Michael Lee, Manager Golf Maintenance, Blackwolf Run & Whistling Straits, and Chris Zugel, Whistling Straits Golf Course Superintendent, are part of the team that works years in advance to prepare the Straits course for the international spotlight that is the 92nd PGA Championship.
In addition to their daily responsibilities of maintaining the prestigious course for all Destination Kohler guests, the two are intimately involved with the planning and adjustments needed on-course for the season's final major. Learn more about what goes on behind the scenes by watching our new web series Behind-the-Greens, as Mike and Chris prepare the Straits course for the 92nd PGA Championship.
2. How is the maintenance of the course different this year because of the event compared to other years?ML:
1. What is your role in preparing the course for the 92nd PGA Championship?
Michael Lee (ML): I lead the planning and administration from a golf course maintenance perspective. This involves project planning several years in advance to prepare the course. If design changes are required, then we establish a management team to lead our course maintenance staff and lead event planning meetings to ensure all facets are covered from emergency planning, to measuring the speed of the greens.
Chris Zugel (CZ): I am responsible for creating and managing a season-long agronomic plan specific to the needs of the PGA Championship. An agronomic plan includes irrigation, fertility, integrated pest management and soil cultivation; all are components of managing the health of the living turfgrass plants that make up most of the playing surfaces. The plan also takes into account key cultural practices that are used to develop the firm and fast playing surfaces demanded by a field of the top 100 golfers in the world. With the help of two very hard working assistant superintendents, I supervise 50-plus people who know how to make the Straits course play and look great. I also have the pleasure of working closely with PGA officials to set up the golf course on a daily basis, providing the best experience for the players and the fans.
The changes we have made from the 2004 PGA Championship are subtle and truly a testimony to our planning efforts for these events. The basic "template" for planning is the same, we change just a few things to improve our preparation. Some examples of enhancements include volunteer training and communication, and improved emergency planning for rain in excess of 3 inches over 12 hrs. (Hopefully not needed!)CZ:
One of the major differences is the new maintenance plan that takes into consideration the additional on-course offerings, such as the Straits Skyboxes and additional tents.3. With the Championship only a month away, what is your team's biggest challenge in ensuring the course is ready for action August 9?ML:
To make sure we stay focused on preparing the golf course and not get distracted by all excitement and build-up of the event. We'll monitor the weather very closely and adjust our practices accordingly.CZ:
We work very hard to maintain the golf course at such a prestige level. The course is in great shape, thanks to the hard work from our team and cooperative winter weather this past year. Leading up to the big event, our team will continue to stay focused and do an excellent job at ensuring the course is in top shape.4. You know all the ins and outs of the Straits course. Where, in your opinion, is the best place to catch the action during Championship week?ML:
My favorite location is the mounds behind the green of Hole 6, "Gremlin's Ear." This site offers a close up of a very dynamic boomerang putting surface and mid-distance views of the lakeside par-3 third hole, "O'Man" and Hole 7, "Shipwreck."CZ:
For regular play throughout the week, I would recommend watching from the bleachers above the green on Hole 15, "Grand Strand." That is the start of some of the hardest holes on the course. Plus, from that area you can see action on Hole 11, "Sand Box", Hole 12, "Pop Up" and the tee on Hole 16, "Endless Bite." For the final day I would recommend staying by the green on Hole 17, "Pinched Nerve." From there you can see Hole 17 and Hole 18, "Dyeabolical", hopefully catching a sight of the winner coming back into the clubhouse to capture the trophy. But with the design of the course you can catch action on multiple holes from many locations since the holes run side-by-side.5. During Championship week, what is your team's main focus on the course and how do they get it all done with players and hundreds and thousands of fans on site?ML:
Our main focus will be to execute the plans we have in place that take into consideration the thousands of spectators who will be on course throughout the day. At the same time we will pay attention to any last-minute adjustments that need to be made so that we can meet the needs of the fans and the world's top 100 golfers.CZ:
Our main focus is the health and maintenance of the course. We can only accomplish all of the work by starting very early in the morning and then also late into the night, while no one is on the course.