The Agronomics of the US Open

Golf’s US Open made its reappearance this past week at North Carolina’s famed Pinehurst Resort and Country Club. But it’s not just a matter of the world’s best golfers showing up and taking a few swings. Years of course preparation take place in the lead up to the major sporting event. Darin Bevard is the Director of Championship Agronomy for the US Golf Association, the event’s sponsor, and he spoke with SFN’s Chris Edwards.

Talk about agronomy from this US Open’s perspective. This is the first time there’s been dwarf Bermuda grass. Used to play a US Open. Why does that matter for these players?

“Well, ultra dwarf Bermuda grass. First of all, it thrives in the heat down there. You know, especially today. You know, if you’ve been outside, it’s 90 plus degrees out there, if we had cool season grasses, we would have to apply a lot more water and that type of stuff to keep it because, you know, we’re a guest here for a week, and Pinehurst are great partners. We want to make sure when we leave that they have the things that they need to continue with their business, but really it gives us a little more flexibility in what we can do with look. You still have to worry about turf health and stress, but it’s not as much as if we were on a bent grass surface.”

Tell me a little bit about what the lead up was like in coordination with Pinehurst to get this you at this, US Open, ready for a course for a US Open?

“Well, amazingly, we didn’t make a whole lot of changes from 2014 (the last time the Open was held at Pinehurst) because we didn’t need to. And so obviously they regressed the greens, which we were certainly supportive of. And we did do some work planning some additional lump or wire grass in the sandy areas, just because so much of it from traffic and things of that nature had declined. So, you know, we needed to beef up those areas some, because these players are so good you let them get on that tight, compacted sand, and they’re gonna be able to control their golf ball so they can still get that lie on that tight, compacted sand with the additional wire. Grass may be more awkward, but beyond that, it’s just, you know, really ramping up agronomic practices, because they certainly don’t want their resort play taking quite as long as maybe a US Open round does with these players. “

You mentioned the ultra dwarf Bermuda grass that’s out here. From a player perspective, they don’t play that grass a ton. Do they have to adjust to the grass? Maybe on the greens more so, right?

“Yeah, on the greens. I mean, they play on Bermuda grass, but ultra dwarf on the greens, you know, Quail Hollow ultra dwarf is another one. They play on a lot of courses, if not all that they play on the Florida swing are actually overseeded, yeah. I mean, there’s certainly grain, with respect to Bermuda grass, grows kind of in the direction of the slope. So if you’re downhill, downgrain, you got that shiny grass looking at you, it’s going to be a really fast putt, whereas while you’re uphill and into the green, it’s actually going to be a slow putt. And these guys learn to recognize that. I mean, I’m sure if I can see it, they can see it. That’s their side of a living, greens, and understanding greens.”

For you and your team, what’s the process like now that the tournament’s underway, after a round is over, to get ready for the next round of play?

“Well, we have a meeting at 230, our Course Setup team as well as Pinehurst’s team and our agronomists. And we discuss where are we on speed? What do we want for tomorrow? Where are we on firmness? And we come up with a plan to try to get there. So it’s basically discussing practices on the greens. It may be, certainly hand watering on greens, a lot of water in the evenings, and again, in the mornings, as well as maybe a little irrigation on the fairways. They’re starting to, you know, get some color, we’ll say. And, you know, again, just preserving turf quality going forward, but yeah, it’s every day. It’s a different day, and we have a prescription.”

Do like the way the course has played so far?

“Yeah, very happy with it so far. Certainly tough today, but yeah, it’s been a lot of fun, and John Jeffries, the superintendent of number two, and their team, have been supportive and spot on with everything. that we’ve done. So, looking forward to getting through this afternoon, and making the cut, and I’ll play going off of one tea gets to be a little bit easier. Anyway, in terms of maintenance. I look forward to that.”