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Preparing for a major tournament

I am pretty sure there will be a lot of articles about the Malaysian Open you can read in golf magazines and pull-outs but I bet you this here article will be the only one that touches on the preparation aspects of the golf course for a major tournament.

I’ll be talking about it in the Malaysian context, where the venue for the next Malaysian Open is typically revealed eight months or so before the event. In the U.S., the venues for the Open may be known as early as six to eight years before the event.

The USGA makes an effort to move the US Open all over the US and awarding the Open way in advance gives the selected golf course a lot of time to prepare the course for the scrutiny it will get in the event, from the players, media and the huge amount of spectators.

For a Malaysian golf course to be chosen to host the Malaysian Open, it has to be above average to start with. Nowadays, we are talking about players who play in the European Tour and with television towers on every green broadcasting every thousand-dollar putt around the world; you would not choose just any golf course to represent Malaysia. But the late announcement of the venue usually means that a lot more work has to be done in a lot less time for the preparation and not much major renovation can be undertaken.

As soon as it is confirmed, the course maintenance crew will have to start to work their hardest. Contrary to popular belief, most of the work would not be on the greens, since the decision to host the event would have been arrived based – mostly – on the performance of the greens for the past few years. Though some golf courses are known to rip up their good greens and make it even better for the event.

What then, do they do? Extra drainage on fairways; weeding; fertilizing to make sure that the grass is healthy and has constant color; tees are lengthened or returfed to remove the wear and tear of daily use. Typically, it is the bunkers that receive the most renovation work prior to a major event. New bunkers are constructed, old sand taken out and new sand put in, drainage are added to problematic bunkers and in most cases, all bunkers will have new sand added to ensure there is a contrast of white and green on TV.

The tournament will come complete with a Tournament Director and a turf consultant or agronomist who will advise the Course Superintendent on how the course should look for the tournament. Sometimes these people make it easy, sometimes they can turn the next few months into a harrowing time for the Superintendent and his crew.

They will come to visit a few months before the event, where they will tell the Superintendents the requirements of the tournament, how fast the greens should be, how tall the rough, how wide the fairway, how big the collars surrounding the green, how many levels of cuts should there be beside the fairway, stuff like that.

Sometimes, for the Superintendent, this may be a dream come true. This would be the time for him to ask for the thingamajig that does the jiggly-wiggly that he had wanted but was turned down in last year’s budget. He can now ask for extra funds to fertilize the rough! And more often than not, he could double his number of workers in the field. How the Superintendent wishes that he could have these to last a few more months. I mean, lets not kid ourselves; most of the time, our local Superintendents would be operating with a small budget but big expectations.

On the rare occasion if he doesn’t get what he wants, all he has to do is nudge the consultant/agronomist in the right direction and you bet after they’ve said their piece to management, the Superintendent would get the stuff he wants before those guys are on their flight back to where they come from!

There are also heart-aches; sometimes these consultants cannot see eye to eye with the Superintendent. They both want the same results but they see it from different views.

Sometimes other ‘consultants’ come out of the woodwork; uninvited, unpaid and unwanted. One boss may have a friend who has a similar tournament in his home course 27 ½ years ago and has experiences he wants to share with the Superintendent. A supplier may have four different products to help the Superintendent heal that problem on the green the he has. And the Superintendent doesn’t even realize that it is a problem. Turn the supplier down and he goes to a Committee member of the club.

There will be plenty of people with advice to give. Most mean well. Some have agendas of their own. But in the end; it is the people at the golf course who has to do the work. If the course looks good, it is teamwork. If the course looks bad; the Superintendent is lousy.

Then there are the Tournament Referees that need to be satisfied. These people can be real tough to please, and rightly so. There are referees who will measure speed on all greens and they do not want a speed difference of more than six inches between all 19 greens, including the practice green. You have no idea how difficult that is.

When the tournament starts, the golf course won’t look or play the same way it has been played by the regulars of the course. The rough would be so tall you could lose your shoe in it, never mind your ball. The fairway would be so slick some spectators would be afraid to walk on it. The greens would be so fast the people in the front row won’t dare to breathe heavily just in case the ball would move.

The members of the club will be asking; “why can’t we have our golf course looking like this all the time?” The visitors will be asking; “Why can’t we have our own golf course looking like this?” The viewers watching on TV will be asking “Why can’t all Malaysian golf courses look like this?” It is what the American Superintendents call the ‘Augusta effect’. It comes from the famous Augusta National Golf Club where the Masters Tournament is played. After the Masters, it is inevitable that a golfer will ask their Superintendent; “Why can’t our golf course be like Augusta?”

It is unfortunate that golfers forget the large amount of money spent to make the golf course to look like what you see in the Malaysian Open or on TV. Plus the golf course is closed for weeks if not months before the tournament. It is hard enough getting money to do good normal routine day-to-day maintenance all year round; how to get it tournament-perfect all year round?

Anyway, if you went to the tournament or watched it on TV and you wonder about how good the golf course looks, spare a thought for the people behind the scene; the unsung heroes who have to be in the course at 5.00 a.m. only to leave late at night. Do they watch the show? By the end of the tournament, these people will be too tired to scratch their own back…

This is an article written for a local Malaysian golf magazine. I wrote it many years ago and decided to post it here for other golfers/whatever to read. I am not endorsing anything or anyone and it is not meant as a technical reference or as instruction.


One Response to “Preparing for a major tournament”

  1. Koh Yeei Shane said

    This article helps me a lot in my assignment! Thank you Mr.Normas 🙂


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