By David McPherson, PGATOUR.COM contributor
As soon as the Zurich Classic of New Orleans is over each year Robb Arnold, the director of golf course operations at TPC Louisiana, sits down with the club's general manager and watches TV. Not just any program, though.
"We view the television coverage and look at areas that didn’t show up well on TV, and we try to fix them," says Arnold, who this week leads his sixth TOUR event at TPC Louisiana. “Then, we make sure all the things we do in the summer are to prepare the course for the following spring and next year’s tournament.
“Mother Nature throws a curve ball at us once in a while, so we are also constantly battling with that!”
Arnold leads a crew of 35 as they prepare the 7,520-yard layout, and this week the superintendent gets a little help from his friends. About a dozen of these 20 or so volunteers are from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), who, Arnold says have remained in the area since Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. Vendors also pitch in by helping fill divots and other maintenance tasks as needed.
“It’s tough to get volunteers,” Arnold comments. “I like to recruit students, but they are right in the middle of final exams this week and everybody else is right in the heart of their growing seasons, so it’s tough for them to come out.”
The warm winter allowed the Bermudagrass at TPC Louisiana to grow non-stop, so the course is in tip-top shape. Three years ago, the course stopped overseeding, allowing players to compete on a truer surface and not have to deal with the often-times finicky ryegrass. The Bermudagrass greens are currently running between 11 and 11.5 on the Stimpmeter. Arnold predicts come Sunday, they’ll be running closer to 12.
“Our goal is 11 to 11.5, but they usually pick up a little bit as we move into the weekend and they get drier and a little more firm.”
The week leading up to this week’s TOUR event saw about 3 inches of rain, which Arnold says is not ideal, but thanks to an excellent on-course drainage system, it didn’t take long to suck up all this moisture. Mother Nature has also sent New Orleans some windy, cool conditions this week, which always helps dry out the turf faster.
“The players don’t like the wind out here, but I think they will have to put up with seven- to 12-mile winds all week,” says Arnold. “That will make the course play a little longer for them.”
Arnold said there have been a few “competitive enhancements,” and subtle changes that players may or may not notice since the 2011 tournament. “We added a tee box to lengthen No. 13, we dropped a bunker face on 16, so the players would have a better line-of-sight to the landing area, and we reconfigured our greens complex on the 18th green to invite the players to try to hit that green in two,” he said.
Additional projects since the 2011 Zurich Classic include drainage work to make the landing areas firmer and faster, and topdressing those areas, along with the fairways and approaches, to keep the course playing quick.
“Every year, over the past four to five years, the conditions have gradually gotten firmer, faster and drier,” Arnold concludes. “That is exactly what we are shooting for.”