April 02, 2014
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
- A lake borders the challenging final hole at the Golf Club of Houston. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Shortly after arriving at the Golf Club of Houston, superintendent Mike Mefford was asked to compare the assignment to his previous job tending a course in Arizona’s high desert.
“In Arizona, I was bailing water onto the golf course, while here I’m bailing water off the course,” Mefford quipped.
Here’s hoping any bailing is kept to a minimum at this week’s Shell Houston Open.
Storms are in the forecast for three of the four tournament days, with the rain chance as high as 50 percent on Sunday. That could put a damper on the course’s ability to replicate the fast and firm conditions expected next week at the Masters.
Mefford, though, noted the Rees Jones layout undergoes a thorough program of coursewide rolling leading up to the tournament. That allows the course to repel plenty of water unless conditions get extreme.
“It goes a little bit against the rules of agronomy,” Mefford said, “but it lets us seal the upper layer of soil so that when we do get that rain, it gets water off the course and into our drains.
“In the event we get some weather, [the course] stays as dry as it can.”
The blueprint calls for rolling all tees and fairways as often as possible in the 60-day period leading up to the SHO. Greens, of course, are rolled on a daily basis and multiple times a day in the final preparation.
With this past winter bringing wetter conditions than normal, Mefford said, the entire course was rolled twice.
“That gets us through one or two days [of rain],” he said. “Unless we get into a situation where we have three or four consecutive days of heavy rain, we shouldn’t have a problem. But what I’m seeing on the radar doesn’t look too threatening yet.”
Forecasts call for isolated thunderstorms Thursday, with a cold front rolling in Friday night or early Saturday. High temperatures will dip from near 80 on Thursday into perhaps the mid-60s by Saturday.
The Shell Houston Open gets wide praise for its ability to simulate conditions Masters entrants might expect at Augusta National. Wide fairways give way to rough of no more than 1 ¼ inches, and short grass around the greens funnel rolloffs into chipping areas.
It’s a little different than Mefford’s previous post at Dove Mountain outside Tucson, Ariz., site of the Accenture Match Play Championship for the past six years. Frost and the occasional snowfall were the concerns there.
“The Houston Golf Association and PGA TOUR’s agronomy team have established such great standards,” he said. “So when I get here, it’s been laid out with all the things that worked in years past. We’re already set up for success in that regard.”