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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Pennsylvania course tapped as last-second fill-in for Forme Tour Championship


Damage caused by Hurricane Ida forced moving the PGA Forme Tour Championship from The Ridge at Back Brook in New Jersey (above) to Huntsville Golf Club in Pennsylvania (below) with less than a week's notice. Photos courtesy of Mark McCormick

Many golf courses boast of being tournament ready all the time. Mark McCormick, superintendent at Huntsville Golf Club in Dallas, Pennsylvania, is proving it.

When damage by Hurricane Ida at The Ridge at Back Brook in Ringoes, New Jersey threatened to cancel the PGA Forme Tour Championship this week, PGA Tour officials moved the tournament to Huntsville GC 100 miles away. 

090821forme1.jpgGolfers have Brandon Matthews, a Forme Tour player, to thank for saving the tournament. Matthews, a native of nearby Pittston, Pennsylvania, grew up playing Huntsville and suggested to Tour officials that it would be a capable replacement for The Ridge at Back Brook. 

Tour officials visited the property Sept. 4 and gave it the thumbs-up for the tournament with just five days' notice.

"It was nice when the officials from the Tour came up and told us that Huntsville already was good enough to host their event," McCormick said. "It makes you proud when your hard work is noticed."

The Ridge sustained serious damage in the wake of Hurricane Ida, which made landfall Aug. 29 in Louisiana then tracked northeast dumping as much as 10 inches of rain in its path. Rainfall amounts in the Ringoes area ranged from 7-10 inches in a 24-hour period on Sept. 1-2.

With only a few short days to prepare for the PGA Forme Tour event, McCormick could not change much at Huntsville. Turns out, he didn't have to.

"We discussed green speeds and where the Tour wanted them, and that was very doable," McCormick said. "We cut the rough Sunday, then just let it go through the tournament."

The compressed 72-hole event began Sept. 8 and will conclude Sept. 10.

Like most golf course operations nationwide, Huntsville has felt the sting of a labor crunch. McCormick usually has 20-25 employees through the summer that includes his full-time staff of eight. This year, he had only about 15 people on staff, including his full-time crew. His part-time help, which comprises mainly high school students, is gone with the start of a new school year.

"It has been a tough year overall for labor," McCormick said. "When school starts, all our guys leave.

"My full-time guys came through and worked over the weekend and through the Labor Day holiday."

He also has recruited about 10 volunteers to help out, including some area superintendents and his former boss and mentor, Scott Schukraft.

A former superintendent, Schukraft is the owner of Elite Sports Turf and Landscape Management. He also was the superintendent at Huntsville and served as the club's general manager for 20 years. Schukraft hired McCormick straight out of Penn State as his second assistant at Huntsville in 1992, and promoted him to superintendent in 1999.

It has been a tough year overall for labor. When school starts, all our guys leave. ... My full-time guys came through and worked over the weekend and through the Labor Day holiday.

Schukraft's first client when he started Elite was Misericordia University, where he maintains the baseball field. He has recruited a few players off the roster to help throughout the tournament.

"They're just going to be doing manual labor for the golf tournament; filling divots and raking bunker edges," Schukraft said. "There was no time to train them on anything else. If there is an emergency, then they will do whatever is needed. In an emergency on a golf course, you can never have enough resources in your back pocket, and I just now got a flash flood warning on my phone, so who knows?"

As a former GM and grow-in superintendent at Huntsville, Schukraft still has an emotional attachment to the property and is happy McCormick has a chance to show it off.

"Mark is one of the finest superintendents in the country. I've never met a harder worker. He has dedicated himself to that club and his profession," Schukraft said. "The conditioning of that golf course considering the resources he has is unbelievable, and he has done it consistently. This year has been difficult with weather, staffing, Covid, yet the conditions are impeccable.

"Mark is not looking for any recognition. He has busted his butt to make that golf course what it is. Then with no staff when you have a Tour event thrown at you, you know you've done OK."

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