By David McPherson, PGATOUR.COM contributor
This week’s TOUR stop is the final event the pros have before The Masters and the year’s first major. Randy Samoff, superintendent at Redstone Golf Club in Humble, Texas, and his staff, are ready to test the pros with major-like conditions, too.
“The goal of our tournament is to get them to face similar conditions to what they will face at Augusta,” said Samoff, who leads a year-round crew of 40.
Getting the Tournament Course ready for this year’s Shell Houston Open was more challenging than previous years since Texas faced its biggest drought event of the past 100 years in 2011. The county where Redstone is located faced the most severe water shortages.
“In Houston, we are used to a lot of Gulf moisture,” Samoff explained. “Normally, we get 40 to 50 inches of rainfall, but last year we got only 14 or 15 inches. As soon as the tournament ended, we entered drought mode and had to conserve more water to make sure we had enough.”
Prior to taking the helm at Redstone in 2004, Samoff was an assistant at The Woodlands — the previous host of this week’s TOUR event. The key to getting a course ready for the world’s best players is starting early.
“Like I tell everybody, it’s a 12-month process,” he said. “As soon as the tournament is over, we are already thinking about what we are going to do for next year.”
Preparation for the TOUR event really ramps up in late October when Samoff and his crew start overseeding with ryegrass. “From there, it’s just a matter of refining and getting the right fertility,” he said. “Then, when March comes, it’s about high intensity mowing and constant grooming.”
Redstone’s greens are running fast; again, the course does its best to emulate the speed for which Augusta National is known. Samoff said the rough, which is about an inch and a quarter, is not a factor this week like it was last week at Bay Hill.
“This course is not as much about the rough … it’s more about the second shots into the green,” he said.
To make these approach shots more difficult, Samoff and his crew expanded The Tournament Course’s short grass areas around the following greens: No. 1, 5, 9, 12, 14, and 17.
“What we are trying to do is make any chip shot or short game shot around the greens that the players will face be either from the sand or from a short, tight fairway cut,” he explained. “That presents a number of challenges. The pros are pretty good at what they do, but I think they would prefer to hit out of a little bit of rough than try to hit from a tight lie.”
Other touches that TOUR players will notice this week are about aesthetics.
“All of our mowing patterns in our short grass areas are going to be from green to the tee,” Samoff said. “All of our rough heights are going to be the opposite … we are going to mow everything from tee to green, so you will get that sharp contrast of two different colors; it really stands out visually.”
One final touch that Samoff is proud of, and thinks will show well on TV, is that the player’s tees have been cut a little lower than the fairway height and they are in a square.
“When they stand on the tee box, instead of seeing eight to ten mowed out tees, players are going to see their tee box only and see the fairway, so it kind of gives them the impression that the course was made just for this event,” he concluded.
For more insight from Samoff on other turf and maintenance issues, see his blog at: http://www.redstonegolfclub.com/blog/ or follow him on Twitter @RedstoneSuper.