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Southern Hills preps for the 2022 PGA Championship

By |  April 19, 2022 0 Comments
Russ Myers discusses preparing for the Myers discusses for the 2022 PGA Championship hosted at Southern Hills. (Photo: John Amatucci Photography)

Russ Myers discusses preparing for the 2022 PGA Championship hosted at Southern Hills. (Photo: John Amatucci Photography)

The PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship — when a golf course has the honor of hosting one of these majors, there are years of advance notice to prepare. For example, the Lower Course at Baltusrol GC in Springfield, N.J., already has the 2029 PGA Championship on the calendar. The crew working at soon-to-be-completed PGA Frisco in Texas gets to host the futuristic year of 2034’s PGA Championship.

It was last January when the team at Southern Hills learned that their proud course would be the new home of the 2022 PGA Championship after the PGA of America made the decision to pull the tournament from Trump National Bedminster. The sudden change in event location wasn’t enough to get much of a reaction out of Superintendent Russ Myers and his crew. In Myers’ mind, they’re always ready to host a major.

Myers hosted the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills. He also has volunteered on crews for U.S. Opens, Open Championships, Walker Cups, U.S. Senior Opens and a PGA Championship. He worked on the crew at four Masters Tournaments. And he worked at 2023 U.S. Open host Los Angeles CC for a six-year stint before returning to Southern Hills in 2016.

In this question and answer, Myers discusses preparations for the 2022 PGA Championship, the effects of Winter Storm Uri and how he’s maintained a full crew.

Golfdom: It’s January 2021, you’re geared up for the Senior PGA Championship in May … then you learn you’re getting the 2022 PGA Championship. What was your emotion when it became official?

Russ Myers: From the minute I was leaving LA CC, I assumed Southern Hills would host more majors. To me, it was just a sense of validation that my beliefs and the beliefs of the members here were accurate. We hadn’t hosted one since ’07, and maybe there was a belief it wouldn’t happen. It’s exciting for Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma. But if we wouldn’t have gotten it? My life is full; I’ve got kids. I didn’t go celebrate, but I was honored the PGA thought we could do it. I took it as a, ‘darn right, we should do this.’

Golfdom: What does the timing of the PGA Championship in May mean to your operation, and how you can be best prepared to host a major early on the calendar?

Myers with mechanics Curtis Williamson (seated) and Roy Bradshaw. Bradshaw has worked at Southern Hills for 36 years. (Photo: John Amatucci Photography)

Myers with mechanics Curtis Williamson (seated) and Roy Bradshaw. Bradshaw has worked at Southern Hills for 36 years. (Photo: John Amatucci Photography)

Myers: It’s not like you’re prepping leading right up to the event. It’s almost like baking the perfect wedding cake. You bake it and then put it in the freezer for six months until the tournament. That’s been the real difference with this May championship for us. With Bermuda, we’ve got 30 days from the emergence from spring dormancy until the tournament. Thirty days that time a year is maybe ten fairway mows. It’s just making sure you’ve got everything in line to avoid the negatives: spring dead spot, traffic wear, etc. It’s a different dynamic for us. Our play steamrolls right through into the fall, but the grass stops growing, so it’s just sitting there dormant, and you’re playing on it.

Golfdom: You were five months away from hosting the Senior PGA Championship and then boom, Winter Storm Uri blasts Texas and Oklahoma. What did that storm do to Southern Hills?

Myers: It wasn’t the cold temperatures as much as it was the winds. The winds coming from the north caught anything that was elevated out of the ground and killed it if it was cut at fairway height. We lost a total of 5 acres scattered across the course. That was pretty substantial. Five acres is nothing you can’t handle in a very short order if it’s in one area. But when it’s spread out everywhere and you’ve got to make it mesh well and move your lines to make sure it blends in? It was one of the great efforts I had ever been a part of as a crew. It was pre-dawn to after dark every single day. No days off. We went from COVID, and hours were restricted to keep people safe and separated, to putting the gas pedal down. We went into last fall telling guys not to dig anything up, and the next thing you know, you’ve got five acres of sodding where every camera is going to shine, and every player is going to play. And it’s hard to imagine you’re going to hide that in such short order.

Assistant superintendents Blake Willems (left) and Robert Frizzell. “It’s a strong group out here and we’re getting better every day,” Myers says. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Assistant superintendents Blake Willems (left) and Robert Frizzell. “It’s a strong group out here and we’re getting better every day,” Myers says. (Photo: Golfdom Staff)

Golfdom: What was the golf season like here in Tulsa last year?

Myers: It was pedal down; it didn’t ever let up. It was an odd year, I don’t like to use it as an excuse, but we started April 7, 2021, with 5 acres of in-play critical low-cut fairway dead. We crash-coursed for 24 days of sodding nonstop, making sure it’s perfect and trying to put smoke and mirrors together to get ready for the May Senior PGA Championship.
Post-tournament, we immediately had to get ready for this year’s PGA Championship. We had to get ahead. Whether it was a tree that needed to come out, or a fairway that needed to change for gallery purposes, we had to do all of that along with our normal stuff. The list is long. You just couldn’t take a breath.

