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June 5 2012

5:56 PM

Turf Talk: FedEx St. Jude Classic

By David McPherson, PGATOUR.com contributor 

This week marks “lucky" No. 13 for Jim Thomas.

The 13th PGA TOUR event the director of golf course maintenance operations at TPC Southwind has prepared for, that is -- seven years at the current host course and six at the tournament’s previous home (Memphis' Colonial Country Club). Through all these years of keeping the greens, what does he say is the biggest challenge when it comes to preparing for a TOUR event?

turf-talk-200 “Mother Nature.” Thomas said with a laugh. “If the weather is good, you can prepare the golf course agronomically and turf-wise. It’s a factor, though, that I can’t control.”

Case in point, a little over a week ago, Memphis absorbed 2.6 inches of rain in less than one hour. “The lakes came out of their banks and left debris, the pine straw was washed away, fairways were flooded, and bunkers were destroyed,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ crew had the course cleaned up and as good as new within about 36 hours. More rain hit Memphis on MMonday and Monday's pro-am was canceled because it was too wet. The forecast is good for the rest of the week, however, setting the course up for some great playing conditions for the pros and great viewing conditions for fans. 

Despite the heavy rains recently, Thomas says Mother Nature has been his ally more than his foe over the past year, so the course is in the best shape he’s ever seen it. “We have had a really good early spring; that, combined with a mild winter that caused no damage, means we are peaking at the right time,”
he said.

Thomas gives a shout out to the more than 60 volunteers from the area’s Golf Course Superintendent’s Association who pitch in throughout the tournament. “These colleagues and good friends allow me and my staff to do the little stuff that you really strive hard to achieve,” he said.

The only other major challenge the superintendent faces is grain management of the course’s Bermudagrass greens that the club converted to from Bent back in 2004, and which should run between 11.5 and 12 on the Stimpmeter this week. Thomas’s crew hand waters all the putting surfaces and uses moisture meters to make sure they are firm and fast (without burning out), which is the TOUR’s objective.

“We were lucky to start early last year with a good management program of verti-cutting and topdressing and using all the little tools such as brushes on our greens mowers and groomers,” Thomas said. “We feel like we made great progress through the summer. The proof will be in the pudding with the player’s opinion though.

“Ultradwarf Bermudagrass greens can be outstanding putting surfaces, but it takes a lot of cultural management to achieve.”

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