By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
Though long days are the norm as final course preparations are made for a PGA TOUR event, Mike Giuffre can smile at the notion that fallen trees haven't played a large role at the AT&T National approaches.
Knock on wood.
“We’ll see how it pans out,” said Giuffre, Congressional Country Club’s longtime director of course maintenance.
Last year, Giuffre and his crews spent the weekend before the AT&T National cleaning up debris from severe storms that toppled a couple of tall white pines on the Blue course and brought down other limbs.
That was only the warm-up, though, for the powerful straight-line winds that wrecked the course after Round 2, prompting a “Silent Saturday” in which the third round was played without fans as cleanup work continued outside the ropes.
“The biggest exclamation point was put on it when that derecho came through,” Giuffre said.
More than 300 trees were damaged by the storms, Giuffre said, noting that full cleanup lasted into the late winter. Only a handful have been replaced, focusing on areas where how to play the hole was most affected.
“Those are what I call the strategic trees,” he said, mentioning a pine that tightened up the fairway at No.14 and new trees to preserve the dogleg at No.4. A tree uprooted near the edge of the pond that borders the par-5 sixth will get a replacement this fall.
Asked if Congressional’s Blue now had a more open look, Giuffre said no.
“While we had individual trees or groups of trees that we lost,” he said, “in a group we might have lost two or three out of the six or eight that were there. So in most cases, we still have a remaining stand of trees.”
Other than tree loss, the only change from last year’s AT&T National is the repositioning of two bunkers on the par-4 opening hole.
“Players could basically pop (their drives) over the top of them,” he said, adding that they didn’t present much of a challenge when fairways were narrowed for the 2011 U.S. Open. The new bunkers are tighter to the fairway as well as closer to the landing zone.
Giuffre will spend the week with his fingers crossed. Congressional caught a break Monday night when a line of storms split off, sparing the course while areas both north and south got pelted.
But with temperatures in the 90s typical for the Washington area, storms remain a daily possibility. Forecasts call for a 40 percent chance through Thursday, before jumping to 70 percent Friday. Sunday also carries a 60 percent of thunderstorms.
“The atmosphere is just juiced up right now,” said Giuffre, in his 14th year at Congressional. “We have the warmth moving up from the south and the last of the cold air draining out of Canada. Someplace those two masses will meet, and it typically happens to be this area.”