September 03, 2014
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
- A hailstorm over Father's Day Weekend presented some challenges to the crew at Cherry Hills Country Club. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The hailstorm that hit Cherry Hills Country Club over Father’s Day weekend was challenging enough. For superintendent Mike Burke, though, it was just the trigger point for an abnormal summer in getting the famed club ready to welcome the FedExCup Playoffs.
Cool and humid conditions have dominated the Denver area since then, including one deluge that helped spawn one of the wettest Julys on record.
“Very, very unlike Colorado,” said Burke, who has overseen Cherry Hills’ turf maintenance since 1998.
“It’s nice being a little cool, but the humidity has thrown us a few curveballs. We’ve had to do some pesticide applications that we normally wouldn’t do, but we had to stay ahead of the game. We’re just not used to humid.”
Before that became a worry, though, Burke’s staff faced a stiff greens restoration following the June 14 hailstorm that hit in the middle of the club’s annual member/guest tournament.
“We had pea-size all the way up to golf-ball sized hail,” Burke said. “We had to shovel off the greens to play the last six holes of the tournament. But the damage was pretty severe on the south side of the course.”
It certainly wasn’t the worst hailstorm to hit Cherry Hills. That came in July 1990, when hailstones left craters up to 4 inches wide and 2 inches deep just six weeks before the U.S. Amateur came to town.
Long hours by staff and volunteers managed to restore the course to championship condition in time for the Amateur, which was captured by Phil Mickelson. Overall, the storm’s $625 million in damages stood for a time as the world’s costliest hailstorm.
By comparison, Burke graded June’s storm as a 7 on a 10-point scale. Cherry Hills even remained open for Father’s Day, using heavy rolling to minimize damage to the greens, before the course was closed for repairs.
Crews aerified the greens with very small tines, adding a heavy topdressing of sand and fertilizer to jump-start new growth.
“They were back within 10 or 14 days,” Burke said. “Green speeds were a little slow due to the fertilizer, but it looked like nothing had happened.”
Before long, though, summer storms and humidity drew Burke’s attention. July and August bring an average rainfall of 3.85 inches to the Denver area, but that amount was matched in July alone this year. One July 30 storm brought more than 6 inches to some Denver suburbs.
And all the moisture brought out certain fungi typically not seen in the high country – dollar spot, anthracnose and fairy ring mushrooms.
If there’s a bright side to all the cool, moist weather, it’s that Cherry Hills’ water use is down 30 percent from the typical summer. “It’s good to be saving in some departments,” Burke said.
Forecasts this week call for a current warming trend to give way again to cooler temperatures starting Thursday. Saturday brings a slight chance of rain, though Burke isn’t putting much faith in predictions right now.
“They’ve been wrong more than they’ve been right this summer,” he quipped. “You’d have more luck just going outside and looking up.”
Arnold Palmer relives the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills