TRENT BOUTS: Weather, Time of Year Factor for Play of Courses
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Identical twins don't necessarily possess duplicate personalities.
Sometimes their similarity is only skin deep. And that may be the case with Pinehurst No. 2 when the lion's share of the U.S. Amateur is contested there late in August. Pinehurst No. 4 will co-host practice and early qualifying.
On the surface, No. 2, the old Donald Ross gem, will bear the same cut and polish as it did when Michael Campbell was the only man to match par winning the U. S. Open in 2005. The fairways will be mowed to the same choking width, the rough cut to the same height and the greens groomed to within six inches or so of the same speed.
Yet the course is unlikely to play as it did in '05. The reasons are largely agronomic.
While design builds the body and shapes the face of a golf course, conditioning goes a long way to determining its personality from day to day.
Given that the state of a grass plant varies with the seasons and even within the seasons, the "mood swings" can be significant.
So, the very same set-up that Campbell fought and Retief Goosen and Jason Gore fell flat on in June, 2005, will have a different welcome for the best amateurs in the nation come August, 2008.
"As far as the bentgrass is concerned, when you put the second week of June against the third week of August, you're talking about completely opposite ends of the scale," says Paul Jett, certified golf course superintendent at No. 2.
As a result, the greens for the Amateur will likely be a lot more receptive than they were for the Open, even though they will still run around 11 on the stimpmeter, just a shade less than they did in '05.
In early June, coming out of spring, bentgrass tends to be in peak health and greens can be maintained with considerable firmness.
But as summer wears on and the heat beats down, the plants not only require more water, they hold more of it beneath the surface in a spongy layer of dead and decaying roots.
What root system does survive is increasingly compromised and drawing moisture up to the plant leaf, and where it is released back into the atmosphere gets tougher and tougher.
That creates softer, stickier greens allowing golfers to target the hole more directly.
In fact, bentgrass is often so weakened by prolonged heat that superintendents in the Sandhills are often playing doctor rather than fitness coach towards the end of the summer.
Should the next two months prove particularly harsh, Jett says he will have no hesitation winding back on green speeds to keep the grass alive.
Wayward approach shots that end up in the dips and bowls around the greens will also present a different challenge than they did for the Open. While the bentgrass on the greens will be wheezing late August, the Bermuda grass covering the surrounds will be at its most robust.
Bermuda grass thrives in the heat and will have had several months of growing by the time the Amateur arrives.
That means the base of the grass plant will be stronger, thicker and less responsive to grooming than it was in June '05.
"The amateurs will still be able to putt it from down there just fine but there won't be quite as a good a roll," Jett says. "The grass is a lot coarser by that time of year."
That coarseness, or toughness, in the plant will also be true of the Bermuda grass rough, although unlike around the greens the effect there is likely to favor the golfer.
Balls knocked into the three and a half inch rough during the Open in June would fall between young, slender grass plants and nestle on the ground beneath a troublesome canopy.
By contrast, the grass will have a lot more muscle in August and as a consequence will likely hold wayward shots up off the ground by and inch or more leaving an easier escape.
"The golf course is not going to play nearly difficult for the U.S. Amateur as it did for the U.S. Open," says Jett, who is vice-president of the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association and a scratch golfer in his own right.
Jett and his superintendent colleague at No. 4, Kyle Brown, will each command about 20 volunteers in addition to their usual staff.
Among others, those volunteers will include area superintendents and students from Sandhills Community College turfgrass program.
Those numbers are a big step down from the 60-some expert helpers who worked the '05 Open but perhaps the biggest change of all for Jett will come after the event in August.
"It takes the golf course about a month to fully recover from a U.S. Open," he says, having also hosted the championship in 1999.
"The traffic for an Open is so hard on the walkways and rough areas. But the nature of the U.S. Amateur is such that I don't know if you will be able to tell there was a tournament out there once it's over."
Maybe not, but by then the proof will be written into the game's history book, further enriching Pinehurst's already long and illustrious chapter.
Trent Bouts is a freelance writer based in Asheville and editor of Carolina Greens magazine for the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association.
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