Gross: South Course Ahead Of
April 17, 2008
Pat Gross, the director of the Southwest Region for
the USGA Green Section, is the staff agronomist in charge
of the 2008U.S.Open Championship atTorreyPines. He is working closely with the maintenance
staff to ensure the playing conditions meet the proper
standards set forth by the USGA Championship Committee.
USGA staff writerDavidShefterrecently chatted with Gross to see how preparations
How is the course shaping up from an agronomic
Oh, it's fantastic. We had a few hiccups last year, and
for various political reasons things that were a little
slower to come together than everybody would have hoped.
But the take-home message there is that Mark Woodward,
[golf operations director] Jon Maddern and [South Course
superintendent) Candice Combs and their staff did just a
Kikuyugrass is not a surface that golfers play on a lot
but is the prevailing turf atTorreyPines. What makes it so unique?
It's a sub-tropical grass. It is similar to Bermuda
[grass] in that it uses less water. It requires less
fertilizer and it is just very well adapted to coastal
Do you pretty much see it inCaliforniaor is it indigenous to other areas?
I see it in courses from up in the [San Francisco] Bay area
down to San Diego along the coast and some inland parts of
the L.A. (Los Angeles) area. It's very prominent in
Mexico and it will extend down into Texas and a little bit
in Arizona here and there.
What makes it such a tough playing surface?
It has that thick, above-ground stem and the wider leaf
blade. It has a very, thick flushy stolon that will tend to
grab the club if it's not mowed or managed properly.
Just because the leaves are wider and the way it grows on
the surface, you can tend to get some unpredictable bounce
and roll from the golf ball. When it's very lush and
actively growing . it will tend to be like Velcro under
Does kikuyugrass grow more rapidly in certain parts of
It's a warm-season grass so it will go slightly off
color from about November to February. But in the coastal
locations like Torrey Pines it didn't go off-color at
all during the winter. It was a mild winter, so that's
one of the big advantages of it. It retains its color when
Bermuda grass at the same time will go brown.
Do you need aggressive maintenance to ensure its
There are three basic things. Number one, mow it
aggressively. Number two, put it on a strict diet. Just
very limited nitrogen and some other micro-nutrients for
color with iron and manganese. And number three, it's
very standard practice to apply primo growth regulator to
just keep it from growing too aggressively and tighten it
The rough heights at mostU.S.Opens have been in the neighborhood of 3 inches
depending on the climate. Do you have to alter the height
of the primary rough with kikuyugrass?
Typically a fairway cutting height of one-half inch. The
primary rough for the Open is going to be at 2Â½ inches.
That's the target right now. We may drop that a little
bit more. Typical rough on kikuyugrass in southern
California is 1Â½ inches. Beyond that 20-foot section of
primary rough is going to be a combination of kikuyu and
rye grass at 4 to 5 inches.
So there is some rye grass atTorreyPines?
Yes. In the rough. It's a combo of kikuyu[grass] and
rye grass in the rough, but just straight kikuyugrass in
How about playing from the fairway on kikuyugrass? I
would imagine the ball sits up pretty nicely for the
The ball sits up fantastic. It really does. It's more
of a stiff-bladed grass and it sits right up. Part of the
reason is people aren't familiar with it. I know a lot
of people east of the Mississippi freak out when it's
not rye grass or bent grass.
Is it true the kikuyugrass won't be as prevalent in
the apron areas around the greens?
They've kept the kikuyu out of the aprons and the tees.
So the tees and aprons are hybrid bermudagrass. It's a
sod and it was installed when the greens were resurfaced
and rebuilt back in 2000. That was part of the Rees Jones
Torrey Pines uses reclaimed water to irrigate the golf
California, Arizona, Nevada - all of the southwest on the
lower Colorado [River] basin - is extremely squeezed for
water. The three Open venues in California - Olympic
[Club], Pebble [Beach] and Torrey Pines - all use recycled
Is this something we are going to see more and more
utilized by courses in areas with water issues?
It's going to be necessary one way or another. Most
golf courses would gladly accept it. The problem most
places are having is the cost of building the reclamation
facility and then installing the pipeline, which in some
cases I have heard is $1 million a mile. For instance,
bringing it to Los Angeles Country Club or Bel-Air [Country
Club], they are not going to rip up Wilshire Boulevard at
$1 million a mile to bring them water. There are all kinds
of those peripheral deals going on. At Torrey Pines,
it's the city of San Diego reclamation facility.
Has this been a highly successful project forTorreyPines andSan Diego?
Well, they can water. Then you can manage on the back side
with the other things you need to do.
From an agronomic point of view, things sounds like they
are right on schedule to have the course in ideal condition
for the start of play on June 12.
They are ahead of schedule. What was remarkable to me is
right after the Buick [Invitational] they had to build a
practice tee and it's going across the ninth and 10th
holes of the North Course. They constructed and sodded an
enormous three-level tee in one week. And it is really
good. They are jumping on it. These guys are firing on all
cylinders right now.
The staff there has had a week-by-week maintenance plan in
place for more than a year. So it's just monitoring
that and making the necessary adjustments. Really what
we're focusing on and what I am helping them with is
making sure that they have adequate equipment and doing a
maintenance check list to make sure nothing has fallen
through the cracks, monitoring course conditions and making
sure the things [USGA Senior Director of Rules and
Competitions] Mike Davis wants to see are implemented, and
the theme of our relationship is no surprises. I don't
want to surprise them with any last-minute details and I
don't want any surprises from them saying, 'Oops,
we are not going to have that fairway mower-type of