Olympic Club Puts Teeth Back in U.S. Open
The consummate gentleman and other notes from the national championship
|Assistant Superintendent Eric Styck (front row, fourth from left) led the maintenance team to grow mustaches.|
By Larry Aylward,
SAN FRANCISCO — Congratulations to Pat Finlen, the Olympic Club’s director of golf maintenance operations, and his staff, including Lake Course Superintendent Justin Mandon, on a successful U.S. Open. The course was set up to be very difficult, but it was a fair test of golf for a tournament that’s known to provide the toughest exam in golf.
Finlen predicted that 3-under would win. He was right, but Webb Simpson only needed 1-over to earn the title.
The Olympic Club put the teeth back in the U.S. Open, especially after last year’s cakewalk at Congressional Country Club, where Rory McIlroy made the course look like an executive par-3 track.
The players had many good things to say about the Lake Course and the new bentgrass greens. It was a spectacular setting for the national championship.
Last Wednesday, the day before the first round of the U.S. Open, the Olympic Club golf maintenance team was busy preparing the Lake Course for the final practice round. It was about 4:30 a.m., and it was raining sideways in a thick fog. The wind was also blowing, and it was as chilly as the penguin exhibit at the San Francisco Zoo.
Finlen saw me shivering near a tree. He noticed I wasn’t dressed for the weather and, despite being busier that a brigadier general, offered to drive me back to the maintenance shop so I could get a raincoat. That’s Finlen for you.
I spent three days in San Francisco last week at the U.S. Open, and I can’t tell you how many people commented on what a good guy Finlen is. He’s the consummate gentleman and commands the utmost respect from his peers. He also happens to be an excellent golf course superintendent.
Finlen did something very cool to feed his crew and volunteers after the first day of the U.S. Open. Finlen, a Kansas City native, ordered out for some Kansas City barbecue. Finlen had Jack Stack Barbecue of Kansas City cater the dinner — ribs, chicken wings, brisket, etc. — which was awesome. There must have been close to 200 people in line for the feast, including Mike Davis, the executive director of the United States Golf Association. It should be noted that Finlen let everyone dine before him; he was last in line.
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Finlen, the vice president of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), received his share of mainstream media attention for the U.S. Open, including from ESPN The Magazine and USA Today. The GCSAA has been trying — and has succeeded — in making superintendents more relevant in the eyes of mainstream media.
It’s not surprising that Finlen had GCSAA stickers placed on many pieces of maintenance equipment, including an army of utility vehicles supplied by The Toro Co.
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If you looked closely at many of the Olympic Club’s maintenance team members, you probably noticed the one physical trait they had in common: mustaches. Spearheaded by the Lake Course’s Assistant Superintendent Eric Styck, many of them grew whiskers for the event.
The 33-year-old Styck, who has worked at the Olympic Club since 2008, wanted to do something fun to keep his comrades loose during the U.S. Open. Hey, when you’re working 18-hour days, you have to find your sense of humor.
Even Pat Gross, director of the USGA Green Section’s Southwest Region, got into the act.
“When you work as many hours as we do [during the U.S. Open], it’s just a distraction and something to laugh at and have a good time with,” he says. “We didn’t do it to make fun of people who have mustaches; it’s just funny to see people have them who normally don’t have them.”
The men who grew them sported different mustache styles, as well.
“They ranged from a certain level of creepiness to a Mike Ditka style to a Western gunslinger style,” Styck said.
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Matt Muhlenbruch is still early in his career, but the 31-year-old Penn State University graduate may never be busier in a job than he has been for the last four months as the golf course superintendent of the Olympic Club’s Ocean Course.
Muhlenbruch worked closely with the United States Golf Association to build the “city” necessary on the Ocean Course to stage a Major tournament, which included everything from corporate chalets to the media center to grandstands to anything else that was required.
On top of that, the Ocean Course also began a greens restoration in March.
“There are a lot of moving parts here,” Muhlenbruch said. “It has been an exercise in logistics.”
The Ocean Course is following the same specifications of the Lake Course’s greens renovation, which occurred in 2009. The Lake Course’s Poa annua greens were regrassed with a mixture of 007 and Tyee, both creeping bentgrass varieties from Seed Research of Oregon. The renovation on the Lake Course has been a hit with most of the club’s members.
Ten greens were already finished by the time the tournament arrived. The remaining greens will be finished once the circus leaves town.
“Your professors and mentors all tell you to do a Major and a construction during your career,” Muhlenbruch said. “But nobody ever said to do it at the same time. It has been a busy time.”
The Ocean Course is scheduled to reopen in September.