On the Champions Tour with Jeff Szklinski

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June 23, 2011
Jeff Szklinski

My name is Jeff Szklinski and I am interning for the Champions Tour this summer and am lucky enough to be on-site at En-Joie Golf Club for the Dick's Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, N.Y., for a few days.

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I am from State College, Penn. (home of the Penn State University Nittany Lions) and I am studying public relations at Penn State. This week I am getting the unique opportunity to see some of the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into operating a professional golf tournament.

I flew into Binghamton yesterday afternoon and actually sat behind Jay Haas on the plane and got to meet him at baggage claim before heading to the golf course. He wished me luck with the Tour and we parted ways. Throughout my time here I am hoping to share with you some of the cool things that I get to see and do.

Thursday

9:30 a.m. - Rules Tent

I walked down to the rules tent to meet with Butch Brooks, the tournament official on-site. When I got there I had the fortune of meeting Harry Schuemann, the top agronomist on-site at the tournament. I got to talk to Harry about what goes into preparing a golf course to be "tournament ready". He showed me some pictures of what En-Joie looked like just five weeks ago and some of what I saw was pretty bad. An entire fairway on the back nine was flooded with a great deal of water. There were a few greens that to be completely honest were in just awful shape because of the flooding as well.

Butch came into the tent right when I was finished looking at the pictures and told me we were going to drive around the course to show me a few things out there. He showed me some of the spots where the water had been so damaging, and it is remarkable how there is no sign at all of any damage and the entire golf course as a whole looks incredible.

Butch talked to me about how the course is set up from the hazard lines, to the yardages and the pin positions. He told me that I can help him set up the golf course tomorrow morning so I am excited to do that! He also told me about how he has to work with the golf course staff to establish the "local rules" for the golf course to help ensure that all of the players are aware of what they can and cannot do (I couldn't help but think of Dustin Johnson at Whistling Straits last year and how he could have spent an extra minute reading up on that before grounding his club in that bunker). Before Butch and I finished up on the course we drove past Fred Funk and I saw him stripe one right down the fairway on the front nine with his Pro-Am group.

10:30 a.m. - Media Center

I came into the media center to start writing this blog and had the good fortune of being introduced to Nick Price and was able to talk to him for a couple minutes before he started his interview at the podium under the bright camera lights. He asked where I was from and we talked about Penn State briefly and then he started telling us a little about his son. Soon I will be heading over to the net that is set up for fans to try out different clubs where Loren Roberts is coming to help promote the "Birdies for the Brave" event going on with Dick's Sporting Goods. For more information Birdies for the Brave, click here.

As I was just about to finish this post and head out the door I was lucky enough to be introduced to Hale Irwin, which was pretty cool, too.

11:45 a.m. -- Dick's Sporting Goods Interactive Area

I went over to meet with Loren Roberts at the large net that was set up for fans to hit balls into that was also hooked up to a simulator that would break down their shots which was really neat. I went to round up a few kids to hit with Loren so they could get some feedback from him which was great. We had some of the volunteers wearing the caddy bibs with Birdies for the Brave on them to try and help promote the event. After the event was almost over, Tom Watson walked through and some of the kids were pretty excited to see him too.

1:30 p.m. -- 18th hole broadcast booth

I got to stop in really quickly to see the view from the booth off of the 18th fairway which was exciting to see. The Golf Channel was filming a spot for the telecast in there with some Dick's Sporting Goods people.

2:15 p.m. -- 10th tee

On the walk back to the media center we ran into Dan Forsman, who won the Regions Charity Classic on the Champions Tour last season.

When I was introduced to him, I mentioned that I was a public relations major and we were discussing some companies that might need some extra PR help right now and we also talked about Rory McIlroy and how dominant he was, as well as the lack of American presence atop the leaderboard of majors as of late. Dan was a really great guy and I was happy to have met him.

Right now I am headed out to the course to watch some of the pro-am golf! Check back tomorrow for some more behind-the-scenes things!

Friday

I am back at En-Joie Golf Club this morning for the first round of the Dick's Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, NY. Today I am looking forward to seeing some really neat things that many do not get the opportunity to experience.

8:30 a.m. - Setting up the golf course

As soon as I got to the course today I went straight to the Rules trailer to meet with Butch Brooks to help him set up the golf course. When I got there he was ready to go set up the back nine.

We drove around the entire back nine setting up all of the tee markers, as well as marking where the pin positions would be for play tomorrow. We also carefully paced off each pin for today, making sure they were all in the spots that they were supposed to be and then paced off all of tomorrow's positions as well. We spray painted a tiny yellow dot on the greens for where the pins would be tomorrow, which Butch told me is something that the caddies would want to take note of when they are playing their first round today.

What was really cool was actually breaking down the thought process of why certain tees were put in certain spots and certain pins in there spots as well. We talked about how players could get penalized on certain holes even if they hit the fairway because some of the pins were really tucked in the corners of the green.

We also were careful measuring out all of the hole yardages from the tee box, keeping in mind that there were a few opportunities to place the tee markers in a place that may allow some players to try and drive the green.

It was a very informative experience and it was great to see all of the decisions and calculations that are made into creating a golf course that is both a challenge but also fair to the golfers.

11:30 a.m. -- Operations

I went over to the 10th tee to meet with Keith Newton, or Fig as everyone calls him, who is head of tournament operations for the Champions Tour. Fig has been working for the TOUR for 20 years now and I could tell right away that he is someone who really loves his job and really knows the ins and outs of how a golf tournament is put on.

We drove down to their truck where they keep track of all of the scoring for the tournament. Fig introduced me to some of the guys who are responsible for monitoring the scoring results which come directly from the 'honorary observers' for the tournament. These people are responsible for following a group of players for all 18 holes and keeping track of every shot that each player hits on every hole. They have a handheld device that allows them to punch in all of this information and it is set up where it then feeds directly into the guys in the truck so they can get the information "live" and online. It is a fairly complex system of technical things that are a little over my head to be honest, but the whole process seems to run pretty smoothly. Fig did say that when a transmission from one of the devices goes wrong there is a big red light that will flash in the operations truck and they will know right away that something needs to be fixed.

It really is amazing to me just how many people it takes to put on one of these tournaments. There are so many volunteers and "puzzle pieces" as Fig put it to actually pull off a successful event.

On our drive back up to the 1st tee we went right past the putting green. Fig went over to start talking to Jeff Sluman's caddie and introduced him to me. I told him I was a Penn State guy and he mentioned he and Sluman both were Florida State guys. Without missing a beat, I quickly said to him, "Ohhh, the Criminoles (referring to the football players at FSU who years ago who had to deal with a lot of off the field problems).

His caddie asked me when the last time my Nittany Lions had won a football national title(it was 1986, three years before I was born) and when Sluman came over to meet me his caddie mentioned what I had said. Sluman laughed and welcomed me to the TOUR but then walked to the first tee with a smile saying "I hope you are enjoying your good lacrosse program".

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