Tom Vlach, director of agronomy at TPC Sawgrass, expects the course to "play fantastic."
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
All those millions the PGA TOUR spent to overhaul the drainage at TPC Sawgrass seven years ago has delivered a huge return this week.
Little more than a day after storms dumped more than 10 inches of rain on the property in a 48-hour period, the Stadium Course was opened Sunday to pros wanting to get a head start on preparations for THE PLAYERS Championship.
And though the course remained closed to fans on Monday, practice rounds were fully available.
“They are the driest areas on the property,” Tom Vlach, director of agronomy at TPC Sawgrass, said of the fairways and greens.
“I’m not concerned about the golf course at all. It’s going to play fantastic. It’s these areas where spectators would be trying to get into bathrooms and drinks and all that. That’s where we need to focus our attention now.”
In anticipation of THE PLAYERS’ move to May, every inch of the Stadium Course was returfed to address drainage problems that came to the forefront during March’s often-squally weather.
Fairways were scalped, new drainage technology installed and a 6-inch layer of sand laid down before the new grass went on top. Underneath each green is a Precision Air suction system to pull the moisture out.
“We’re almost at tournament moisture on the greens already,” said Vlach, adding that mowers were on the fairways by midday Sunday.
“In the past, these fairways would be muddy. We’re going to be firm and fast by the time they tee off Thursday, which is unbelievable.”
Even with all the modern technology, more than a dozen pumps were needed to keep the lakes from overflowing onto the golf course. In addition, the canal that rings the property needed to be held back.
Metal levees were raised as high as they could go to hold the canal back, while pumps moved water from inner lakes to the canal at a rate of about 5,000 gallons per minute. Larger pumps – about 80,000 gallons a minute – then pushed the runoff to the Intracoastal Waterway.
“If we didn’t have these pumps, we would have been in serious trouble,” Vlach said.
Even so, a certain amount of overflow couldn’t be avoided. The ninth and 18th fairways suffered some minor flooding, and for a while the famed 17th green really was an island – a part of the walkway was under water.
Vlach also praised the Jacksonville Electric Authority, which made extra pumps available and manned the site during the overnight hours. “I can’t say enough about what they did for us,” he said.
The Stadium Course also caught a break late Saturday when a major cell passed just south of the course. Less than five miles away, that storm dumped some 3 inches of rain on areas near St. Augustine.
The biggest job facing Vlach’s crews after the storms was to rebuild each of the more than 80 bunkers on the course. Some 200 tons of new sand was laid down after they scraped off top layers that had been contaminated with silt.
Spectator areas, which don’t drain as well, required more work. In some places, crews were using backhoes to dig out the mud and replace it with gravel, with pine straw laid down over the top.
The hope is that when the gates open to spectators Tuesday, the place will look as though it went through a mild storm instead of the deluge that fell last week. And the good news is that the chance of rain is scant until Sunday’s final round.
“We’re staying positive,” Vlach said. “They can’t keep us down for long.”