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Superintendent Readies Storm-Damaged Shoal Creek for Regions Tradition


Jim Simmons has removed 3,000 trees over the last 18 months in a campaign to improve growing conditions at Shoal Creek Golf Club, which this week will host the Champions Tour's first major of the season, the Regions Tradition.

The turfgrass was competing for sunlight, air movement, water and nutrients. So losing another 25 trees in a storm last week won't change the way the course plays. It wasn't the best timing for Simmons, the golf course superintendent at Shoal Creek the last 35 years, to move cleaning up debris to the top of his list of finishing touches on the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout in Birmingham, Ala.

"It was such a helpless feeling watching that storm head our way Tuesday night," said Simmons about the first of the series of severe storms that ravaged much of Southeast last week. "Then at the last minute it seemed to slide just to the south of us. Straight line winds the next morning took out more than 800 trees at a course two miles away and we only lost 25.

"We were extremely lucky. The bad storms that came later that afternoon just missed us to the north and we only received a half-inch of rain. We were very fortunate."

The Tradition, the Champions Tour's fourth of five majors and played in August in central Oregon, was moved into the Regions Charity Classic spot this year, becoming the over-50 circuit's first major championship of the season. Simmons and Shoal Creek are familiar holding big events as the club hosted two PGA Championships (1984, 1990) and a U.S. Amateur (1986). Simmons prepared the course for those three tournaments as well as the 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur.

"The biggest difference this time is only having eight months to get ready instead of five years for the PGA Championship," said Simmons, a 39-year member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA).

"My biggest concern was having this in May, because we¹ve never had the bermudagrass green by then, or much rough. It seems like all spring we've either had record high temperatures, or cloudy and rainy, with nothing in-between, or any consistency. The fairways are June green and the rough is 2¼ inches tall. The greens are fast, firm and right where the tour wants them. The tour players who have been out here already have been very complimentary and our members are pleased as well."

Fairway bunkers were added in the landing areas of hole Nos. 2 and 6 this year, Simmons converted the bentgrass tees to a more shade-tolerant zoysiagrass this year, and some back tees built for the 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur will be used this week. Few of the trees lost in last week's storms were in-play and none will affect strategy. Simmons, who has a turf management degree from Michigan State, manages many grass types at Shoal Creek. The zoysiagrass tees lead to bermudagrass fairways that are lined with a mixture of Kentucky bluegrass, bermudagrass and fescue rough. And the greens are bentgrass.

Simmons supervises a staff of 30 at Shoal Creek, a number that doubles this week as volunteers comprised of nearby superintendents, assistant superintendents, turfgrass students, vendors and an extensive mentoring network of former employees, will lend Simmons and his staff a hand.

The above article is courtesy of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. For more information, visit www.gcsaa.org.