August 22, 2017


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Grounds keep him hopping

Women's Open means St. Charles' superintendent has his work cut out

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/6/2010 (2638 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It will be up to the shuttle drivers not to get lost, to the chef to produce the finest of dining, to the scorekeepers to add correctly and the marshals to exert just the right level of friendly authority.

But at this summer's CN Canadian Women's Open at St. Charles Country Club, fair or not, the most pressure rests on the shoulders of Kerry Watkins.

St. Charles Country Club superintendent Kerry Watkins, right, with general manager Cameron Gray, has an extensive game plan for getting and keeping the course ready.


St. Charles Country Club superintendent Kerry Watkins, right, with general manager Cameron Gray, has an extensive game plan for getting and keeping the course ready.

Why? The club's AGS Accredited Golf Superintendent is in charge of how the grand old course looks and plays.

When you're judged on the appearance and national championship suitability of oh, say, a few hundred acres, the heat is on.

"I'd say true when weather isn't co-operating," Watkins said in a recent interview to discuss the Aug. 26-29 championship. The best of the LPGA will play for US$2.25 million over the club's MacKenzie and Ross nines.

"Every property will have its own challenges, some greater than others, but you can't dwell on them," Watkins continued. "When you get them, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and march on with a great gameplan.

"And the one thing we have here is great people and great resources."

The club has been improving many grounds practices for several years, certainly pre-dating last spring's announcement that the tournament was coming to Winnipeg.

Last winter could be fairly considered a bonus -- unlike the one that preceded the LPGA's last visit in 1992 -- and that has given Watkins a running start into 2010.

"We've had (winter) damage but the one good thing to start this golf season is that the golf course was bare since March 14," he said. "And the way April was, all the maintenance and recovery programs were in full force two to three weeks earlier. Last year it was two to three weeks late. For us to have already done what we've done before the month of May (ended) is remarkable as far as the Turf Management 101 items go.

"But we are a poa annua (a type of grass) golf course and that explains a lot about turf here. It has its challenges, including no real snow cover until the third week of January, which poses an issue with some grasses.

"But we're pleased with where we are now and things improve weekly."

The LPGA and Golf Canada were here in the fall for a comprehensive look at the championship venue. The tour was pleased with the state of the course, practices already in place and had almost no requests for changes.

"The conditioning, manicuring, how aprons are mowed, the bunkers, we don't need to change anything, which is a bonus," Watkins said. "The one comment was, and it's something that's common, 'Try to keep the bunkers as consistent as you can.'"

Wind and soil issues make bunkers in this part of the world a challenge every day of the golf season, so no surprise there.

But not having to change or alter the course in other ways is huge.

So is Watkins' experience as a volunteer at other big championships like the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship. He also worked for a short time at the Old Course at St. Andrew's in Scotland.

At St. Charles, Watkins said that bringing greens to 11-12 on the Stimpmeter, fairways to a half-inch (normal) and the rough to about three inches will not tax St. Charles.

The intense preparations for the championship begin in late July. That's when TV towers, grandstands, bleachers, tents and other structures start appearing around the course.

Then about two weeks before the players' arrival, the twice-a-day regimen begins.

"Everything we do in the morning is again done in the evening," Watkins said. "That's where the consistency level comes in. We try to maintain to a standard of excellence, which any golf club would, but for that event, it's a bonus that we get to do it twice.

"(During tournament week) when play stops, the course is ours. We can carry out (the work) in an efficient and effective manor. You'd never be able to do that (any other time)."

You can pretty much guarantee it now that St. Charles' club championships, played just two weeks before championship Sunday, will never see better conditions.

The twice-a-day prep work is essential to ensure consistency.

"The a.m. and p.m. detailing is phenomenal if you get a bad stretch of weather, say you're rained out in a morning," Watkins explained. "You can keep the level of consistency going."

To implement such a plan, Watkins will beef up his crew with about 30 volunteers. Most will be superintendents and assistants and irrigation technicians and others in the golf business, making an overall tournament grounds staff of about 70.

And with all of those balls of duty and preparation in the air, St. Charles' superintendent still has time for enthusiasm.

"This is great for Manitoba golf and for the city and for everyone to embrace it they way they have, just great," he said.

Volunteers set, sponsorships almost sold out


Preparations for the CN Canadian Women's Open in August at St. Charles are rumbling right along.

The volunteer quota, about 1,400, has been reached, club officials said last week. Among corporate opportunities, only a very limited inventory remains.

For tournament week, one of the few extra-level spectator experiences remaining are a just couple of spots left unfilled in both Monday (women only) and Wednesday pro-ams at St. Charles.

For information on those opportunities, contact St. Charles (889-4444) or Golf Canada (905-845-9070)


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