June 19 2013
TPC River Highlands is prepped to test players' shotmaking skills. (Rogash/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
Positioned as his event is following the U.S. Open, Tom DeGrandi is bound to hear the question from at least a few casual fans strolling his course.
“Why can’t you guys do that every week?”
Translation: Why isn’t every PGA TOUR stop set up to be the ultimate test of the world’s best golfers?
Given the orders, DeGrandi certainly has the ability to narrow the fairways for the Travelers Championship and put greens on the edge of the speed limit. He has plenty of lush rough to work with this year.
But in the end, that’s not the challenge the TPC River Highlands was meant to produce.
“We’re not the U.S. Open,” said DeGrandi, now in his 20th year as director of golf course maintenance at the layout that overlooks the Connecticut River.
River Highlands, rather, was meant to showcase players’ shotmaking ability as opposed to their survival skills. All but one of the past 15 editions have produced a winning score of at least 14-under par, which happens to be Marc Leishman’s winning score last year.
“This will be like a finely mowed lawn compared to what they saw at Merion,” said DeGrandi.
Until the remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea dropped buckets of rain all along the East Coast two weekends ago, preparations were fairly stress-free for DeGrandi and his staff. The course took nearly 9 1/4 inches of rain in an eight-day span that ended last Thursday.
Though damage from all the rain was minimal, the soft ground forced workers to cool their heels for a few days.
“After that much rain, it’s sort of ‘Do No Harm,’ ” DeGrandi said. “You could say, ‘Let’s cut’ and now you’ve got tire marks in your turf. There’s a lot more downside than upside, when you could just wait a day and have a much better outcome.”
Crews got caught up just in time for players’ arrival on Monday. And though the bentgrass greens might not be quite as fast to start as officials would like, the tradeoff is that the 4-inch rough will be U.S. Open quality.
“Get that moisture in there with the fertilizer, and the rough gets crazy thick,” DeGrandi said.
River Highlands also will feature a new look at the par-4 seventh hole, which had been fairly nondescript in past years. Eleven new trees were planted along the fairway’s left side, with new mounding also boosting the challenge.
“I think it’s going to toughen up that hole by maybe a half-shot,” DeGrandi said.
Even so, it isn’t meant to be compared to the U.S. Open. DeGrandi suggested it wasn’t much different than what anyone might want at their own place of work.
“If you take the most stressful week in your job and have that be every week,” he said, “you’d hate your job. Those weeks mentally wear them out. It’s exciting to watch, but you can’t do that every week.”