Ralph Kepple, superintendent at venerable East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, has been preparing East Lake for major events, including The Tour Championship, since his arrival in 1992. That doesn’t mean, however, that Kepple and his staff don’t sweat the details leading up to the PGA Tour’s crowning finale to the FedEx Cup playoffs.
The same goes for Rick Tegtmeier, who while hosting the highly successful Solheim Cup at Des Moines Golf and Country Club last autumn admitted to a panic attack a day before the biggest event in club history.
As planning for your most important competitive events of the year gains momentum, it’s a good time to consider the insights and seek the advice of respected superintendents like Kepple and Tegtmeier.
“For me, every year – about three or four weeks out – I feel like we are never going to get everything done in time, yet every year we have managed to be ready,” Kepple says.
“One of my goals was to put on a well-planned and well-executed event,” says Tegtmeier, a 12-year veteran at the West Des Moines club, adding that he also felt the pressure of wanting to demonstrate that Iowa was a capable host for an international competition.
So even the guys with the prestigious events on their resumes feel the pressure. Here are several lessons that Tegtmeier and Kepple have found to help them deal with the stress and ensure that no detail is overlooked.
Plan ahead and set realistic goals. “Our goal was not to have any white-line areas on the golf course,” Tegtmeier remembers. He thought the goal was achieved until the LPGA rules team walked the course. “It was amazing to me that they found so many little things that needed to be fixed or repaired.” A few simple plugs from the nursery – along with evening touch-ups during practice rounds and a few more plugs – helped the staff accomplish its goal before the first day of competition.
Kepple adheres to a strict prep schedule. “We have found it best for our team to avoid a seven-day work schedule until the week prior to the actual tournament, unless there is some weather event that forces us to start earlier. During this time, we can really hone in on detail work that has become very difficult to stay on top of with a very heavy outing schedule.”
Ask for help. “I went to the Iowa GCSAA and asked members to volunteer,” Tegtmeier says. “They responded wonderfully. It amazed me how resilient this group of professionals was.”
Have confidence in your plan. On the Sunday of Solheim practice rounds – the first day with volunteers and the club’s crew working together – the work detail and assignments became confused. Tegtmeier admits he was in a panic when Steve Cook, a longtime friend and superintendent from Oakland Hills Country Club, gave him some advice. “He reminded me that this is what Sunday mornings are for. He said, ‘It happens to us all. Your plans will work; just follow them.’”
Clarify roles and keep your team rested. Kepple advises, “Whenever possible try to give them some down time, especially closer to the event.” He adds with emphasis, “Your assistants are your lifeblood because you will get pulled in many directions. Your assistants will need to take control in many areas.”
Tear down as well as you build up. Kepple advises superintendents to have sole responsibility for infrastructure – service roads, bleachers, refreshment venues – both building and tearing down. “After the event everyone wants to get their stuff and leave.” He emphasizes the importance of a designated individual or team for teardown and clean-up.
Understand the letdown. “The biggest surprise was the letdown after the event,” Tegtmeier says. “Many superintendents had mentioned it, but I thought it was nothing I had to worry about. But when you are so focused for so many years on an international event, and then when it is over, everyone is gone, and it is just you and your staff, getting back to normal maintenance feels strange.”
Whether hosting important club events or major international competitions and Tour events, superintendents share the common desire to make sure their course is in the best condition possible for the players and that their members and community are proud of the course under their care. Careful advance planning, mindful personnel management and postgame wrap-up are keys to making all that happen.