Friday July 8, 2011

GREAT BARRINGTON -- When a golf course is awarded a prestigious tournament, perhaps the person under the most pressure is the course superintendent.

Fortunately for Wyantenuck Country Club, host of next week’s Massachusetts Amateur Championship, Peter Bacon is that man.

"Peter does a fabulous job. Nobody does it better," said club head professional Tom Sullivan. "He takes care of this place like it’s his baby, which it is."

Last week, when Wyantenuck hosted the Allied Senior Championship, virtually everyone praised the conditions, some telling Sullivan it was the best-conditioned course they had ever played.

With his fingers crossed hoping for a relatively dry week heading into the big event on Monday, Bacon is pleased.

"I’m very happy with where we are at," Bacon said. "Things are right on target. We’ve had just enough rain to keep the rough lush and we should have the speed of the greens where we want them."

With Wyantenuck measuring a relatively short 6,456 yards, the rough and firm, speedy greens provide its main defense mechanism in an era where technology has everyone hitting it long. Finding the right formula is a delicate balance.

"We want firm greens and tough rough, but we also don’t want it to be too penal," Bacon said.

Bacon, who was the superintendent at Worthington Country Club prior to his long ongoing run at Wyantenuck, is looking to have the greens at an 11 on the stimpmeter -- plenty fast considering the putting surfaces.

"If the greens were flatter, we could go up to a 12, but there is too much slope here for that," Bacon said. "The MGA [Massachusetts Golf Association] doesn’t want anything crazy."

This week, Bacon had the greens at a slower 10 as the course hosted its annual Lady Redfield tournament. Over the next few days, he and his crew will work to get them up to tournament speed by the time MGA officials tour the course with Bacon to decide on pin positions and mark the course.

"When they come up Sunday, we should have the green speeds right where we want them," he said.

As for the rough, this year’s weather has been conducive to keeping it lush. Bacon provides a wide, low-cut collar around most of the greens to give players a choice of chipping or putting. However, those who are a little more off target will face a tough challenge.

"With the quick, firm greens and high rough, you’ll have to be a pretty good player to get it up and down," Bacon said.

The biggest challenge in terms of having the course just right by Monday, Bacon said, is that rough.

"It’s normally cut at 2 1/2 inches," he said. "For a major event, we won’t cut it for a week and we have fertilized it to keep it lush. Still, we don’t want it to be too difficult."

Getting ready for the Amateur has been an ongoing effort.

"We started three years ago with projects," Bacon said. "We got them all done last year. I told the [club] board that this year I was just concentrating on growing grass and getting it right.

Which explains why the always well-conditioned course is better than ever in 2011.

"When you are doing projects all the time, other things can fall through the cracks," said Bacon.

Bacon also skipped aerifying the green in August and June -- it’s usually done three times a year and provides plenty of longterm benefits -- to help firm them up for the tournament.

Through the years, with the blessing of the board, Bacon has made changes that helped make Wyantenuck the kind of course the MGA wanted to host its premier amateur event.

"We’ve rebuilt the green complexes on the fourth, eighth and 15th holes and redesigned and rebuilt 50 percent of the bunkers," Bacon said.

Sullivan points to the par-3 ninth hole as one of Bacon’s best changes to a course that has been around since 1914.

"He made a good par 3 into a great par 3," Sullivan said. "He cut down some trees to let in the light, bring the wind more into play and help the putting surface have better growth."

Bacon, who is a strong player and member at Wahconah Country Club, has an idea of the type of player who will succeed this week.

"Length will not be a problem," he said. "It’s going to take someone with a good short game who is a really good putter."