Posted: July 8, 2015 7:01 pm
The riding mowers roared to life before dawn.
With headlights knifing the darkness, a dozen set out Wednesday across Lancaster Country Club’s championship-level golf course.
Every rough, fairway, approach, collar, green and tee box required a trim before the golfers arrived at 6:45 a.m. for their final practice rounds of the U.S. Women’s Open.
Cutting the grass couldn’t wait for the sun. Nor could raking bunkers, rolling greens and hauling off grass trimmings.
About 4:30 a.m., as a half moon slipped behind thickening clouds, Mike Yelenosky scooted off in a golf cart to check on the work.
Burly, chatty and detail-oriented, Yelenosky is the golf course superintendent. It was the third day of the week-long tournament, and he seemed to be running on coffee and adrenaline.
The best women golfers in the world were competing on the course he has fussed over for 10 years.
“It’s definitely very exciting,” Yelenosky said. “But my No. 1 task is not to sit back and say, ‘Oh, we’re hosting the Open.’ My job is making sure my staff is doing the job.”
Yelenosky had his regular crew of 42 to supervise. But he also was relying upon 55 volunteers, mostly professional groundskeepers from golf courses as far away as Los Angeles.
Many were supervisors of their own courses back home. But they’re happy to show up at prestigious tournaments to do the grunt work and to do it well.
“What you get is a bunch of guys that know what they’re doing collectively, working toward the same goal,” said Geoffrey Barber, the assistant superintendent at Kirtland Country Club in Willoughby, Ohio.
Barber’s job was to rake several of the 60 sand bunkers on the course. He returned each evening to fill dozens of divots.
Barber and other volunteers from out-of-town were staying in dormitories at Millersville University.
“It’s a brilliant experience,” said David Houston, a student from Ireland serving an internship at Saucon Valley Golf Course near Bethlehem. “They’re looking after us so well.”
He liked the meals and missed his tea.
Tooling around in a cart, Yelenosky shouted greetings to staff — “Dave, you good?” — and talked frequently with others by portable radio and cell phone.
An hour into the morning work, Yelenosky was glad he had not heard from Darin Bevard, a representative of the United States Golf Association with a noteworthy title: director of championship agronomy.
Bevard’s job is all about the grass, and he was out and about checking on the pampered, tidy course, paying close attention to the greens.
“I believe the USGA is very happy,” Yelenosky said. “They won’t tell you that, but it’s one of the situations that no news is good news.”
Besides Bevard, other USGA workers were collecting data about the greens — their moisture content and their “speed.”
Speed is measured by how far a golf ball, released from an incline, rolls on a flat surface.
“I want them (to roll) 11 to 11-and-a-half” feet, Bevard said.
And Wednesday the greens were cooperating.
“No issues at all this morning,” Bevard said, speaking before asking Yelenosky to cut and roll the 15th green a second time.
By 7 a.m most of the mowers, rakers, blowers, hole cutters, clippings collectors and other workers had returned to the maintenance area for breakfast: an egg croissant, hash browns and banana. No tea.
“Overall, I’m very happy with the way everything is shaking out,” Yelenosky said.
But his day was far from over.
After lunch, he would meet with his bosses and USGA staff to address any concerns. And around 6 p.m., after every golfer had finished her round, Yelenosky’s crew would head out yet again to mow, rake, fix divots and attend to every other detail a championship demands.
“Sleep? I don’t need sleep,” Yelenosky told a crew member. “It’s over-rated.”