Golf Course Superintendent Mark Wilson has spent the last 18 months working with US Team captain Paul Azinger on a course setup for the 37th Ryder Cup matches 19-21 September at Valhalla Golf Club, Kentucky that gives new meaning to the term ‘home advantage’.
Since the American team includes a mix of long hitters and strong wedge players, and the Europeans again will rely on their accuracy and short-game prowess, Valhalla’s fairway landing areas have been widened around 300 yards down range, mostly by extending the first cut of rough a minimum of 12 feet and as much as 50 feet. But the rough around the greens is long and thick. And Valhalla’s new putting surfaces will be faster than the greens at the K Club two years ago, measuring 12 feet on the stimpmeter.
Following the 2004 Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla, Jack Nicklaus began an extensive renovation that was completed in 2006. Some contouring was modified on the greens, four of which were rebuilt entirely (holes No. 6, 8, 11 and 16) and all were re-grassed from Penncross to a Penn A-1/A-4 creeping bentgrass blend.
New tees were added to holes No. 4, 5, 8, 10, 16 and 17, stretching the length of the course to almost 7,500 yards. Bunkers were renovated and two dozen new bunkers were added on holes No. 1, 5, 7, 15, 16 and 17. Thousands of scrubs, underbrush and trees were removed to improve spectator viewing and movement. Additionally, course aesthetics were improved with water features and landscaping.
“The greens are great, not only from a speed standpoint, but they’re so clean,” said Wilson, who will mark his 20th year as superintendent at Valhalla in November. “When we had the opportunity to re-grass we also had the opportunity to change years of soil makeup. We got rid of the organics and softened a lot of high spots. We just achieved a more consistent soil mix. Everything we changed was a good thing and made it better for us to grow grass.”
Wilson is a 33-year member of the Golf Course Superintendents of America Association (GCSAA). Prior to arriving at Valhalla he spent eight years as the superintendent at Audubon Country Club in Louisville. His staff of 35 regular crew members will be bolstered during Ryder Cup week with 85 volunteers, including 45 former employees.
“Mark is a super person to work with; I certainly admire his skills,” said Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America managing director of championships. “He’s an extremely hard worker. He has a great demeanour, a great outgoing personality that’s infectious not only in dealing with him, but also his staff. He’s a great ambassador for his profession and for the PGA as well. We’ve been through some fun times and some tough times … we have a similar work ethic – do the very best you can in everything you do.”
Valhalla Golf Club has a front nine that is links-style, while its back nine is parkland. The signature hole is No. 13, a 350-yard, par-4, requiring a tee shot to a small landing area, then an approach shot over water to an island green.
The golf course features natural amphitheatres, including the 18th hole, which can accommodate 20,000 spectators. The PGA has developed substantial infrastructure at Valhalla, including a new 3-acre television compound, an expanded spectator bus terminal and an increase in corporate facilities that now cover more than a million square feet in flooring.