On the Champions Tour with Jeff Szklinski

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June 24, 2011
Jeff Szklinski

Friday

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

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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, 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 their 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. They 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 first 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, "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".

1:15 -- First Tee

I've been able to pretty much just hang out around the first tee for the last hour or so and watch all of the groups start their round.

Two of the great groups I have seen went off at 1:35 p.m. (Tom Lehman, John Cook, Jay Haas) and 1:45 p.m. (Fred Funk, Tom Watson, Nick Price).

Before Jay teed off he spotted me and asked me if I was enjoying my time here so far. I told him I most certainly was and wished him luck on the course.

Fortunately for me, Fig was standing around the first tee when Watson came through and pulled Tom aside to introduce him to me. Fig told him I go to Penn State and Tom asked me if I was excited to play Nebraska in football this year (Nebraska just joined the Big Ten conference). I told him I definitely was.

Right now I think I will go out and try and catch some of the action on the course and maybe try and find a group to follow. In the media center we just got word that Watson birdied the first hole. I can only imagine the excitement in the gallery following that group with that news.

Looking forward to the Maroon 5 concert tonight following the golf. The stage is almost all set up by the 18th green right now. What a great experience this has been for me so far and I can only hope that more fun awaits!

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