There's nothing worse than bad greens, but like PGA Tour tournament director Mark Russell said last week, trying to grow bent-grass greens in the South is like trying to grow palm trees in Northern Canada. Russell wasn't passing the blame: This is one of the reasons why Augusta National closes down for most of the summer and why the greens at East Lake were never an issue until this year, when the Tour Championship was moved from leaf-turning chill of late October-early November to one of the hottest and driest late summers on record for Atlanta.
Whether it was Mother Nature or the affects of Global Warming, it was an embarrassment for a man who is not used to being embarrassed -- not with his type of track record for a community and golf course renovator. But just to make sure the affects of a heat wave would not happen again, course owner Tom Cousins has plans to change East Lake's greens to one of the new strands of hybrid Bermuda, either the most-established Champion or the new-age Mini Verde that was used in renovating the TPC-Sawgrass.
It won't be a knee-jerk decision, but one that is researched by director of golf Rick Burton and course superintendent Ralph Kepple and implemented in May 2008. With the course closed for the summer, East Lake should play hard and fast like this year's Players Championship by the time we reach next September.
"We met with the tour, and we could either go with a no-till method, where we go in and aerify and put springs down on top of the soil, or we could go the other way and two 2-4 inches off and add a new greens mix," Burton said Thursday. "There are pros and cons to both." East Lake's chipping green was done with the no-till technique in Mini Verdi and did fine, coming back quicker than the more radical stripping.
So back to Russell's point, why bent grass at East Lake? Well, because when the course went through its reconstruction 12 years ago, Crenshaw Bentgrass was just coming out and was considered to be better than the Bermuda being produced at the time. Plus, with Bentgrass, the course didn't have to go through overseeding in the early fall or close down in April-May to get the overseeding out.
"We had the worst heat we've ever had in August, 10 straight 100-degree days, plus drought," Burton said. "The ground temperature never got below 70 and the roots got so short, the grass just died. Even if we had the tournament in the old days the weather would have stressed the greens. We just would have had more recovery time by the first week in November."
- --Tim Rosaforte*