Oakmont Superintendent, GM
Recognized For Excellence
February 19, 2008
By David Shefter, USGA
Far Hills, N.J. - Getting a golf course in U.S. Open shape to
test the world's best players is no easy task. Neither is
ensuring that hundreds of members, competitors, volunteers
and officials are well fed and given impeccable hospitality.
When superintendent John Zimmers and general manager Tom
Wallace reflect back on the success off the 2007 U.S. Open at
Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club, each can grin and be prideful of
a job well done.
|John Zimmers, right, relays
instructions to Oakmont Assistant Grounds Superintendent
David Delsandro last May. (John Mummert/USGA)|
Their performances did not go unnoticed. Zimmers was named
the 2007 Grounds Superintendent of the Year by
magazine and the Club Car Corporation, while Wallace earned
the 2007 Excellence in Club Management Award by the McMahon
Group, a private club consulting firm and
Club & Resort Business
"Honestly, it was a very, very big surprise," said
a humble Zimmers.
Considering the curveball Mother Nature threw at Oakmont in
the months leading up to the Open, Zimmers and his grounds
crew probably deserved more than just a trophy. In early
March, a bizarre ice storm pummeled the Pittsburgh area. One
minute the temperature was near 60; a mere 12 hours later,
the mercury had dipped near zero, causing major damage to
Oakmont's precious turf.
While confident that the course would be ready in time,
Zimmers certainly had all his skills as a superintendent
challenged. Twelve-hour work days suddenly lasted two- to
four-hours longer. Zimmers did everything in his power to
save the turf, including having the greens covered at night
to manufacture heat.
"You knew the whole world was going to come barreling
down on you," said Zimmers. "From our standpoint,
we had done so much work here at Oakmont with the
[tree-cutting] restoration, you just kind of said to
yourself, 'How can this be happening?'"
Fortunately for Zimmers, and everyone else associated with
the club and championship, the weather did turn for the
better. But the course was not thoroughly ready until the
early part of June, just a couple of weeks prior to the Open.
As a testament to the work of Zimmers and others, the course
was in impeccable condition for the championship, just as it
had been for the 2003 U.S. Amateur.
"I knew if we could overcome our winter issues . we
could really have something special, and thank goodness it
turned out the way it did," said Zimmers. "The
guys, the staff just did an incredible job. It was probably
one of the most rewarding and fun times of my career. So many
people get caught up with the long hours and work, but it was
a really, really fun time for me."
Hired by Oakmont in 2002, Wallace had a completely different
set of challenges. To prepare for the onslaught of people, he
had his culinary and management team go to other U.S. Opens
starting in 2003. The 2003 Amateur at Oakmont also served as
an excellent warm-up.
The ultimate decision was that Oakmont would undertake the
entire food and beverage operation without the use of an
outside caterer. Satellite kitchens were constructed. Tom
Pepka, the head chef, worked out a formula for how much food
he would need each day. Pepka even had a plan to donate
unused food to local food banks and other charities.
In the end, Wallace and his team served some 50,000 meals
during Open week. Incidentally, since being hired, Wallace
has seen food and beverage revenues at Oakmont double in his
five years on the job (not including the Open).
"We did almost double than anyone else had done [in the
past]," said Wallace. "We felt the best way to get
Oakmont's hospitality out there was to make sure we were
feeding and servicing as many people as possible.
"We really wanted to set the bar for clubs in terms of
how much food and beverage we were going to do and take the
hospitality for the USGA and players to another level."
Just as the U.S. Open takes championship golf to another
level, Wallace and Zimmers clearly recognized the excellence
that is associated with such an event. And now they
rightfully reap the benefits of their hard work.
DavidShefteris a staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him with questions
or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.