The PGA Championship’s future challenges

By |  August 15, 2018 0 Comments
Karl Danneberger headshot

Karl Danneberger

We’re all excited for this month’s 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. Although the club is more than 100 years old, members in 1955 hired Robert Trent Jones Sr. to identify a site and design a new golf course. Since opening in 1960, the club has hosted all major professional championships held on a rotating basis (U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open, PGA Championship and Senior PGA Championship).

I expect outstanding conditions from Carlos Arraya, CGCS, his full-time staff and volunteers, huge crowds (St. Louis is a great sports town) and the best professional golfers in the world. I also expect the weather to be blisteringly hot and humid. Not that Bellerive would be the first PGA Championship where heat and humidity are an issue. Past championships have been played in tropical, sub-tropical and transition zones of the United States.

The PGA Championship is played throughout the United States, and superintendents can produce quality golf course conditions under stressful conditions. This hasn’t always been the case. Many clubs didn’t want to host a major championship in August because dying turf was a possibility, especially with annual bluegrass (Poa annua L.). “Plague” often was used to describe turf loss — a combination of factors, often unknown, that caused summer decline of annual bluegrass and other cool-season turf.

Research and new product developments have led to management programs that increase the likelihood of optimal playing conditions during summer stress. A prestigious club located anywhere in the United States now can potentially host the PGA Championship.

That will change next year, when the PGA Championship moves to May. The schedule change fits the PGA Tour’s overall goal to finish the season with the FedEx Cup by Labor Day. I’m excited about the change, which will have the Players Championship in March (moved back from May), the Masters in April, the PGA Championship in May, the U.S. Open in June and the Open in July.

The downside of moving the PGA Championship: May. Typically, the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio is the first PGA Tour stop on a “northern” golf course. Under the new schedule, the PGA Championship is two weeks prior to the Memorial. Playing the PGA Championship in locations like Farmingdale, N.Y., Bedminster, N.J., Rochester, N.Y. and Newtown Square, Pa. will present challenges, many due to unpredictable spring weather.

For perspective, the Memorial Tournament changed its dates to early May from 1989 through 1991. The change, in part, was to attract more international players, who had conflicts with European championships later in the month. During the three years, as you might expect, the weather fluctuated considerably. Some tournaments were sunny, others cold and wet. Traditional midwestern weather.

I suspect superintendents will be faced with pushing courses to “get them going” at a time when the turf isn’t ready for it. Delivering tournament conditions in mid-May starts not in the week of the tournament, but several weeks prior. Early spring practices that focus on pushing turf could result in detrimental plant responses that manifest themselves later in the year. The challenge for superintendents — in some ways like summer tournaments — will be how to create the best playing conditions at a time not conducive to those conditions.

Another daunting challenge: Provide a quality course presentation. Most clubs want the course and grounds to look great on television, but how, for example, do you get trees in the Northeast or upper Midwest to leaf out? Northern golf courses traditionally look good in summer and not so good in early spring.

Given the potential for poor weather in early May, the PGA Championship may end up being rotated among courses found in the South and on the West Coast, which will be sad.

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