"Ladies and gentleman, permit me to introduce to you the winner of the 1996 U.S. Open: Mr. Steve Glossinger."
No, USGA President Judy Bell didn't say these words at the awards ceremony on the 18th green at Oakland Hills last month. Everyone knows that Steve Jones was the winner at the ever-demanding and storied South Course in Bloomfield Hills. For sure, Jones was a worthy and inspirational playing champion. But the course champion in a unanimous yet soggy ballot was the Golf Course Manager and Superintendent at Oakland Hills, Steve Glossinger.
If you happened to be at the course on Wednesday of tournament week, you know what I'm talking about here. On the eve of the biggest event of the year in golf with literally years of planning and preparation behind it, Oakland Hills got swamped by a sky-borne tidal wave. Fairways were flooded, greens were inundated and bunkers devastated. After the storm, the venerable ogre on Maple Road should've been re-dubbed the "Loch Ness Monster." Many veteran observers of the Open said it ranked as one of the most severe storms ever to strike the Championship. Only a handful of optimistic souls guessed_out loud at least_that the tournament would be held the next day. But maybe they knew something about the mettle of Steve Glossinger and his staff.
Glossinger arrived at Oakland Hills 19 months ago after a successful eight years at Point O' Woods G & CC near Benton Harbor, home of the prestigious Western Amateur. Among his peers, Steve is viewed as a "Superintendent's Superintendent," certainly one of the top professionals in his trade in the state. But getting a course such as Oakland Hills ready for a U.S. Open is the ultimate test of a Super. Indeed, the Open is the "Super" Bowl of the Green Committee. In an excellent pre-tournament article on him in the Detroit Free Press by Jo-Ann Barnas, Glossinger was quoted as saying: "The whole world is going to see what I do for a living. I want the touring pros to be happy. I want the members to be happy. I want the USGA to be happy. And I want Mother Nature to give us a break that week."
Okay, so maybe three out of four wasn't so bad, Steve. But when Mother Nature finally loosened her grip on Oakland Hills on that wet and wild Wednesday, Glossinger and Co. went to work with the zeal and proficiency of the Red Cross. With the aid of area superintendents, volunteers and his able staff, Glossinger directed an amazing relief effort to get the course ready in less than 16 hours time. The torrential downpour annihilated one greenside bunker on the 18th hole. But before first-round play had made its way to the final hole, that bunker had been completely re-built by Glossinger and crew. Fittingly, that bunker will forever be named the "Glossinger Bunker." At the impromptu re-christening ceremony on Friday of the event, Glossinger said: "I really appreciate it, but that's not really the way I want to build bunkers out here."
I guess this is a long segue into something that's often said more as a casual and rote recital at the end of the tournament. And that is the yeoman-like, underrated work of the superintendent in preparing his or her course for a championship. Over the past few years, I've been fortunate to see some outstanding efforts by superintendents in the face of some terrible weather conditions. Two years ago, I remember how a monsoon-like, two-day cloudburst nearly drowned Egypt Valley CC and the First of America Classic. But Superintendent Jeff Holmes and crew responded to the challenge and got the course ready for play. A month later, you could hardly tell a tournament with thousands of spectators had been staged there. The same could be said for what Warwick Hills' super Phil Owen has done the last couple years battling the seemingly annual ritual of thunderstorms during the Buick Open. Last year was a virtual "Weather Channel Live on Location" at Warwick Hills with several suspensions of play due to Thursday and Friday storms. Yet, once again the course was squeegeed, pumped out and nurtured back to playing health. And earlier this spring, Walnut Hills' super, Kurt Thuemmel, drew deserved praise for his efforts during a rain-marred Olds Classic.
As someone once observed, no sport is played on a bigger game surface than golf. And with a few exceptions, no game is subject to the vagaries of weather. For sure, that's part of the golf's allure and hold on its minions. But it's the superintendent's usually thankless job to combat the elements--from rain, high winds, heat and humidity--in a state that seems at times to define dysfunctional weather.
To paraphrase the wisdom of Kermit the Frog--someone well--acquainted with swampy playing conditions: "it's not easy being the Green Superintendent."