James Beebe, golf course manager of Priddis Greens Golf and Country Club, points to an old saying about Calgary weather that didn’t quite hold true in preparation for this week’s CP Women’s Open.
“I think that most superintendents would say that weather is always one of their biggest challenges because it’s just so uncertain, and if you’re from Calgary, you know the old axiom is if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It’s always a challenge,” said Beebe.
Yet, traditional inconsistency turned to consistency and not the type you welcome when preparing for a LPGA Tour event. Thursday’s opening round, for example, will be played with the threat of thunderstorms.
“The summer of 2016 was, I think, the wettest summer we’ve had on record in almost 100 years, so in the month of July alone, we had 25 days of rain out of 31 days,” said Beebe.
“One of the biggest challenges was just being able to get the work done that you needed to do to prepare the golf course,” he said.
“Some of the simple things, like topdressing greens on a regular basis, you can’t do when it’s wet, so it was trying to fit those practices, the verticutting, the topdressing, those kind of things in, in and around the wet weather, so that was a challenge,” added Beebe.
“We were in early, staying late, coming in on days off. Just trying to fit those kind of things in was a real challenge,” he said.
Add to that that forklifts and other vehicles are driving around the course to construct tents or bleachers, which poses problems when it’s wet out. Understandably, members want their golf course back in good shape once the tournament is over.
Preparing for such an event is a process that can take over a year and it can be disruptive at times, according to Beebe.
“A lot of the decisions that we make in regards to where we want the golf course playing this week sort of happen with aerification timing the year before, etcetera, making sure that the greens are firm and fast as we want to achieve those goals, so it starts a year out,” he said.
“The reality is the heavy lifting starts approximately five weeks out when Golf Canada comes into town. As far as preparation for building the structures that are out on the golf course, it’s as much work as preparing the conditions of the golf course,” said Beebe.
We have corporate villages, bleachers. We’ve got all sorts of structures around the golf course and that takes a significant amount of effort, both on Golf Canada’s part and on the golf club’s part,” he added.
“There’s a lot of conflict or interference with our golfers, our own members and our staff and the contractors, so it’s juggling those things as well as preparing the golf course for the best players in the world that can be challenging,” said Beebe.
Beebe and his crew are also mindful of the environment, with Priddis Greens certified through the Audubon International program and staff proud of their roles as environmental stewards, according to Beebe.
It quickly becomes clear on a trip to Priddis Greens that it’s teeming with wildlife, including deer, bears, cougars and a variety of birds.
“Part of our environmental stewardship is wildlife habitat management, so we really do try and foster as much wildlife around the golf course as possible,” said Beebe.
“There’s a plethora of deer. They’re very friendly. We feed them in the winter to keep them around and also to keep them off the fine turf areas, so that they’re not digging in around,” he added.
“There’s always something to look at out here,” said Beebe.
One thing players who have been here before will be looking at is a different golf course than the one they played in 2009 when the tournament was last at Priddis Greens.
“I think the biggest difference playing the entire Raven golf course versus the hybrid course of the Hawk and the Raven is that the front nine Raven is tighter, so it’s tree-lined and the trees are a little bit tighter to play, so they’ve got to thread the needle off the tee,” said Beebe.
“It’s going to be very important. There are more doglegs, tight doglegs where you have to pick your angle off the tee and hit the fairway on an angle,” he said.
“The rough is pretty thick out there. We’re cutting it at three inches and it’s going to probably grow up to four plus, so picking your angles off the tee is going to be much more important, I think, to accuracy and who’s strong enough to hit the ball out of the rough when they do miss is going to make the difference,” he added.
With all of the preparation that went into getting Priddis Greens ready for the CP Women’s Open, it will remain a beehive during this week’s event.
Beebe says one of the advantages of Priddis Greens is that there is a big staff in place and all hands need to be on deck during tournament week.
“It’s a busy week for our staff. Hosting a national championship like this does take a large staff. Often volunteers are required because you need a lot more people to maintain the golf course within the window of time that you have,” he said.
“We’re fortunate here that we have two golf courses, 36 holes, so we’ve got a large staff. We’ve got twice the staff that a normal golf course would have, so we have a large staff, so we’re in every morning at 5 a.m.,” said Beebe.
“We get in about an hour lead on the golfers. Our staff actually goes out in the dark at just before 6, and we go out and we mow greens, rake bunkers, mow tees, collars. We’re out taking the dew off the fairways, fixing ball marks, all those kind of things,” he added.
“So we’ve got about 55 people out in the dark, starting in the dark in the morning and then, once play is completed at the end of the day, our entire staff comes back and we’ll have another 50 people come back out and redo it over again,” he said.
“We’ll clean anything up, any damage that’s been done out there. Depending on the green speeds, we’ll mow greens again. We may roll. We’re checking firmness of the golf course,” said Beebe.
“We have meters that check firmness, and that will help us adjust our watering to make sure that the greens and the fairways are the exact moisture content that we have,” he added.
“They’re long days. Some of the guys here are here just before 5 a.m., and we usually leave in the evening after dark, so 15-hour days kind of thing, but it’s exciting, lots of enthusiasm with so many people around and the best golfers in the world,” said Beebe.
“I hope (players) say they loved the golf course because it really is a beautiful setting and a great golf course. We hope they say it was a real strong test of golf but it was fair,” he said.
“Our goal is to have firm, fast greens and yet fair, so that a well-struck shot, the green receives a well-struck shot, and that the best players were the ones that were coming down to the wire and possibly had a chance to win the golf tournament,” said Beebe.