Tournament director: “If anything, I’d say we’re ahead of schedule”

Posted: March 9, 2015 6:56 pm

The U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club is about 16 weeks away.

The United States Golf Association formally opened the event to entries Thursday.

But golf-appropriate weather seems almost unimaginable at this moment near the end (it is hoped) of a hideous winter.

As the snow fell and piled up on the fifth day of March it was hard not to wonder: Has this winter now been ridiculous enough, for long enough, to impact any aspect of preparations for the Open?

The short answer, apparently, is no.

Construction of the temporary mini-city that a modern Open venue amounts to, and serious grooming of the course, are still far off.

“From an operations standpoint, there’s just a lot of internal grinding going on right now,’’ tournament director Barry Deach said Thursday.

“This is the paperwork phase. Lots of spreadsheets and lists, lots of fine-tuning plans. If anything, I’d say we’re ahead of schedule.’’

A golf course is an ecosystem. Courses generally handle winter well, and LCC handles it better since its greens were seeded with bent grass, replacing less-hearty poa annua, in 2009.

Snow cover can even be a good thing, since it acts as insulation, although some of LCC’s greens have now been covered by snow and ice for two months.

That’s a long time, Todd Bidlespacher, the club’s Director of Golf Course Operations, said Thursday during a break from, yes, snow removal.

“I’m anxious to see (the greens) after 60 days of snow cover, but we should be fine,’’ Bidlespacher said.

Wild up-and-down temperature swings can be hard on golf course grass, especially post-thaw.

But Bidlespacher said even if high temps reach 50 degrees this week, as is predicted, that’s not nearly wild enough.

“One good thing is this winter has been pretty consistently cold,’’ he said. “If it was going up to 70, then down to freezing, that back-and-forth thing would be a problem.’’

Bidlespacher does worry about things, but that’s always a sizable part of a greenskeeper’s gig. For example, the Conestoga River and its tributaries, which wind through the course, had a relatively high water level before the winter.

When the big thaw comes and water starts moving, lower parts of the course could be vulnerable to water damage.

LCC’s sixth hole, for example, is a scenic par-3 with a green so close to a creek that well-struck tee shots sometimes land on the green and backspin into the water.

“I always fear everything melting too fast,’’ Bidlespacher said.

But that’s every year, every spring thaw.

Even with the mildest winter, an Open-ready golf course in March is neither possible nor desirable.

The serious work of Open prep, getting the course hard and fast and the rough the right graduated length, is months away.

By then, it is hoped, this winter will have long since faded in the rear-view mirror.