GCSAA Certified Golf Course Superintendent Ralph Kepple reopens East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta for The Tour Championship presented by Coca-Cola, Sept. 25-28. A year-long renovation began immediately after last year's event that is highlighted by replacing the bentgrass greens with MiniVerde bermudagrass.
"This year the first week of June in Atlanta was miserable - upper 90s in the day, mid-70s at night," said Kepple, who has been the superintendent at East Lake for 16 years. "It was more of a July/August type week. A lot of golf courses were already seeing some suffering in their bentgrass greens. I almost felt guilty since I was growing in bermuda, and it was perfect weather for me. All of the construction went extremely well. The changes to the course are great. I think the greens are going to be a home run."
In preparation for the 1963 Ryder Cup, East Lake became one of the first, if not the first, golf courses in Atlanta to install bentgrass putting greens. With the installation of bermudagrass greens, the club has come full circle. In addition to the greens renovation, the green on No. 7 was pushed back 43 yards and reconfigured, the fairway and green on No. 17 were moved left to be closer to East Lake's shoreline, new tees were added on No. 13 and 15 and the back tee on No. 6 was expanded to be used for all four rounds. Rees Jones served as architect for the renovation.
New fairway bunkers were added on the left side of holes No. 3, 7 and 16, and to the right side of No. 15. Bunkers were reconfigured on the green at No. 16 and expanded on the right side of the green on No. 14, as well as the left side of No. 4 green. New hole locations were created on various greens and low-cut, roll-off areas were installed off of greens on holes No. 2, 3, 7, 8 and 10. For the Tour Championship, the golf course will be a par-70 layout of 7,300 yards.
"I think the course looks and plays great," said PGA Tour player Stewart Cink, who is from the Atlanta area. "Golf course superintendent Ralph Kepple and architect Rees Jones have done a wonderful job on the renovations. The players should really enjoy the challenge. Last year, it was unfortunate that the extreme heat and drought hit the Atlanta region because the course was in perfect shape until Mother Nature's impact was felt about a month out. I thought Ralph and his staff did a remarkable job getting the course to the level of playability that we had. With the switch to bermudagrass on the greens, the heat should not be a factor. The greens roll great and will only get better as they mature."
East Lake switched to MiniVerde, an ultradwarf bermudagrass, because it is better suited for Georgia's hot summers. It provides an excellent putting surface with fine leaf blades, short internodes and high shoot density. MiniVerde produces deep roots and is quick to recover from cultural practices, allowing a tight, fast and consistent putting surface. Kepple expects the greens to measure 12 feet on the stimpmeter for the championship.
"This year with new greens and the bermudagrass, and just being new right now — they're going to be extremely firm," said Kepple, a 26-year GCSAA member who holds an agronomy degree from Ohio State. "I anticipate that not only is it going to be a big difference here this year, but all of the FedExCup events coming into this are being played on bentgrass greens in August and September. So I would expect those courses to have a certain level of softness, just because of a limited root system at that time of year. The same thing we ran into last year — not as bad I'm sure — but that's just typical this time of year. It's hard to maintain a good, dense root system in September. So they're going to come through those first three events on greens that will receive shots pretty well, and then they're going to come here and these greens are going to be very, very firm."
In 2007, when the championship moved up almost two months in the Tour's schedule from late October or early November in years past to mid-September for the inaugural FedExCup finale, there was not enough time for the bentgrass greens to adequately recover from Atlanta's hottest summer on record and a drought as well.
Twenty-eight of 31 days in August 2007 were above 90 degrees and 10 days were above 100 degrees. The average high for the month was 96.5, nearly 10 degrees higher than the normal average for August and the average low for the month was 75.2, more than five degrees higher than the normal average for August (which is what was the most challenging because soil temperatures are cumulative and without being able to cool off during the night, the soil temp just keeps building each day with that kind of heat). Only three days the entire month were cloudy and direct sunlight also increases soil temperatures.
Georgia's drought continues today as the state has restricted East Lake's water use 35 percent. GCSAA's Georgia chapter has been working with state government to ease water restrictions for the golf industry and assist golf courses to employ best management practices for responsible water use.
For more on Kepple's preparations, read GCM Senior Associate Editor Seth Jones' Q&A with Kepple, "Man on a mission," in the September 2008 edition of GCSAA's monthly magazine.
The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America is a leading golf organization and has as its focus golf course management. Since 1926, GCSAA has been the top professional association for the men and women who manage golf courses in the United States and worldwide. From its headquarters in Lawrence, Kan., the association provides education, information and representation to more than 21,000 members in more than 72 countries. GCSAA's mission is to serve its members, advance their profession and enhance the enjoyment, growth and vitality of the game of golf. The association's philanthropic organization, The Environmental Institute for Golf, works to strengthen the compatibility of golf with the natural environment through research grants, support for education programs and outreach efforts. Visit GCSAA at www.gcsaa.org.
For more information contact:
Ralph Kepple, CGCS, East Lake Golf Club, at 404-687-2449 or email@example.com
Jeff Bollig, GCSAA director of communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org; 800-472-7878, ext. 4430; or mobile: 913-449-1635 (on site Sept. 24-25)