Women's Am Site Faces Challenge Of Preparing Course In Sultry Conditions August 5, 2010 By David Shefter, USGA

The Charlotte C.C. maintenance staff uses moisture meters to illustrate where extra water needs to be applied to the bentgrass greens. (Chris Hartwiger/USGA Green Section)

Heat-of-the-moment pressure and high anxiety are two intangibles that often increase during a USGA championship. Everything gets magnified exponentially during a national championship.

But it’s not just the competitors who feel a little extra heat.

Golf courses, and those who are in charge of maintaining them, also experience pressure. And when Mother Nature turns up the thermometer the way most of the country has experienced this summer, the challenge to maintain championship conditions without damaging the playing surface becomes a Herculean task.

Just ask Chris Hartwiger, the USGA senior agronomist for the Southeast Region and Florida. The longtime member of the Green Section has had to assist superintendents at two of the hottest spots on the 2010 competition calendar: The Country Club of North Carolina (U.S. Girls’ Junior) in the Village of Pinehurst, N.C., and Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club, which will host the U.S. Women’s Amateur this week.

It’s the worst summer I’ve seen going back to maybe 1995, said Hartwiger, who is helping Charlotte C.C. superintendent John Szklinski prepare for the third-oldest championship in the U.S. It’s incredible.

For courses like Charlotte C.C. that employ creeping bentgrass putting surfaces, the challenge of maintaining championship conditions without killing the turf is delicate.

But for Szklinski, who was at Southern Hills Country Club in sultry Tulsa, Okla., before coming to Charlotte C.C. in 2007, it’s a summer ritual. Szklinski’s summer maintenance schedule is basically the same, outside of mowing rough at 2½ inches versus 1½ inches and some extra rolling of the greens to get them at the preferred championship speed.

That means weekly topdressing and venting the greens every other week. Fans are running non-stop to create proper airflow.

The greens are fine, said Szklinski. Our members have really supported us with a lot of good tools that we use. But no matter what tools you use, it’s still bentgrass.

Unlike bermudagrass that pops in the summer and loves hot and humid conditions, bentgrass is a cool-season turf that can die if not properly maintained in the hot summer months.

You are always cautious in the summer, said Hartwiger. For a championship, you push them closer to the line at a time of year you don’t want to be doing that.

So the green staff at Charlotte is making sure the plant has all the necessary nutrients. Mowing heights are carefully gauged to ease stress. Fans provide life support and water is applied each morning and evening, and occasionally during the day to required areas.

To assist with that process, Charlotte C.C. uses moisture meters that tell the staff what areas of the green need extra water.

We’re always staying a step ahead of it, said Szklinski. Some sections dry out more than other sections.

Added Hartwiger: Like kids, parts of greens want to misbehave, while other parts are fine. We have to take care of the ones that are misbehaving.

Fortunately, the course has not received any mid-morning downpours followed by scorching afternoon temperatures. When the grass receives too much precipitation followed by searing heat, it can’t cool properly.

It literally just starts cooking the greens, said Hartwiger. We call it wet wilt. The grass looks like its wilting from no water, but actually there is too much water there.

Charlotte C.C., however, is in solid shape on the eve of the 2010 U.S. Women’s Amateur, when 156 of the world’s elite female players will descend on the Donald Ross layout that was recently restored by Ron Prichard. Szklinski said that all the agronomic preparation should make for a fine championship.

It’s challenging, he said. But everyone at the club is excited about this championship.

David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.