The touring pros
arrived on Monday morning, May 1, and started tearing into this pristine sward
as if they suspected diamonds were hidden in the topsoil. "The pros know
how to take divots," said Owens Sherard, a greenkeeper with 30 years of
experience who was looking after the range for course superintendent Jeff Kent.
Aaron Baddeley, for instance, has mastered what is known as the Vijay Singh
Strip--long, straight paths separated by narrow grass medians. Todd Hamilton,
on the other hand, produces short divot plumes that flare in all directions.
(He changes targets constantly to avoid locking into a bad alignment.) Jesper
Parnevik's divot strip is practically a trench.
No one is prouder
of the design of his earthworks than Pernice, who carves rows of perfect
dollar-bill-sized rectangles separated by grass margins. "It's my
trademark," Pernice says. "The face stays square through the hitting
area and the toe of the club doesn't turn over during the shot." He shrugs
modestly. "I've spent some hours on this thing."
At the end of the
day all those divots have to be filled in. This work is done by elves, who slip
onto the range at twilight, after the last player has gone. The divot mix at
the Wachovia was a simple 50-50 combination of sand and soil. No seed was
necessary, Kent explained, because the players were hitting off a carpet of 80%
perennial rye and 20% fine fescue, all of which would soon go dormant. "The
bermuda," he said, "is ready to come out."
logistical challenge on a Tour range--no disrespect to the elves, who have to
get up before dawn to mow the grass by headlights--is ball picking, washing and
sorting. Five thousand golf balls sounds like a lot, but a Tour pro will hit
anywhere from two to 10 bags of balls a day, with each bag holding about 38
balls. ("You do the math," said Baldwin.) In addition, huge buckets of
brand-new Titleist NXTs were set out for amateurs playing in the Monday and
Wednesday pro-ams. To retrieve and sort all that ordnance, Baldwin and Lawton
had recruited a half-dozen volunteers a day, most of them club pros or students
from their golf programs.
though not rocket science, is at least mechanized. From 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
someone from the range crew was either driving a utility cart with a gang
picker attached or pouring oil into the cart's balky engine. Other volunteers
walked the tree lines, tees and greens, the balls disappearing up aluminum
tubes into red shag bags. The bunkers, alas, had to be picked by hand, and this
was not possible when players were hitting. "Sometimes the pros use the
bunkers as targets," Baldwin explained, "so you'll have three or four
hundred Callaways and Bridgestones tied up until we can get out there and
Tired of standing
on the range, I went out a couple of evenings and helped pick the bunkers. All
I had to do was scoop up as many balls as I could and hurl them down the hill,
where the gang picker could collect them in an efficient sweep or two. "Am
I doing it right?" I asked Baldwin. He said, "You're coming over the
I could have
volunteered to sort balls, as well, but I was content to watch. All day long,
range assistants would take one scrubbed ball after another out of a wire
bucket and toss it into another wire bucket, according to brand. This reminded
me of certain Chinese restaurants, where the staff sits around a table in the
afternoon, shelling peas and folding wontons. (When Tiger Woods plays in a
tournament, the range workers have to separate his Nikes from all the other
Nikes. "They look the same," an assistant told me, "but his balls
have a little tw on them.")
evening the range crew sorted balls so late that they had to use the light from
their cellphones to tell the Pro V1s from the Pro V1xs.
"Was it last
year when the dog bit the assistant?" Baldwin asked.
Lawton replied. "Last year was when the trick-shot artist flattened the guy
at the end of the range with his drive."