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TPC Sawgrass Superintendent Has Course Ready for Players Championship


Superintendent Tom Vlach weathered the coldest winter on record to bring the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., back to championship caliber for The Players, May 6-9.

"2010 has been completely different weather-wise for us compared to years past," wrote Vlach on his TPC Sawgrass golf course maintenance blog (www.tpcsawgrassmaintenance.blogspot.com). "We had a devastating winter. We were completely dormant on the golf course and greens for 15 weeks. In the past two years we were dormant maybe two weeks and never lost color in the fairways. We covered the greens 36 times this winter and we only covered greens an average of two nights a winter in the past. Needless to say, we had very little recovery potential from play. We played more than 200 rounds of golf a day leading up to the close down period. The greens were worn out, especially in entry and exit points for the greens."

Winds coming off the neighboring Atlantic Ocean, which dipped to 63 degrees this winter, kept the air temperature at TPC Sawgrass cooler longer than usual. Vlach was able to borrow two portable Precision Air units that serve as heaters to raise soil temperatures on No. 13 and No. 17 greens last month. Spring reluctantly arrived in April as temperatures finally reached a bermudagrass-favorable 80 degrees for the first time in 108 days.

"We closed the course to the public on April 12," said Vlach, a 21-year GCSAA member and University of Wisconsin graduate with a bachelor's degree in soil science. "Since then our staff has filled every single divot on the golf course and verti-cut and topdressed the greens. We topdressed all the tee boxes, approaches and weak fairway spots, edged all the bunkers, cart paths and irrigation heads, repaired worn out bunker faces, fertilized the property, added landscaping, and spread 22 semi-trailer truck loads of pine straw."

With the key agronomic care combined with taking foot traffic off the course and cooperative warm weather returning the last three weeks, the MiniVerde bermudagrass greens have fully recovered. Vlach and fellow-GCSAA member Clay Breazeale, senior assistant superintendent for the Players Stadium Course, have the greens rolling smooth and measuring 12 feet on the Stimpmeter. The bermudagrass rough is 2 inches high in the in-play areas and 2 34 inches around the greens, but not as thick as in the past due to limited growing temperatures this spring.

Other than the effects of the cold winter, the only changes to the golf course this year include a large, new spectator mound behind No. 2, open air-conditioned seating behind No. 18 green, and a new 17,000-square-foot tent with outdoor seating located between No. 9 and No. 18 called The Turn.

TPC Sawgrass is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Using surface, run-off and effluent water for irrigation, TPC Sawgrass utilizes a system for micro feeding nutrients through the irrigation system to conserve water. A past GCSAA/Golf Digest Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards winner, TPC Sawgrass has also received a Sustainable Florida Best Practice Award in the non-profit category from the Governor of Florida. TPC Sawgrass partnered with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to host an environmental outreach seminar for golf course managers and superintendents about environmental stewardship, February 24, 2010.

TPC Sawgrass was designed by World Golf Hall of Fame member Pete Dye, a member of The Institute's Advisory Council and winner of GCSAA's highest honor in 2003, the Old Tom Morris Award. Dye led a $60 million renovation of TPC Sawgrass in 2006 that brought new drainage and irrigation systems and Sub-Air systems to each green, which were re-grassed with MiniVerde bermudagrass. The renovation coincided with a new, gigantic clubhouse and the PGA Tour moving the Players Championship from March to May - eliminating the need to overseed.