Bob Gillespie



After the PGA Championship: Restoring conditions won’t keep public away too long from The Ocean Cour

Posted 8/12/2012 8:10:00 PM

If you’ve been watching the 94th PGA Championship this week and are salivating to try out The Ocean Course for yourself, you’re probably wondering how long you’ll have to wait for the course to reopen for public and resort play.

Jeff Stone, The Ocean Course’s superintendent since 2003, says prospective customers have two options. The short-range one: they can sign up to play beginning two days after the PGA players clear out – that’s starting Wednesday.

Long-range, you likely want to wait 7-14 days starting next Sunday. That’s how long Stone says it will take to aerify the greens, relieving the compaction of all those sets of golf spikes, and getting them back up to snuff.

You read that right. There will be no months-long closing to repair the course from the impact of 156 players a day (72 per day after Friday’s cut). The Ocean Course will be open for business again almost immediately.

“The golf course is amazing,” said Stone, who has worked as a superintendent on Kiawah Island courses since 1990. “Rehabbing it is not as difficult as you might think.”

That doesn’t mean all that traffic during the first men’s major championship in South Carolina history didn’t leave a mark. Realistically, Stone’s crew and PGA of America officials will spent upwards of six months repairing damage, much of that to the surrounding sand dunes and sea oats, which have been trampled by some 30,000 spectators a day for the past week.

But, as Stone said with a chuckle, “Mother Nature can handle things.” With a little help, that is.

First things first. PGA managing director of championships Kerry Haigh said workers will spend 10-12 weeks “taking down the structures” – temporary sky boxes, bleachers, merchandise and hospitality tents and other construction built to seat or house fans. “From that point, our staff will stay on another couple of months until the restoration process is complete.

“We’ll be working with (Stone) to make sure everything is fully back, planting whatever we need to replant, (cleaning up) any damage from spectators. We’ll do whatever we have to, to protect the dunes.”

Stone, though, says he expects sand dunes to come back at least to 50-60 percent of their previous state in 3-4 months, “and this time in 2013, you’ll say, ‘I can’t believe these are the same’” conditions following the tournament. As for the sea oats, Stone says all that foot traffic has proven in the past actually to help re-growth.

“In 1991 (after the famous “War By The Shore” Ryder Cup), the sea oats were decimated,” he says. “But a year later, they were back. We discovered the fans had walked the seeds into the soil, where normally they blow around and germinate, or not. Because of the Ryder Cup, the seeds sort of replanted themselves.”

Adds Haigh: “We anticipate that the sea oats will actually come back healthier. If there are any areas that are totally damaged, we will replace them and make sure it is fully restored, if not better than ever.”

The test for The Ocean Course’s reputation will be the playing areas: fairways, bunkers and greens. Next week’s greens aerification is the start, followed by mowing, rolling and top-dressing (adding sand) to restore and smooth out the putting surfaces. Zack McGaugon, Stone’s first assistant, also will check and repair damaged irrigation heads and pipes.

A big plus, Stone says, is The Ocean Course’s saltwater-resistant paspalum grass. “It’s a dense turf,” he says, one that should grow back over divots and other damage in 3-4 weeks, “to the point you can’t tell it was ever damaged.”

Another plus is financial support from the PGA of America. Haigh says the cost won’t be known until work is completed, “but we have significant dollars assigned to help in that restoration, as we do at every (PGA) venue, but certainly more so here” due to environmental concerns.

“The majority of our cost is on the restoration,” Haigh says. “We will spend whatever needs to be spent.” Past post-tournament repairs at PGA courses have ranged from $50,000 to more than $1 million, he said.

“I can’t remember” the most expensive project, Haigh said, “but there have been a few that cost a lot of money.” While Kiawah’s marshlands and other sensitive areas could increase that cost, “we will go over it all with a close eye and make sure it is restored to everyone’s satisfaction.”

Bottom line, Stone says, “we’ll be back to normal, I think, by the end of September when the construction crews are gone. By the third week (after the PGA), we’ll start getting our clientele levels back to normal.”

He adds with a laugh: “I’ve got four weeks of vacation coming, and I intend to be sitting in Fenway Park on Sept. 12.”

Haigh says he is committed to making Stone’s plans happen. “I think we’re very conscious and respectful of the environmental factors that are crucially important to the course and the island,” he said. “The tournament staff is trained to make sure we put everything back exactly as we found it – maybe a little better.

“We fully intend that it’s left in pristine shape when we leave.” Just in time for visiting golfers to arrive.