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Walking a mile in an intern’s shoes

By |  June 25, 2014

Editor’s note: This is the second essay on preparing Pinehurst No. 2 for back-to-back Opens written by Carlos Sanes, one of the workers on the ground.

When Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw completed the renovation of Pinehurst No. 2 they left the grounds maintenance staff a faster, firmer golf course that rekindled the spirit Donald Ross had originally envisioned for his masterpiece. One of the most talked about parts of the renovation are the natural areas, which feature native wiregrass along with a host of other plants that give No. 2 its classic look and feel. I got to spend quite a bit of time in these natural areas over the past three weeks and there’s a lot more that goes into maintaining them than I had initially imagined.

The week before the Men’s U.S. Open Championship I spent a full afternoon with Ryan May (Iowa State, Course No. 4 turfgrass intern) walking Pinehurst No. 2’s natural areas with a five-gallon backpack sprayer. We were targeting crabgrass and goosegrass by spraying glyphosate (Roundup) in order to eliminate them both. There was a slight breeze that day so we needed to take extra precautions not to accidentally kill desirable plants by allowing our spray to drift onto adjacent plants. After about two holes you really start to get the hang of it, until Paula Creamer takes a break from her practice round to ask you what you’re spraying for and why. That’s when you forget why you’re hauling a 30lb backpack sprayer around in 90 plus degree heat and you try to answer her as best you can without making a fool out of yourself. Kudos to Paula for taking the time to appreciate and inquire about our teams’ efforts.

A small team spent time hand weeding bunker faces throughout the course. Spotted spurge was targeted. Photo courtesy of Carlos Sanes.

A small team spent time hand weeding bunker faces throughout the course. Spotted spurge was targeted. Photo courtesy of Carlos Sanes.

A few days after our backpack venture through the natural areas, Alan Owen
(No. 2 assistant superintendent) had me lead a small team hand weeding bunker faces throughout the entire course. This time we were targeting spotted spurge and pokeweed along with our old friends crabgrass and goosegrass.

I’d like to take this moment to thank Jeff Borger from Penn State University’s Turfgrass Management program for being a tough professor for my Turf & Ornamental Weed Control class this past semester. If it wasn’t for him I might’ve picked every single bunker clean instead of differentiating between the desirable and undesirable plants growing there. Spotted spurge becomes tough to pick after a while because it grows so close to the ground that your fingertips start to get raw and calloused. While traversing the steeper portions of some bunker faces, we needed to be cautious not to collapse them because they were so dry from the lack of irrigation. Luckily for us we didn’t have any incidents. What’s more, Alan didn’t make us rake the bunkers we walked through, making our afternoon job that much easier.

The crew also targeted crabgrass in bunkers. Photo courtesy of Carlos Sanes.

The crew also targeted crabgrass in bunkers. Photo courtesy of Carlos Sanes.

Ask any golf course maintenance worker prepping for a major event what their hopes are for the aesthetics and playability of the golf course and they’re bound to include these two points: 1.) The best looking course presentation possible and 2.) the toughest playing conditions possible for the entire week.No one wants a golfer to come onto their course and set a new low score, especially not during a major.

Anyone who spent more than five minutes at the Fairbarn (lounge/dinner hall for the golf course maintenance crew) couldn’t help but crack a smile when a cheer would erupt from our guys after a player’s tee shot landed in a wiregrass plant in a bunker or natural area. There was a sense of satisfaction that we were a part of making those areas tough and challenging for the best players in the world.

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