doctor’s appointments. But hopefully, they can come out, and we can have lunch together a few times that week.

I remember my first tournament in 2004 very well. I’m very good at getting dressed in the dark so I don’t wake up my wife. It’s 3 a.m., and I’m out the door.

My wife is standing there outside. She’s bawling. I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ She said, ‘You didn’t say I love you.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t want to wake you … I love you.’ She didn’t know it, but she was pregnant at the time.

Whenever a tournament comes around, we always remember that time.

If I never host another tournament, I’d feel blessed to experience the ones I’ve experienced. If they call me tomorrow and say, ‘Get ready, we’re hosting XYZ Tournament,’? I’ll be excited. It’s a cool thing to be a part of.

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