Course setup a sweet science for PGA Tour rules officials

ablondin@thesunnews.comMay 3, 2014 

PGA Tour rules officials Steve Rintoul (left) and Mark Russell test a potential pin placement on the short par-4 14th hole for Sunday's final round.

BY ALAN BLONDIN — ablondin@thesunnews.com

— As you watch the champion of the 12th Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club hit each and every shot on the back nine Sunday, you will be witnessing the vision of 16-year PGA Tour rules official Steve Rintoul played out.

As the official charged with setting up the tee and pin locations on Quail Hollow’s final nine holes, every shot will have already been played in Rintoul’s mind.

No matter how natural or contrived, easy or difficult each hole appears, rest assured everything has been carefully calculated hours and even days before the round’s first tee shot.

“When you’re setting up a golf course, so many things go into the equation,” Rintoul said. “There are a lot of things that go into a week out here that make the jobs we’ve done either good or bad.”

One tour rules official sets up the back nine and another the front at each PGA Tour event, and this week the officials are Rintoul and Robby Ware. Rintoul has set up the back nine at Quail Hollow for the majority of the tournament’s 12 years.

The goals are to provide variety while setting up a course to be difficult but fair.

“We set up the golf course to the best of our ability to test the best players in the world with no controversies,” said Rintoul, a former PGA Tour player.

Wind, rain and other weather conditions provide the most variables, making just about everything subject to change before a round.

“Our whole business revolves around the weather,” Rintoul said.

The cast

The rules officials have a team that assists them at each tournament, including an agronomist and meteorologist.

PGA Tour agronomist Chuck Green was on site this week. He made a site visit two months in advance to set up a preparation plan that included grass heights and bunker consistency, and spent two full weeks through the tournament at the course, working hand-in-hand with Quail Hollow course superintendent Chris Deariso.

“If something gets sideways, it’s always great to have an agronomist here to help us work through any issues,” Rintoul said.

The tour contracts a team of meteorologists from Schneider Electric out of Minneapolis, and one provides pertinent information at each event.

“They give us wind direction, wind speeds, a forecast ahead, humidity levels because that can affect firmness, lightning detection, and what’s going to happen when we have big systems coming in,” Rintoul said. “Those are all ingredients we need to play for four days.”

Conditions

Greens are prepared in terms of speed, firmness and moisture, and Deariso and his staff are charged with maintaining the green speeds. They use a moisture detection device in an attempt to maintain a consistent amount of moisture both on each individual putting surface and from green to green.

The goal for Quail Hollow’s greens this year is a speed of approximately 12 on a Stimpmeter, which is quick but not excessively so, and takes into consideration it being the first year after a conversion from bentgrass to MiniVerde Bermudagrass and a lessening of green undulations.

That speed could increase in future years.

“We could probably play with a little more speed here,” Rintoul said, “But being our first year here on a new set of greens, you’re always better to tip-toe in here a little bit than be balls to the wall, 13 on the Stimp. Let’s just putt around 12 the first year and feel these new greens out. You just don’t ever want to make a mistake on the top side.”

Officials hope to maintain consistency throughout the week. On a sunny day, greens will become quicker as they dry out, and over the course of the week they’ll likely become slightly quicker based on daily mowing and rolling. A decrease in speed is considered a failure.

“When you keep them lean and at that same moisture level every day, they just get a hair firmer, which makes them a little bit quicker,” Green said. “We’d rather have them get an inch quicker than regress.”

The rough is set up at Quail Hollow to be somewhat penal but also playable.

“You don’t want them chipping out of the rough,” Rintoul said. “If you get them feeling like they can play into the greens, then you have all kinds of stuff that can happen.”

Tees and pins

Tees are set the morning of a round.

“You have to see the weather and see the wind with tee settings,” Rintoul said.

Officials choose pin placements a day in advance, and course maintenance workers cut the holes before the officials tour the course for a couple hours in the morning prior to a round, checking holes and choosing pins for the next day.

Rintoul brings a slope meter, putter and a couple balls to each green to test his potential pin placements. With the slopes and green speeds at Quail Hollow, he doesn’t want a pin on a spot that has a slope of more than 2 degrees, and he particularly tests downhill and side-hill putts.

“Anything more than 2 [degrees] would be testing the limit,” Rintoul said.

He’ll avoid placements less than 4 yards from any edge of a green at Quail Hollow. He might get a little closer to an edge at a place like Harbour Town in Hilton Head Island that has smaller and flatter greens.

“I think the hole placement also has to look symmetrical on a green,” Rintoul said. “If you’ve got a really big green and you go jam it way in a back corner 3 [yards] from the edge it doesn’t look symmetrical. It looks like you’ve pushed something off to the side of your plate.”

Pins may be adjusted for wind. For instance, with a 30 mph wind left to right on a hole, a left pin placement isn’t likely.

If there’s a ball mark next to a projected pin placement, the cup will be placed on the mark to eliminate it, and if there is any damage or imperfections near a pin placement, course workers will contact the setup official before cutting the hole.

Rintoul will try to set up holes differently both each day and each year so players don’t feel any monotony.

Officials try to balance the number of left and right pins on a particular day to avoid favoring particular players.

“All I’m trying to do is balance the playing field for the guys,” Rintoul said.

Rintoul and Ware communicate each morning to create symmetry.

“There’s nothing worse than coming out the next day and all the par-3s are 4-iron shots,” Rintoul said.

Because Quail Hollow has potentially drivable par-4s on each side – the eighth and 14th – they won’t set them both up to be drivable on the same day.

Each day has a purpose as well. Rintoul wants Thursday and Friday to be fair and essentially cancel each other out in difficulty.

