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TPC preens for senior pros

Groundskeepers are painstakingly prepping the already polished course at the Tournament Players Club of Tampa Bay for the Verizon Classic Senior PGA tournament this weekend.

By LOGAN D. MABE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001


LUTZ -- As the winds begin to whip and the dark clouds roll in, Scott MacEwen is just about the only person on the golf course who welcomes the coming rain.

MacEwen, course superintendent at the Tournament Players Club of Tampa Bay, is responsible for creating the lush, telegenic image that golf fans have come to expect from the Verizon Classic Senior PGA tournament.

From Friday to Sunday, the world's greatest 50-and-over golfers will test their games on what MacEwen hopes will be flawless fairways and slick greens. And when players like Jack Nicklaus, Larry Nelson and Tom Watson line up their putts, MacEwen doesn't want any surprises.

To that end, MacEwen and his staff of two dozen have been grooming the already polished course to attain "tournament conditions."

"Part of the TPC philosophy is to provide tournament conditions year-round," MacEwen said. "A lot of our drawing card is the ability to play a tournament golf course. So we always want to try to give them the best product that we can."

But every year when the Verizon Classic (formerly GTE Classic) comes calling, MacEwen has to find a way to turn it up a notch.

The fairways will be firmer and cross-cut to create the checkerboard effect that looks good on television. Sand in the bunkers will be firm and hand raked. Most important, the greens will be speedier than usual and more challenging for the pros.

"Right now we're working on the wobble of the ball," MacEwen said, illustrating his point by rolling a golf ball across his tidy, wooden desk. As a ball slows down, it should maintain its line and not wobble from side to side, MacEwen said.

"You want it to roll just like it's rolling on glass," MacEwen said. To achieve that effect, groundskeepers will use push brooms to stand the grass up and mow the greens in opposite directions each day. "That way the ball rolls on the tops of the leaf blades, not on the side."

Normally, the greens have a Stimpmeter rating of about 9, but that will increase to about 11 for the tournament, MacEwen said. A Stimpmeter, invented in 1937 by Edward Stimpson, measures the relative speed of a green. Usually, greens at the U.S. Open, considered the toughest in golf, roll at about 12.

The work is painstaking and methodical, but necessary. Before the tournament begins, agronomy officials from the PGA Tour will conduct a thorough inspection of the course.

"Obviously, we're under more of a magnifying glass," MacEwen said. "More than we normally are. We're going over every little thing we can find."

Unlike golf courses that have access to reclaimed water, the TPC course has had to deal with stringent watering restrictions throughout the long drought. MacEwen said the course is allowed one three-quarter-inch application per week on the fairways and roughs. Greens and tee boxes are allowed three waterings a week.

For MacEwen, who traded a career in advertising for his current profession, the course has had his constant attention since Jan. 1, which was his last day off. Up until tournament time, his work week will run up to 70 hours.

But regardless of how much attention he gives the course, he'll need some help from Mother Nature.

"Now I just need some sunshine," he said.

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