Rainy days and Monday at the PGA Championship

Mother Nature continues to challenge preparations for the 101st PGA Championship, but the Bethpage Black maintenance team is up to the test.


Black Course preparation
Bethpage Black director of agronomy Andrew Wilson (second from right) gives some pointers to his crew this morning on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y. Rain besieged the course Sunday and continued today, with more chances looming later on. Photos by Howard Richman

Ponchos appeared to be a big seller this morning at Bethpage Black. Umbrellas also came in handy. Although it was raining — again — GCSAA Class A superintendent Michael Hadley saw a silver lining somewhere beyond the blanket of clouds.

“I’m happy with the firmness of the greens. Happy to get a mow in, and a roll,” says Hadley of the course, where Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were strolling in the morning (both wearing stocking caps in the upper-40s temperatures).

Rain or shine — the latter of which is supposed to come by Wednesday — preparations are well underway for Hadley and the rest of the maintenance team ahead of the best golfers on the planet taking the spotlight at Bethpage Black on Thursday for the 101st PGA Championship.

For Hadley along with director of agronomy Andrew Wilson, their staff and 100 or so volunteers, today means there is a lot of catching up to do. Although the volunteers were in place Sunday evening, there was no walk-through for them because of the rain, which meant their 4 a.m. start today was a full, soggy, squishy plate.

Take a look inside Sunday’s meeting for volunteers at the 2019 PGA Championship:

“On-the-fly instructions” is how Bethpage Black construction superintendent Vincent Herzog termed today’s task. “We’re leaning on our assistants to guide the instruction,” Herzog says. Wilson added to the entire group, “We trust you guys. You are professionals.”

Yesterday made it back-to-back Sundays of Bethpage Black getting soaked. The previous Sunday, it was 1.4 inches. Yesterday’s total was 1.3 inches. When Wilson arrived this morning, much of the standing water had dissipated, and he immediately tested the greens. There was hope.

“They felt pretty firm. Firm enough to mow,” Wilson says. “Same with the tees. They had eight hours (of drying after the rain ended late Sunday night) to firm up. The tees were a little softer, but firm enough to mow. I’m pretty happy.”

Those assistant superintendents Herzog mentioned came through. They stuck around Sunday after most everybody else had left and got some important work done. “They used the water hogs — a sponge on a drum roller that sucks in the water,” Wilson says. “They stayed till after dark.”

The fairways weren’t mowed this morning and may not be until tomorrow afternoon. “We’re not going to push it,” Hadley says. “We’d been mowing pretty much every day up until yesterday. They’re in good condition.”

Max Ginty agrees. A volunteer on the maintenance team from Chenango Valley State Park in Chenango Forks, N.Y., Ginty is on bunker duty and getting his first taste of helping out for a major. “It’s amazing how well the course has stood up after the rain yesterday,” Ginty says. “This morning went well. We were here early, got our duties, and got after it.”

Black Course bunker
The bunkers at Bethpage Black, including this one off No. 18, have held up well despite the rain, which totaled 1.3 inches Sunday.

More rain is in the forecast this afternoon and perhaps into the evening. That may mean Tuesday morning will be a lot like this morning.

Hadley, cool and calm, smiles. “We’ll be OK,” he says. “I like where things are at.”

So does Lucas Glover. He won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage. “The course is perfect,” says Glover, who played the front nine today. “You guys have been pounded (by rain). It (course) is long and hard, how I remember it. The golf course is great. I love it.”

As Glover spoke in the media center, the noise of heavy rain pelting the tent overhead signaled those predicted afternoon storms had indeed rolled in.

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.