Turf Talk: Ohio State (Scarlet Course)
September 09, 2014
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
- The eighth hole on the Scarlet Course. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State University Golf Club consists of two courses: Scarlet and Gray. Club superintendent Dennis Bowsher takes pride in maintaining both, but when he goes out to play with his buddies and co-workers, he plays the Gray. Why is that? “Scarlet is a beast,” Bowsher said. "It'll beat you up."
That beast of the course is playing host to Web.com Tour and PGA TOUR professionals this week, as the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship marks the third leg of the Web.com Tour Finals. This marks the eighth season that the Scarlet Course in Columbus, Ohio, has held a Web.com Tour event, and it has drawn a reputation among players as being one of the Tour’s traditionally tougher tracks.
After Seung-Yul Noh shot 12 under for a five-stroke victory last year, the Scarlet Course underwent a "horrific winter" with a lot of snow and cold weather, as Bowsher described it. Consequently, the course lost quite a bit of turf – the worst level of winter turf damage Bowsher has seen in more than 27 years as a golf course superintendent.
It took a while for the Scarlet Course to recover, but Bowsher said the course has drastically improved this summer, particularly in the past three to four weeks.
“It was kind of random,” Bowsher said of the areas where turf damage was most pronounced. “There was some that was in the shade, and there were other spots where it was wide open. We’ve had experts in – from the University, the TOUR, and other superintendents – and we all scratch our head, trying to find one simple thing that you could point to. You really couldn’t, other than just a long, nasty winter.”
With the course recovered from last winter’s scare, Bowsher has turned his attention toward getting the track in tournament shape. The Scarlet Course’s bentgrass greens typically run at about 10 feet on the Stimpmeter, but the staff aims to have them running at about 12 feet for the tournament.
Bowsher wouldn’t want the greens to run any faster than 12, in deference to the putting surfaces’ undulating nature.
“We could go more than that, but we would lose our good hole locations,” Bowsher said. “These greens have a lot of contour and movement to them, and as you get above that, it gets to be goofy golf. You just want to make sure that the way the greens fall off, or the contours coming from the bunkers, that you don’t trick it up. The golf course doesn’t need to be tricked up.”
In explaining the Scarlet Course’s difficulty, Bowsher credits the need to hit a variety of shots with a variety of different clubs. The 1936 Alister MacKenzie layout was remodeled by Nicklaus Design in the mid-2000s, with an emphasis on restoring bunker shapes and contours to the original MacKenzie design, as well as lengthening certain holes to adapt to modern play.
Bowsher took the job at Ohio State University Golf Club as the Nicklaus redesign was being completed, and he noticed that one characteristic of the old-style course – discrepancy in fairway widths – was very much maintained. When a player misses a fairway this week, the punishment will be four-inch-thick, Kentucky bluegrass rough, which comes into play most when conditions are firm.
Bowsher and his staff have worked to create a firm and fast test for this week’s event, although he noted that potential midweek rains could soften the course quickly – forecasts call for thunderstorms on Wednesday night and into Thursday.
“We’ve been trying to dry things down and get it really, really firm,” Bowsher said. “It’s really good now, but that rain will soften it up. These guys are so good that when the greens get soft, it’s frustrating from our standpoint because they hit it and the ball stays right where they hit it. But we can’t control that.”
Ohio State students can play both the Scarlet and Gray courses at cost, and the Scarlet Course is home to the Buckeye men and women golf teams. Bowsher looks forward to the Jack Nicklaus Invitational, Sept. 28-29, which will bring together 12 men’s college teams for competition at the Scarlet Course.
After last winter’s turf scare, Bowsher and his staff take pride in the test they have put together for this week’s field. They look forward to seeing which players can make the grade.
“Coming from golf courses where you’re really under pressure to make birdie every hole or you’re losing ground, players come here and know they don’t have to make birdie every hole,” Bowsher said. “Some weeks you can miss the cut at 4 or 5 under par, but out here you know that if you’re at par, or 1 or 2 under, you’re right there all the time. There’s enough difficulty here that it carries on to that.”