Golfdom: Have you been able to maintain the crew you need for such an undertaking?

Myers: The short answer is we’re overstaffed right now. We’re as strong of staffed as we have been over the last 15 years of my career. It’s exceptional, and a lot of it is because the core of the crew stayed the same. We were able to target better on the new hires while still taking care of our existing core.

Golfdom: I haven’t heard of many places that were staffed even close to where they need to be. What have you done to make it so you’re overstaffed?

Myers: Our normal winter numbers are around 32; for a long time, that’s been the number, probably since 2002. We started budgeting for 35 a few years ago but never really got there, but I think right now we’re at 38 full-time.
Scott Bordner (director of agronomy, the Union League of Philadelphia), got me looking more at using high school kids again, maybe five or six years ago. It worked out great, but there were also some challenges with it in the shoulder months with school late and leaving early. And I think the balance of that is a few more full-time and a few less of the summer/high school or wherever you’re getting your part-time or seasonal (labor). My HR director, Molly Saleh, has worked really hard at it and done a good job. We’re capable of sustaining that and giving guys their scheduled days off. And we’re making it very clear we’re not looking for a quick fix here. We need them to look at golf course maintenance the same way. They may not do it for 25 to 30 years, but they might do it for five or ten and then move on and do something else. But at least they see it as a way to raise a family and make a living. We have to accept that it requires a certain pay rate. We’ve got guys who want to be here and have got their days off, and they’re fresh. You can accomplish stuff when you’re not trying to figure out what you’re going to skip today. It makes a big difference.

Southern Hills recently underwent a restoration supervised by Gil Hanse and construction from Heritage Links. The new greens feature PrecisionAire and hydronic heating/cooling systems in the subgrade. (Photo: John Amatucci Photography)

Southern Hills recently underwent a restoration supervised by Gil Hanse and construction from Heritage Links. The new greens feature PrecisionAire and hydronic heating/cooling systems in the subgrade. (Photo: John Amatucci Photography)

Golfdom: Who are some of your key guys on the crew who have been with you for a while?

Myers: The equipment manager, Roy Bradshaw, has been here 36 years and has played almost every role in this operation, from foreman to assistant superintendent to now equipment manager. I’ve got three assistants. One worked with me out in LA, Doug Cocanour; Blake Williams, he has been here since before I got here. And we recently promoted Robert Frizzell. They are exceptional. There are 12 guys who have worked here for the last 12-, 15-plus years. Without them, I don’t know where we would be. It’s a strong group right now that’s getting better every day. I’ve also got a really good group of what we call apprentice superintendents. They would easily be assistants at good clubs all over the country, but they have stayed with us for varying reasons. They are really the X-factors because they can lead the crew if they need to, and they will clean toilets if you ask. They’re just adaptable and extremely valuable.

Golfdom: What are some of your favorite tools to get the job done? Any new tricks up your sleeve since the last go-round?

Myers: The biggest thing that’s happened here is we put in the hydronic system under the greens. It’s just changed the world for the greens. It’s like growing them in ideal weather all the time. And we don’t lose those four or five guys that are really critical that would have been locked on a hose nonstop for three and a half months. They’re free to make the place better in other ways. I’m not the most creative guy. I like to stick with what works. I’m like Nick Saban. I mean, if I can run it down the right shoulder, I won’t stop running it there until it doesn’t work anymore. We’re Signature (XTRA Stressgard), Daconil, Floratine sprays religiously, knocking that through the summer, and we roll in Segway and Insignia (SC) every 21 days for our root-borne diseases. Probably the biggest recent thing that’s been nice for us, knock on wood, is the Maxtima product for spring dead spot. That has been really effective for us for three straight years. When you’re looking at a May championship, if you get spring dead spot, you’re not going to make it go away in time for that tournament. So, it’s been comforting to see the quality of that.

Golfdom: What will be your emotion when the final putt drops on Sunday?

Myers: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t want to sound cliché, but we’re trying to present this course to the world all the time. It’ll just have more cameras on it for that week. I want the great part of this to be routine without running my guys into the ground. Our members will be bringing more guests because of the PGA Championship. But if I pull our calendar up for the next seven years, there’s a Trans-Miss, the Big 12, the Junior Masters for local Oklahoma kids. These events are really special to me. It’s all about expecting it to be at this level. If we can do it, that just needs to be the mentality.

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a 18-year veteran of the golf industry media, is Editor-in-Chief of Golfdom magazine and Athletic Turf. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Jones began working for Golf Course Management in 1999 as an intern. In his professional career he has won numerous awards, including a Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) first place general feature writing award for his profile of World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman and a TOCA first place photography award for his work covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his career, Jones has accumulated an impressive list of interviews, including such names as George H.W. Bush, Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Armstrong and Charles Barkley. Jones has also done in-depth interviews with such golfing luminaries as Norman, Gary Player, Nick Price and Lorena Ochoa, to name only a few. Jones is a member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.


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