Oak Hill Country Club Embraces Change
The game of golf is constantly evolving to challenge players with longer fairways, faster greens and more difficult hazards. To keep a competitive edge, superintendents need to focus on continual course improvements, even if that course is steeped in history.
A perfect example is Oak Hill Country Club's East Course, which was designed in 1925 by Donald Ross. This year marked its third year as host of the PGA Championship. The club has hosted 11 major tournaments in total, including all six of the men’s championships.
"I love golf courses like this, you know, big mature trees, tree-lined fairways...It was obviously a fantastic golf course 50-60 years ago and it's a fantastic course now," Rory McIlroy said during a 2013 PGA Championship media day interview. McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship.
Part of his sentiment no doubt lies in Oak Hill’s willingness to change. To bring its first PGA Championship to Oak Hill in 1980, the club embarked on a renovation led by famed golf course architects George and Tom Fazio. The fifth and 18th holes were redesigned, and new par-3 holes at Nos. 6 and 15 were built.
Three of those holes were significantly updated again to bring new challenges to this year’s PGA Championship.
“Preparation started in earnest three or four years ago, as far as boots on the ground type of work on the golf course goes,” says Jeff Corcoran, manager of golf course and grounds at Oak Hill Country Club. “We did some renovation work on the 5, 6, and 15 greens on the East Course. We changed the contours on 5 and 6, and completely rebuilt the 15th green.”
That 15th hole turned out to be a key to Jason Dufner’s hoisting the Wannamaker Trophy in his first major championship win with a 2 under par finish.
“That was a pretty tough hole location there,” Dufner said in his post-win interview with the PGA of America. “I thought I hit a good shot, ends up rolling off the green. Kind of a squirrely lie in the fringe. You know, one of those balls that you could easily not get up and down and turn the round around. I ended up getting that one up and down and stuffed it there on 16.”
To keep the course ready for the best players in the world, Oak Hill Country Club values the support of John Deere.
“Oak Hill Country Club prides itself on maintaining the highest standards,” says Dan Farrell, general manager of Oak Hill Country Club. “To do that we need to have the best equipment in the industry. John Deere provides us with the technology, new products and proven equipment that helps us reach our goal of excellence.”
That equipment includes a number of John Deere Gators, six PrecisionCut 8000 Fairway Mowers, 22 E-Cut 180 Walking Greens Mowers, and all of the club’s tractors, according to Corcoran.
“The equipment does what we ask it to do,” he says. “That’s first and foremost: the performance of the equipment. That along with the relationships you build with people in the company has been really important for Oak Hill Country Club. It’s been a great partnership.”
Watch this video from GCSAA.TV to see how that partnership and a small army of volunteers helped Oak Hill prepare for the 2013 PGA Championship.
John Deere and The First Tee Get "Careers On Course"
Introducing more young people to the game of golf is a top priority, as discussed at the recent Leadership Summit, hosted by John Deere. Now, a new program is taking that concept further by introducing young people to careers in golf course management.
The Careers on Course program, created with part of John Deere's $1 million commitment to The First Tee organization, was rolled out at TPC Boston, TPC Sugarloaf near Atlanta, and Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Chicago this summer. It is expected to expand to other courses in the future. Teenagers in the program are learning from professionals who work at PGA TOUR® golf courses partnering with The First Tee.
The program curriculum, which was developed in conjunction with the PGA TOUR, teaches high school students what it takes to maintain a well-manicured, environmentally safe and playable course. The students are also receiving an introduction to club operations.
Deere announced in February that it would contribute $1 million over five years to The First Tee, a non-profit youth organization that uses golf as a platform to teach life and leadership skills and provide character education programs for young people.
"The First Tee is an outstanding and proven program for youth development," said James M. Field, president of John Deere's Worldwide Agriculture and Turf Division. "The Careers on Course program builds on the leadership development activities already taking place in The First Tee while providing participants with the opportunity to better understand the business of golf course maintenance."
Two participants from each First Tee chapter involved in the initial events will have the opportunity to shadow a superintendent as he or she prepares their golf course for an official PGA TOUR event, including the Deutsche Bank Championship in August; the BMW Championship in September; and the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola in September.
In 2014, select participants will be invited to the Deere & Company World Headquarters in Moline, Illinois, and TPC Deere Run in nearby Silvis, Illinois, to learn about business operations and other career opportunities.
"We believe Careers on Course will help keep young people engaged and inspire interest in the scientific, technological, and business aspects of a golf course management career," said Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., chief executive officer of The First Tee.
Open Championship was a Balancing Act of Tradition and Technology
The golf club at Muirfield, which is properly known as The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, wrote the rules of golf in 1744. The club moved to Muirfield in 1891, and hosted its first Open Championship a year later.
With such a storied history, tradition is never far from Course Manager Colin Irvine’s mind, especially when readying Muirfield for the global scrutiny that accompanied the 16th Open Championship in July. Irvine said he aimed to achieve the perfect fine balance between past, present and future.
“It’s also important to keep up with technology to make our presentation the best we can, using the aids that are out there,” he said. “We’re therefore always looking out for the best machine to do the job for us.”
One of those machines is John Deere’s 7500 E-Cut Hybrid electric mowers, which are supplied by local dealer Thomas Sherriff & Company at Haddington, East Lothian. Irvine uses the year round to keep the fairways looking perfect.
“Taking away the hydraulics from the mowing heads and the consequent noise reduction makes mowing much more comfortable for the man on board and for everyone else,” he said. “Removing the risk of oil leaks is such a weight off a course manager’s mind too, especially when big tournaments are in the offing.”
Other John Deere machines used at Muirfield include the 2500 E-Cut Hybrid electric triplex greens mower, the 8000 E-Cut Hybrid three-wheeled, ultra-light five-gang fairway mower for green surrounds, the 2653B triplex for pathways, the diesel 2030A ProGator and electric TE Gator utility vehicles for general transport work, and the 1565 front rotary mower for paths and rough grass.
In conjunction with the fleet of John Deere mowers that follow the course’s signature contours, Irvine uses a John Deere HD200 ProGator mounted sprayer to ensure that the wetting agents are spread evenly and to the maximum effect over the undulations.
Muirfield’s greens, tees and aprons are hand mown every day using John Deere 180C and 180SL 18in or 220C 22in walk-behind greens mowers. Although the 2500E hybrid mower is used on the greens over weekends.
To make sure the Open Championship went off without a hitch, the course’s own John Deere fleet was supported by extra machines supplied by Thomas Sherriff and John Deere, as official suppliers of golf course maintenance equipment to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers.