Texas drought, stifling heat make preparations difficult from agronomy standpoint September 17, 2011 By David Shefter, USGA

A strong maintenance plan enabled Shadow Hawk (above) and The Houstonian Golf & C.C. to be in championship conditions for the U.S. Mid-Amateur, despite a major drought in Texas. (Kirk H. Owens/USGA)

Richmond, Texas – Walking around the spacious grounds of Shadow Hawk Golf Club and Houstonian Golf and Country Club, it’s difficult to tell the area has suffered from one of the worst droughts in recent memory.

Rainfall amounts that generally average between 37 and 38 inches a year are currently at 4 or 5 inches. Temperatures have soared above the century mark more than 60 days. Combining stifling heat and lack of rain is like putting a torch to crude oil.

It’s been brutal, said USGA Green Section Mid-Continent regional director Bud White.

But the two golf courses being utilized for this week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship haven’t shown any signs of wear.

A strong maintenance plan along with assistance from the club’s sister courses at Black Horse and Redstone allowed Shadow Hawk and its next-door neighbor Houstonian G&C.C. to be immaculately prepared for the best 25-and-older golfers.

Colt Phillips, the director of maintenance for the two courses, worked closely with the USGA to have the courses ready for the championship. Houstonian is being used as the companion stroke-play qualifying course, with Shadow Hawk serving as the main venue for match play.

Fortunately, they have good water availability, said White, who has 18 combined years of service with the USGA. And they have pretty good irrigation systems. They pumped a lot of water. If you had seen this place two weeks ago, you wouldn’t have recognized it.

Phillips called upon every available resource, including the use of workers from the two sister properties in the area. Every afternoon, some 20-25 grounds crew staff hand-watered fairways at both Rees Jones-designed layouts, which opened a week apart from each other in 1999.

In the spring, Phillips also made several different cuts in the rough to allow USGA officials to see how balls reacted to the bermudagrass at multiple heights. They decided that 2½ inches would be the proper height.

We have perfect rough conditions, said Chicago-based USGA Green Section Mid-Continent region agronomist Ty McClellan, who is assisting on-site this week. I consider 2½ inches of bermudagrass rough equivalent to 4½ to 5 inches for bluegrass, ryegrass or fescue.

If you throw three balls in the rough and see three different lies that is what you want. You want some inconsistencies. That’s why we decided to go with that height.

Both courses employ TifEagle bermudagrass on the greens. It’s one of the more modern strains of bermudagrass and the agronomists said the surfaces at both courses are averaging 12½ feet on the Stimpmeter.

Everybody is just loving the playing conditions, said White. The club has done a phenomenal job getting the course ready.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. E-mail him at dshefter@usga.org.