More than 150 of the world's best golfers are in the Twin Cities for this week's Professional Golfer's Association championship tournament. Maintenance crews have been out on the course for weeks, grooming the grounds at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska. Putting on one of the golf world's biggest events means mobilizing a small army of staff and volunteers.
When the course superintendent provides a tour of the Hazeltine golf course, it starts from the holes closest to the maintenance shed. Steering his golf cart past several spotless greens and immaculate fairways, Jim Nicol pulls up to the course entryway. The cigar stub in his mouth wags from side to side as he marvels at the hospitality tents, gardens, and first aid station that have sprouted here this summer.
"This was just a field two months ago. It's just amazing how this has transformed since the middle of June. It's been fun to watch, and the people involved in it have been just great to work with," says Nicol.
Workers from the company that supplies the tents are here from Los Angeles. The bleacher people have come from Virginia. Decorators from Miami and New York are on hand. They've all descended on 180 acres on the northern edge of Chaska.
Nicol says he's taken on 60 volunteers to supplement the nine full-time staff members who care for the Hazeltine golf course. There are high school and college students, some of them enrolled in turf grass programs. Some of the volunteers are new to Hazeltine, but Nicol says there are plenty of tasks to go around.
"Some of the people that haven't worked out here before - they're going to be doing jobs like taking hand broom rakes and fluffing up the rough in the drive zone so it's not laying down, and going around the green complexes and fluffing those up. We call them rough fluffers," Nicol laughs.
The grounds crews put each of Hazeltine's 18 holes through a grooming routine every day. Normally, these morning makeovers begin at 6 a.m., and the crews finish the last hole around by 10 a.m. This week, they're starting under floodlights at 5 a.m. to finish by 7:15 a.m., just as the first pros are teeing off. Nicol says finishing their work in half their normal time takes extra equipment, as well as additional personnel.
"We'll have 12 hand green mowers every morning, 14 fairway mowers, four mechanical bunker rakes if we do use them. Otherwise there will be 15 to 20 people hand-raking bunkers," says Nicol.
It appears to take a village to put on a tournament of this magnitude. But the population of this hamlet will grow by 40,000 to 50,000 as the spectators begin flowing into the Minnesota River valley. There's no getting around the reality that the traffic will be thick.
To make it more manageable in the immediate vicinity of the golf club, authorities will prevent fans from driving directly to Hazeltine. Spectators will instead leave their cars at Canterbury Park, the horse race track in Shakopee. Shuttle buses will make the 20 to 30-minute trip from there to Hazeltine. If bad weather forces suspension of play, fans will have to retrace their steps.
Carver County's Director of Emergency and Risk Management, Scott Gerber, says officials have contingency plans ready.
"Now, evacuating 40,000 people from that area isn't any small task. But...we think we've got a good plan in place logistically to be able to say, 'Let's move people from the course back to the buses or back to the car so they can get back to their vehicle at Canterbury Downs,'" says Gerber.
A sudden lightning strike proved fatal to one fan at Hazeltine during the 1991 U.S. Open. Gerber says precautions at golf tournaments have advanced over the past decade.
"You have to hit every shot very, very precise. And you have to be very precise in how you play the course...Otherwise, you're going to get penalized."
- U of M men's golf coach Brad James, on the Hazeltine course
"The key is really early warning. There's a company on site from the Mobile Weather Team, as well as staff from the PGA. And their primary responsibility for the week is to monitor the weather and help make those types of calls for us," Gerber says.
Well-tended greens, timely shuttles, and accurate forecasts would all contribute to a successful tournament. But experts say what really brings a world-class golf event to Hazeltine is the design of the course.
Brad James, who coached the University of Minnesota men's team to the NCAA golf championship this year, says Hazeltine gives golfers options in deciding how to play a hole. But if the plan of attack is bungled, James says the course is unforgiving of mistakes. And that, he says, is part of what separates it from a run-of-the-mill golf course.
"You have to hit every shot very, very precise. And you have to be very precise in how you play the course - in course management. Otherwise, you're going to get penalized," says James.
Practice rounds at the PGA championship run Monday through Wednesday. Tournament play begins Thursday and continues through Sunday.More Information