September 14 marked the 90th day the temperature has reached 90 degrees in Atlanta this summer.
Ralph Kepple, GCSAA certified golf course superintendent at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, is comfortable in that heat because the warm-season turfgrasses installed at East Lake in 2008 thrive in those conditions, providing a prime playing surface for the Tour Championship presented by Coca-Cola Sept. 22-25, the final event of the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup.
"We're in great shape," said Kepple, a 29-year member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. "We've been pretty dry this summer, so it's firm and fast, just the way the players like it."
For the first time in Kepple's 19 years at East Lake, there were no changes made to the golf course this year, allowing Kepple and his staff to focus on agronomic practices and the irrigation demands of the dry summer.
"Tropical Strom Lee was projected to bring 4-6 inches of rain earlier this month and we only got 1 ½ inches," Kepple said. "That was more than we got the whole month of August and half of July's total. So it's been a little challenging and labor intensive doing all the handwatering needed. The lake is 2 feet below normal and more bank is exposed than has ever been for this event."
Four years ago, a brutal summer that provided no rain and record heat had the then-bentgrass greens at East Lake reeling. The championship moved up almost two months in the Tour's schedule from late October or early November to mid-September for the FedExCup finale, which didn't leave enough time for the bentgrass greens to adequately recover from Atlanta's hottest summer on record in the midst of a drought.
The pro-am and practice rounds prior to the 2007 Tour Championship were canceled in an effort to preserve the suffering greens for tournament play. Kepple, who has a bachelor's degree in agronomy from Ohio State University, pulled East Lake through and then converted the greens to bermudagrass the following summer. The conversion to bermudagrass was deemed a success based on East Lake's particular location and microclimate. Under the expert care of Kepple and his staff, the greens have continued to improve as the turfgrass has matured.
"Ralph has a keen perspective on every square inch of the East Lake golf course, and he manages each of those inches as if they were all in the center of the 18th green," said GCSAA member Jeff Haley, PGA Tour agronomist. "He is an accomplished host to the PGA Tour players and is truly a leader in our profession."
Kepple has the MiniVerde bermudagrass greens at the home course of Bobby Jones cut at .140 inch and rolling smooth, fast and firm. The zoysiagrass fairways are mowed at .370 inch and are rolling very similar to the zoysiagrass fairways at Atlanta Athletic Club, which received rave reviews during the PGA Championship last month. With the lack of rainfall this summer, the 2 ¼-inch-tall bermudagrass rough may not be as thick as last year.
East Lake Golf Club has a fully computerized irrigation system, and all drainage on the property drains back to the irrigation source, which is East Lake. Located five miles from downtown Atlanta, East Lake Golf Club provides habitat for numerous wildlife within the city limits. Kepple oversees a staff of 26, including GCSAA members Kyle Johnson and Adam Wilhite, the assistant superintendents. They will be aided tournament week by a group of 45 volunteers made up of nearby superintendents, assistant superintendents, interns, turfgrass students and industry vendors.
East Lake was built in 1904 and is the oldest golf facility in Atlanta. It has hosted the Tour Championship every year since 2004, as well as in 2002, 2000 and 1998. East Lake also hosted the 2001 U.S. Amateur, the 1963 Ryder Cup, and the 1950 U.S. Women's Amateur. In preparation for the 1963 Ryder Cup, East Lake became one of the first golf courses in Atlanta to install bentgrass putting greens. With the conversion to MiniVerde bermudagrass greens in 2008, East Lake came full circle.
GCSAA is a leading golf organization and has as its focus golf course management. Since 1926, GCSAA has been the top professional association for the men and women who manage golf courses in the United States and worldwide. From its headquarters in Lawrence, Kan., the association provides education, information and representation to 19,000 members in more than 72 countries. GCSAA's mission is to serve its members, advance their profession and enhance the enjoyment, growth and vitality of the game of golf. The association's philanthropic organization, The Environmental Institute for Golf, works to strengthen the compatibility of golf with the natural environment through research grants, support for education programs and outreach efforts. Find GCSAA on Facebook, follow GCSAA on Twitter, and visit GCSAA at www.gcsaa.org.
For more information contact Bill Newton, GCSAA media relations manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, 800-472-7878