“I want my setup to be pretty much the same flavor both days,” Rintoul said. “Saturday and Sunday you can start adding some spice.”

Saturday may have a few more accessible pins for moving day, and short par-4s and par-5s will likely be set up to be more reachable on the weekends for a couple reasons: pace of play and drama.

“Now you’re on network TV. Now you can create some excitement. You’ve got the biggest galleries, and you’ve got less players,” Rintoul said. “With 156 players in the field pace of play is a consideration. You don’t think you ever want to set up a hole for a backup.”

When holes are reachable players have to wait before hitting either their drives on a par-4 or second shots on a par-5 and that can back up play. But because there are fewer players in twosomes rather than threesomes on the weekend, pace of play isn’t as much of an issue. Eagle chances create more drama on the weekend, as well.

Weekend hole locations take into account more factors, particularly on Sunday, including advantageous angles for TV cameras, having hole locations closer to the gallery and sponsor chalets and seating, and avoiding shadows. A hole location that might incur a shadow from a tree, chalet or TV tower will be used on Thursday or Friday, before the largest TV audiences are watching.

“The more atmosphere you can create, and the more that you can appease a sponsor, why not do it,” Rintoul said. “It’s not going to be the final determination, but I think you have to have in the back of your mind, ‘What do our viewers want to see? What do our spectators want to see? What do our sponsors want to see?’ ”

Sunday will have some traditionally difficult pin placements.

“You typically see some more difficult hole locations coming down the stretch maybe on Sunday, not crazy difficult but championship hole placements,” Rintoul said. “Whereas Saturday you might go the other way a little bit.”

Other Sunday pins will be set with the goal of giving players opportunities to reach pins that may also bring more perils into play.

Key Sunday holes

•  11, 426-yard par-4 | Rintoul always keeps the tee markers deep on the tee box to keep an inside bunker on the dogleg left more in play at approximately 270 yards of carry.

•  13, 210-yard par-3 | Saturday, the hole played 214 yards with a middle tee and a back and open pin location, and Sunday it will play approximately 185 with tees moved up and a pin tucked behind a front-left bunker.

“It’s almost like you’ve played two totally different holes,” Rintoul said. “If I had the tees back to a flag tight over that bunker, no one could get to it, and I don’t think you want a guy playing defensively trying to win the golf tournament on Sunday, you want these guys attacking these pins a little bit. It’s a difficult hole setting, but it’s still something you can get to if you want to challenge it.”

•  14, 345-yard par-4 | Because the short, downhill par-4 eighth hole on the front was set up to be drivable Saturday, Rintoul set up the 14th at 355 yards with a back tee and back pin to force most of the field to use a wedge to the hole. Sunday, the tee will be at the very front of the box and pin will be at an accessible front-right point away from water and a bunker left, and the hole will play about 300 yards with the potential for an eagle.

“They’ll be able to get the ball on the green,” Rintoul said.

•  15, 577-yard par-5 | The tees were moved up Saturday and will be moved up Sunday compared to the first two rounds on the dogleg-left featuring an uphill second shot.

“I want guys up around that 15th green in two on the weekend. You want eagles, you want birdies. It can totally change the tournament tomorrow if someone makes a 3,” Rintoul said. “Sometimes Thursday and Friday, with that full field, you have to stay back and make things unreachable for pace of play.”

•  16, 508-yard par-4 | The tees will be back Sunday to get the full yardage of the redesigned and lengthened hole and the pin will be back-left, which will allow for balls to roll up to the hole but also brings water into play to the left of the green.

•  17, 221-yard par-4 | Given the firmness of the greens, Rintoul has avoided a front pin from a back tee setup on a peninsula green that is surrounded by water front, left and back. Saturday the pin was middle-left and the hole played only 179 yards. Sunday the hole will play 225 with a back-center pin.

“I didn’t want to play from a short tee on the 71st hole of the championship,” Rintoul said. “I wanted to use the length of the hole and play the championship yardage. Plus I’ve got the other par-3 playing short tomorrow, so I’ve kind of balanced the two.

“I’m not saying we’d never play the forward tee on a Sunday, but this being the first year of the redesign, I think you want everyone tomorrow seeing what Quail Hollow is all about now, at least the so-called Green Mile.”

•  18, 493-yard par-4 | Following a similar Championship Sunday philosophy on 18, the tee will be near the back of the box and the hole will play approximately 500 yards. It played 497 Thursday and 476 Friday.

The pin will be back left. It will likely always be to the left side to keep it alongside a signature creek, and it has sometimes been in the front on past Sundays, but with new greens being firm and the hole being lengthened 15 yards it would be difficult for players to get close to a front pin.

“I just don’t want to put it down there where no one can get close to it on a Sunday,” Rintoul said. “There’s nothing worse than no one being able to hit it within 30 feet of the hole on a Sunday trying to win the tournament. You want something that’s going to create a little drama. If you’ve got a hole with a creek on it, you’re going to put it against the creek. It will look better on TV and will be better for the gallery.

“A guy can make a double bogey if he hits it in the creek, but it’s also a pin you can get close to if you hit a good shot.”

The tee and pin locations Sunday are designed to make the Green Mile closing stretch – the toughest three-hole stretch on the PGA Tour over the past eight years – play to its potential.

“The really hard holes are the teeth of the golf course. Here it’s the Green Mile, so they’re going to play hard tomorrow, trust me,” Rintoul said.

“I think when a player enters these last three holes tomorrow with a one-shot lead, we’d like for him to think he’s got his hands full to win the tournament. Three pars on the last three holes tomorrow will be good. You want to be able to sort out the men from the boys, the guys who can stand up and hit that shot.”

To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page, @alanblondin, visit myrtlebeachonline.com.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

Myrtle Beach Sun News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service