Olympia Fields CC and the BMW Championship: Not its first rodeo

By |  August 28, 2020 0 Comments

The BMW Championship, which kicked off on Thursday, Aug. 27 on The North Course at Olympia Fields CC, is the third PGA Tour event the club has hosted in five years. The Olympia Fields, Ill.-based club also hosted the U.S. Amateur in 2015 and the Women’s PGA Championship in 2017.

In short, as director of grounds, Sam MacKenzie, CGCS, puts it, this isn’t the club’s first rodeo.

This year, however, MacKenzie and his team have had more uncontrollable factors to worry about than the weather, as the COVID-19 pandemic adds another layer of uncertainty to the event.

“None of the other events we’ve had have prepared us for what COVID has thrown at us this time,” MacKenzie says. “The drill is the same, the preparation is the same, the angst, the worrying about various things that you have no control over is the same, but COVID has certainly added a wrinkle to the entire process. Everyone is worried about that and trying to do what’s right.”

In fact, Mackenzie notes that earlier this summer, he had his doubts about whether or not the tournament would happen at all.

“There was a time when I wasn’t sure, but about three or four weeks ago, it was pretty obvious we’d be playing golf,” he says. “Unlike some of the other spots, golf has been the one that has rolled along on its schedule as they’ve redeveloped it, but I think that’s just the nature of golf. It’s not a contact sport. The guys were smart about it, and once they saw a couple of guys test positive, this all became a reality and they all buckled down and are doing what they have to do. The Tour has its own protocols, and we’re not going to get around or near players. They’re in a bubble. We’re trying to stay within our bubble to try and minimize contact.”

He adds that because of the coronavirus and the restrictions surrounding it, the club wasn’t able to bring on the number of volunteers that would typically be associated with a golf tournament this size.

“Between our staff and a small number of volunteers, we’re doing this on a shoe string. In some ways, that’s good and in other ways, it’s not,” he says. “While we may not get everything that we would like done, we’re getting done what has to get done, and because it’s a smaller group, it’s easier to manage.”

To get the course itself ready, MacKenzie says Olympia Fields added sand to some of its bunkers and performed a substantial amount of tree work, cleaning up and deadwooding in anticipation of spectators. However, like all of the other Tour events this year, the BMW Championship won’t have fans.

The club has always paid extra attention to its greens to make sure they’re at the standards players expect.

“The way the game of golf is the players hit the ball so far, and they’re so accurate, we’d love to have the greens in the type of condition that tests the players,” MacKenzie says. “That’s where the game is won. We’re hoping to have firmness and speed on the greens.”

All in all, MacKenzie says he’s looking forward to the crowning of a champion on Sunday evening.

“I’m most excited about the guy holding the trophy at this point,” he says. “I’m excited for my staff. They’ve worked their tails off all summer. We want to have a successful championship that the members can be proud of. We just want to have a successful event and hope everyone is safe and that no one gets sick while we’re here. To have an event like this, it’ll be a relief to have it in our rearview mirror.”

About the Author: Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb is Golfdom's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at Golfdom, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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