By John Kim, PGA.com Coordinating Producer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It’s not like they could have been caught by total surprise. The staff and grounds crew at Valhalla Golf Club know how inclement weather can affect major golf events -- as it has in the last two high-profile tournaments hosted at the club. And they obviously know how to recover. Quickly. Thursday at the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid proved to be another example of the value of talent, preparation and sheer hard work in overcoming any challenge.
In 2004, Louisville was hit by a week of marathon rain and tornadoes that flooded the course with seven inches of rain. Yet, Valhalla was able to get all four rounds in and crown Hale Irwin as the Senior PGA Championship winner. In 2008, the week of the Ryder Cup, a hurricane blew through the city, knocking down trees, TV structures and signage all over the course. And yet, the world’s most celebrated team competition started on time, went off without a hitch and concluded in one of the most thrilling finishes in Ryder Cup memory.
And this week, with tornado warnings being issued until Thursday morning and large buckets of rain pelting the course overnight and again during the day, Valhalla has withstood Mother Nature’s fury and ended up presenting a fair, scenic and demanding challenge to some of the world’s best players and the gallery there to watch them.
“There are two things that make this happen,” said Valhalla General Manager Michael Montague. “There is the leadership of Roger (Meier, the club superintendent) that sets the tone and expectations for his excellent staff, and then it’s the incredible passion and dedication of the volunteers on the crew that pulls it all together. Roger has 30 people under him and the volunteers may be closer to 70 this week, and many of them are superintendents and employees at other courses, that all pitch in together to squeegee greens, haul off limbs, repair bunkers, those things that really make the course playable.”
Meier was quick to affirm the message that Valhalla was prepared for any weather scenario, and that the sheer coincidence of inclement weather again wasn’t even close to being an insurmountable hurdle.
“It’s a challenge, no doubt,” said Meier, “but we were ready. We monitor the weather closely, we have a good plan in place for these type situations and we execute it.”
Meier and his team managed to get the course mowed on Wednesday and then were able to mow the greens early Thursday, between the two rounds of torrential storms.
“This is my first time dealing with this situation at Valhalla, but so many of our crew was here in 2008 and even 2004, so they know the drill. And of course, the volunteers are so key to pulling this off, and they are all industry professionals, so their insights and experience prove to be invaluable when situations like this arise,” he explained. “Yes, it’s a lot of work, but we’re in position to do it.
“These guys know how to get a course ready,” he added. “If anything, they needed to get familiar with the routing of our course, but as far as how to get greens, bunkers, those things ready for play -- we were always in solid position.”
“There’s not a better prepared group anywhere,” concurred Valhalla PGA Head Professional Keith Reese. “Every person, every volunteer and staffer, they are able to adjust, adlib, do whatever it takes to make this course look and play to a major championship-worthy test.”
Meier further added, “This is fun for us. Yes, it’s long days and a tough challenge, but it’s good to know that your efforts make a positive difference, that it’s appreciated by golf fans everywhere. We want to represent the PGA of America, the community of Louisville and Valhalla Golf Club the very best we can. So nobody wants to see bad weather come in, but we also know it’s an opportunity for us to show our abilities.”
The fact that the opening day of the 72nd Senior PGA Championship was able to commence and get mostly done is a testament to their skill, talent and dedication. Mission Accomplished.