Preparing the famed Salem Country Club course for the upcoming United States Senior Open (June 26-July 2) involves a combination of routine tasks and special considerations, as well as cooperation from Mother Nature.
Kip Tyler, in his 36th year as the Salem Country Club course superintendent, knows all about it. The national award winning Tyler, 2001 winner of the GolfWeek/Superintendent News National Superintendent of the Year award (now known as the Turfnet National Superintendent of the Year Award) is for the third time preparing Salem for the national and international golf stage. The Ohio native has overseen the Salem grounds since 1982, when he was lured away from his job at major Championship venue Medinah outside Chicago. He was the superintendent when Salem hosted the 1984 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2001 U.S. Senior Open.
“Our No. 1 goal is to have the grass growing and healthy as the warmer weather returns, hopefully by early to late April,” said Tyler. “That’s our goal, of course, every season; moreso this spring for obvious reasons. We’ll do the projects we do every year, such as fertilizing, aerifying, top-dressing greens, tees and fairways with sand, pushing the bunkers back up, cleaning up everywhere, especially outside the line of play, like in the tree areas.
“We’ll keep in mind the specs the USGA has given us for Championship week, but for now we’ll cut the grass at the same heights and keep the fairways the same width we do every year for membership play,” Tyler added. “We’ll go the same heights for tees, fairways, approaches and collars.
“We’ll have a different cutting formula for off the fairway: a first intermediate cut, then, depending on the length of the hole another cut of rough six to 10 feet wide, then the long rough. But in the early going it’s all about a gradual spring warmup and growing healthy turf.”
Tyler understands how things can go wrong while hosting a major Championship.
He faced a crisis in the spring of 2001 when Salem’s greens and many of its fairways suffered what is called “winter kill.” In effect, the crown of the grass was killed by a lethal combination of precipitation and sub-freezing temperatures that formed a layer of ice that covered the turf for weeks. Thanks to Tyler’s expertise and his diligent staff, the Salem grasses fully recovered just in time for the late June Championship.
Defending Champion Hale Irwin lauded Tyler and company for “pulling off a miracle.”
Near the end of the U.S. Senior Open’s third round on Saturday the plot thickened as well. Torrential downpours featuring thunder and lightning drenched the course, but Tyler’s team had the course in perfect shape for the completion of the third round early Sunday morning, after which the final round started ninety minutes earlier than planned because of the threat of severe thunderstorms late Sunday afternoon. The storm came, but not before Bruce Fleisher was crowned Champion.
In 1984 Tyler and staff effectively dealt with a heat wave that struck during U.S. Women’s Open week. “We simply have to be ready for whatever the weather brings,” Tyler said.
Don’t miss your chance to witness history at the 2017 U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club. Tickets for this once in a generation event are on sale now and volunteer opportunities are available. For more information, visit 2017ussenioropen.com or call the Championship Office at 978-818-6006.