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The Reality of the US Open Golf Championship Has Nothing To Do With The Reality of Golf

Dave Wilber


I am never ever ever ever (did I say never ever?) going to take away from the hard work of any golf course superintendent, any staff member or any volunteer for any event. Ever.


And this is especially true in 2016 with John Zimmers. I've admired John for years for all kinds of reasons. His commitment to Oakmont is a model of what adapted stewardship in our business needs to be. That is to say, John brings Oakmont exactly what Oakmont needs. And like any upper-end country club job, it is political, it is difficult, it is clueless members with fat wallets, it is connected members with fat wallets. That's the scene. And while many aspire to that level, not as many can actually kick its ass. John has done that. And I am sure there are costs that none of us will ever know or understand to John and his wife, Tracey.



There's a lot of focus on the 2016 Open. It is the history and greatness of Oakmont. It is Fox Sports. It is the USGA. It is Pittsburg. It's Holly Sonders' curves. And perhaps most importantly it is post-2015. Because while many disagree on the what's, how's and why's of the 2015 Open at Chamber's Bay, we can certainly agree that there was a lot of negative chatter. A lot of people weighing in while having little or no clue about what they were talking about. Design. Agronomy. Weather. It was in many ways, a public show of tossing monkey shit.


So here we come to 2016 and nobody wants to see a repeat shit show. Especially the USGA. Especially Mike Davis. Especially Fox Sports. Nobody wants to have Donald Trump declare it ugly like he did with Pinehurst #2. Nobody wants to see Billy Horschel have a three-year-old hissy fit in HD. 


Are you getting the picture here?


As I write this on Friday AM, the new star of the show is Thursday Rain. Rendering the "don't talk to me, I'm the hottest chick you have ever seen" Oakmont, a little more friendly "I'm just Jenny from the block" kind of vibe. Of course, this also means that some players are going to have to play 36 holes. Oh well. 


But none of this is a reality. None of it. It is what it is. A story. A unique story.


Here is some reality. While this is all going on, while the Oakmont Goddess is getting all the adornments, the rest of the golf business must function in sweats and tee shirts. Like it usually does. Yes, Oakmont will be on the flat screens at the course, and the centerfolds will be bathroom reading material. But for thousands and thousands of golf courses, things are what they are and what they will always be. The early summer grind. That's reality.


...we can watch the 2016 US Open golf Championship with a degree of reverence for what it is. But I for one will be thinking of the thousands (yes, thousands) of greenkeepers and their staffs who hold down the fort without a raft of volunteers...



Why am I writing all of this? Because I live and work in a business where most of those that are charged with conditioning courses will never see or experience a US Open. Never. They won't. And yet, it is more than likely that someone in their world will talk to them this week about Oakmont. "Did you see that.....", will be the start of many sentences.


Last year, those sentences ended with discussions about how much better "our course" is than the one on TV. Misguided observations, fueled by Brandel Chamblee's agronomy and Ian Poulter's yapping about Brittish conditions. It was easy to navigate. The legions of turfheads could say that in some way, they were better.


But not this time. Oakmont is near perfect. I started getting the texts and the tweets and the PMs on the weekend. The place is mind-blowing good. Some who really know saying it is the best-conditioned thing that they have ever seen. The volunteers and staff kicking ass. The greens lightning fast on Monday. The press arriving in the trumpets of the USGA saying "see, we know what green grass is". 


Tournament golf is tough. It is a minefield. And it represents so many things that I don't think golf should be. Yet, there must be championships. Because, in its very heart, golf is a competition. With yourself, with the course, with the climate, and with others. So in that sense, it should be OK. But we have made the upper levels into a paranoid, set of worries. I mean, heaven forbid something is wrong. And yet, we challenge nature and it always wins. Always. 


So in the end, my point here, is that we can watch the 2016 US Open Golf Championship with a degree of reverence for what it is. But I for one will be thinking of the thousands (yes, thousands) of greenkeepers and their staffs who hold down the fort without a raft of volunteers. Without basically unlimited resources. Without press tents full of people who have been primed to tell their stories.


But with reality. A reality of their weekend situations or tournaments, which, in their own experience, are just as important as this weekend's TV show. Today, as I write this, there are Superintendents who are challenged to do their pre-weekend prep with next to nothing. Who got the same 3 inches (or more) of rain that Oakmont just got and have five people to fix the bunkers. Not 105. Five. With resources that are so limited that they don't even like to think about how thin they are. With staff members that they are afraid of losing because the local McDonald's pays more than they can pay for labor. They will be out in the dark tomorrow morning, with no lights. No TV cameras around. No YouTube videos posted of their barely running mowers on the green.


Plain and simple in your face reality.


The Crew at Picatinny Arsenal GC

Perhaps if you are not in the business of greenkeeping and you are reading this, you might understand that what you see on the TV this weekend, has absolutely nothing to do with the reality of golf. What golf should be. What golf can be. 


I think that's a good thing. Because I still happen to think that golf is good. And it is good for everybody. And I want everyone to play. That's my reality.


Sadly, Oakmont is not. And again, that should take nothing away from superintendent John Zimmers and his insanely amazing efforts with his turfhead army. While you say a quiet thank you to John Zimmers as you watch this weekend, maybe think of John Doe Greenkeeper... who's 5 guys fixed just as many bunkers, mowed just as much grass and took just as much pride in their work. Bravo.


Recommended Comments

Guest Josh Heptig



Golf will always contain the have's and the have not's. tournament golf is completely different from daily golf and you are right that members or players need to have a better understanding of the differences, but the reality is they don't care. The best in our business will always be those that are able to communicate their worth and benefits of their work to their employers. We all need to shed our Carl Spackler and learn to market our selves through better communication.


For me there will always be a high level of respect and admiration for the super that has a small budget and is able to provide quality conditions each day. The level of pressure and scrutiny the supers have at high level clubs is often unbearable and I learned working at these facilities that these positions are not for me.


As perfectionists, yes we all are, we are often our own worst enemy. The amount of comments from our peers during the US Opens at both Chambers Bay and Pinehurst was crazy to me. "That is not golf", "This will never be my course", and "the USGA is nuts" were just a few of the comments. We need to embrace more brown conditions and less green grass. There will always be an effort to be better than the guy down the street while also embracing the brotherhood that is our profession and always being willing to help a brother at the drop of a hat. We need to continue to lead the game in America back to its roots with fewer resources required. Technology and innovation has made our jobs easier, but it has also made the expectations higher on the back's of our egos. Keep striving for perfection and learn to better communicate with the powers that be in your particular situation. Golf is a great game that people spend a lot of their hard earned time and money to play. It is our job to make the game as affordable and fun as possible and understand the goals of your club (not necessarily your own) because it is their golf course and we just manage it.

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Guest Rodney Muller


This years US Open brought back an iconic name with lots of press. Lawnboy. Heck, we maintained 6" rough with some off brand push mowers from the local ACE Hardware for the 2004 Women's US Open at Prairie Dunes CC. They just weren't bright green!

Well said Dave.

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Guest oscar miles


Brilliant work Dave. May I have your permission to post on Facebook?

Admiring your insight,


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You guys all rock my world.


I guess I should sit around in my shorts and a tee shirt and write about stuff more often.

What? You mean that's not what you do? Lol.

Great article Dave.

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