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updated: 8/2/2012 10:44 AM

Ryder Cup: Groundskeeper battles drought, heat

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  • The historic clubhouse at the Medinah Country Club will be the focal point for the 2012 Ryder Cup in late September.

    The historic clubhouse at the Medinah Country Club will be the focal point for the 2012 Ryder Cup in late September.
    Photo by Evan Schiller

  • Curtis Tyrrell

    Curtis Tyrrell


"Panic mode" is precisely what Curtis Tyrrell wants to avoid in the hot, dry weeks leading up to the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.

Instead, the Huntley resident and director of golf course operations is getting creative, using technology to make sure the weather-challenged course is in top shape for the Sept. 25-30 event.

In a tour this week of the grounds, Tyrrell, in his fifth season at Medinah, spoke candidly about what fills his 14-hour workdays, and the extra precautions he's taking (hint: greens may put a bit slower) in preparation for the tournament.

Q. Are you in "panic mode" at this point, less than two months out from the Ryder Cup?

A. I would say that panic mode is the mode I want to avoid at all costs for sure. But we are in all hands on deck, full steam ahead mode for sure. June 4 we began Ryder Cup construction. The total area that we're building on is 46 acres -- it's quite a large build. When we started that, that was the trigger point to the crazy time.

Q. Are all three of Medinah's courses operational at this point?

A. We shut down the back nine on one of the courses. That whole entire back nine is now being utilized for staging, hospitality tents, and it's actually going to be part of the main entrance for the patrons.

Q. How has the heat affected things for you?

A. It's been tough. We were hoping for something a little more normal. 2010 and 2011 were far from normal, with flooding rains in both years. We thought we had seen the worst of it.

And now we've tipped it and gone to the other extreme with this drought.

We've installed fans on parts of the course where air movement is bad, to keep air moving across the grass and try to control temperatures a little bit. That allows the grass to breathe, keeps it pulling up water out of the roots and functional.

Q. How much more are you watering?

A. Well, I would say that up until a week-and-a-half ago, we put down more water in May and June than we did the entire seasons of 2010 and 2011.

We use things like wetting agents, that help us break up and penetrate the (soil). Irrigation management has definitely been a big challenge. There's a lot of soil chemistry involved, both fertility wise and chemical wise.

Q. What about the different types of grass on the course?

A. The greens are 100 percent creeping bent grass and the tees are also creeping bent grass. The fairways are 50-60 percent creeping bent grass and annual blue grass. And the roughs are Kentucky blue grass with a little bit of rye grass in them.

Q. Does the heat affect the length of the grass?

A. When you get into these real stressful periods, we're far in excess of what these grasses are able to handle, one way that we combat that is we raise mowing heights and reduce mowing frequency.

We normally mow the greens at .125 of an inch, and we're moving them now at .150 inches. The fairways are up a little bit too … the rough as well. That does translate into a little different playability.

The greens putt a little slower and things aren't as smooth, but that's strictly a conservative, defensive approach we need to take.

Q. When do you start moving the pins?

A. We set the golf course up every day. We move the hole locations and the tee markers every day to spread wear out.

When you get to the tournament, the Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and the PGA America will decide.

They'll determine that a few weeks out, and we'll stay away from those areas to protect them. The setup of that particular day will happen an hour or two before the first group goes off.

Q. When does your day start these days?

A. Right at 4:45 a.m. is when we begin every day. I live in Huntley, so I have to get up at 3:15. It's a long day, this time of year, but for all of us superintendents in Chicago it's like that when the season starts it's 12-14 hours every day, tournament or not. When fall comes upon us, the days start getting shorter.

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