As Phillis Meti and Tim Burke each claimed victory on Tuesday at the first Tour event of the World Long Drive season, the other standout of the competition was the grid venue itself at the Ak-Chin Smash in the Sun.
The consistent, green, 500-yard grid wasn’t concocted out of thin air, but rather the result of extensive planning and labor to ensure a competitive surface worthy of the longest hitters in the world.
With plenty of land and very little grass, Troon Golf’s Ak-Chin Southern Dunes General Manager Brady Wilson and his crew set out to make a grid that would provide plenty of roll for competitors while still appearing nice and green for television.
“Last year when it was announced that we would host this event we looked at the area and put a lot of effort into getting it ready for May. We had six months to do it and given the time that we had, our team did an awesome job.”
Growing grass in the desert isn’t exactly a simple process, and requires extensive experience and hard work.
“That field is not meant for athletic use or general uses,” said Wilson. “The irrigation system doesn’t have full coverage and the depth of the units is pretty shallow, so you can’t aerify it. Last year, [the event was] in May, and the grid is Bermuda overseeded with Rye, so last May when it started to get hot the Rye started to die, so that’s why the grid had some areas that were starting to burn out.”
However, knowing that Ak-Chin was going to be hosting the event again in 2019, Wilson’s crew was prepared well in advance.
“The day after the competition last year we started a whole new grid which involved putting a complete irrigation [system] on it.”
Wilson’s crew also took the summer to grow in fresh new Bermuda 4-19 grass to get more coverage with a thicker base. It was then overseeded in November and again in February so it would look green.
“If you talk to the players, it’s all about the grid for them. Everybody wants to see longer drives because that’s what this is. If they hit a ball that [lands] and it stops, they aren’t going to be as happy as if the ball were to bounce forward.”
The grass is mowed at just about the height of a fairway. It also requires special treatment to stunt the growth and hold in the moisture to account for the fact that the surface cannot be mowed in the days leading up to the competition once it’s been painted.
As Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Superintendent Daniel Payson explains, “A part of our fertility program is a growth regulator that helps limit how much vertical growth we get once they put down the paint so we don’t have to be out there mowing it.”
It’s hard not to recognize the impressive nature of the agronomy team’s work, in transforming what was essentially an open field of dirt into a competitive surface – in an 18 month span – that left hitters saying nothing but positive things throughout the competition.