LATIN AMERICA AMATEUR
LAAC Cooperation Evolves From the Ground Up January 12, 2016 | La Romana, Dominican Republic By Ron Driscoll, USGA

The USGA's Darin Bevard is working closely with Casa de Campo superintendent E. Nunez Malena throughout the championship. (Enrique Berardi/LAAC)

Full Coverage: Latin America Amateur

One of the less obvious benefits of the Latin America Amateur Championship is the opportunity for Darin Bevard, the director of championship agronomy for the USGA, to work in partnership with the host course superintendent.

In 2015, that meant more of a mentoring role with Matias Romoli of Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires, as well as shared weather and logistical challenges. This week on the Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo, Bevard and longtime superintendent E. Nunez Malena are tackling the agronomy test with the additional resources of a resort facility, as well as Casa de Campo’s experience of hosting the PGA Tour Latinoamerica’s DR Open the past two years. Also, the weather is not expected to be anywhere near as challenging as in 2015 in Argentina, when 6 inches of rain and temperatures hovering near 100 degrees dogged the inaugural event.

“Last fall, I visited here and told Nunez, we really like where the golf course is,” said Bevard. “In terms of everything I’ve seen, it’s only gotten better. It’s a spectacular golf course, and it’s going to create a pretty high standard for this championship.”

Malena has been at Casa de Campo since 1980, shortly after he returned to the Dominican Republic with a degree in soil and water management from Colorado State University. Before that, the native of La Vega, in the central region of the country, had studied agronomy at the national university in Santo Domingo.

“I’ve been here since then, making mistakes and learning from the mistakes – that’s the way,” said Malena, 68.

Those lessons have served Malena well, according to Bevard.

“There can be a perception that in Latin America or the Caribbean, the standard for golf course maintenance is not as high,” said Bevard. “But he’s as good as anyone you could talk with about agronomics. He knows his golf course, the resources are provided to get the work done – and they get it done.”

Bevard and Malena first met in March 2015, a couple of months after Casa de Campo was awarded the 2016 LAAC.

“Jeff Hall [the LAAC’s inside-the-ropes championship director] and I went around the golf course and did a course prep memo – what we hoped to have for setup,” said Bevard. “There were a few small suggestions, but nothing major. Nunez and I always have a conversation about anything we do.”

One discussion involved aeration of the greens ahead of the championship. Bevard preferred that Malena use a solid-tine aerator, while Malena was in favor of core aeration.

“I’m not a big fan of solid punching of the greens,” Malena said. “It’s something I didn’t do before, and he had his argument and I had mine. We went ahead and did it, and boy, I’m really pleased with it. It was a very good suggestion.”

“From a championship perspective, we prefer to solid-tine and topdress the greens,” Bevard said. “It’s a best practice in terms of championships, but it’s considered more of a compromise in regular agronomy.”

Bevard is well acquainted with the factors that figure into Malena’s decisions, including the logistics of maintaining a resort golf course. As Malena put it, “It’s difficult to do major work here, because we need to be open.”

“There is always going to be compromise between revenue and course maintenance,” said Bevard. “If your course is closed for two weeks and you lose $200,000 in revenue, that’s black and white. If we don’t aerate, for example, the greens aren’t going to die, they just might not be as good. Over time, there may be deterioration in quality, but it’s not black and white like revenue is. That’s why the revenue side often wins out over the agronomy side, because we can compromise.”

At Casa de Campo, the championship itself won out when the resort closed the Teeth of the Dog course for five days ahead of the championship – through Tuesday’s first day of practice rounds. That decision allowed both the maintenance staff and the championship setup teams to complete their work with relative ease.

“The staff was able to get out and rake bunkers and clean up debris,” said Bevard. “You can get so much more work done without worrying about annoying golfers, or worse yet, getting hit by a golf ball.”

When a half-inch of rain fell last Friday, the vacated course was also less prone to problems that might have ensued if it had been crammed with golfers.

“We didn’t need the rain we got on Friday,” said Malena. “It’s nothing you can control, and now the course is drying out. If people had been out playing golf with all rain we got, that would have been a different story.”

Malena and his staff recently began using moisture meters to monitor green conditions, a practice that will carry through long after the LAAC is over.

“I know this technology was out a long time ago, but we had never used it,” said Malena. “It’s a very good tool to give you a better idea on whether to irrigate or not. It’s very important for us, because with our paspalum greens the less water we use, the better for us – both for the grass itself and the resources. It only gets what it needs.”

Bevard applauded Malena’s deployment of the meters, though he in no way insisted on incorporating them, noting that they cost $1,000 apiece.

“The best thing is that Nunez and I always talk about it,” said Bevard. “We don’t dictate toward superintendents – that’s not how we operate. I tell him, I know what we want, but you know your golf course better than I do. How can we get there?”

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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