Behind the Scenes of Tournament Setup: Pelican Golf Club Presented by John Deere | LPGA
With the end of the season, there are only a few events left on the LPGA Tour calendar. The first, next week, being the Pelican Women’s Championship at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida. The newly renovated course is a design by Donald Ross and players on the LPGA Tour are still learning. This is only the second year that the event has been on the LPGA Tour calendar with the opening in 2020.
But with new leadership from Golf Course and Field Manager Terry Kennerly, fans and players can be sure the facility is in tip top shape for the tournament to begin. Kennerly’s tenure at the Concession Golf Club ended in May and brings this wealth of knowledge to the Tampa Bay area. Taking the helm ahead of the penultimate stop on the LPGA tour, he is helping the club prepare to welcome the world’s best players in November.
Transitioning to a new facility with a new standard of maintenance is always a challenge, but with partner John Deere’s commitment to excellence and the support of their agricultural staff, Kennerly feels better than ever in his new role. As the Pelican Women’s Championship looms, he gives fans a peek behind the curtain, outlining the pre-tournament setup required of him and his team before the LPGA Tour arrives.
What knowledge do you bring from the Pelican Golf Club dealership and what role has John Deere played in your job?
I think tournament experience is obviously one of them, but I try to provide championship playing conditions on a daily basis. This is what we were looking for at Concession. And I would say that, for the most part, we probably did, and that’s the goal of Pelican Golf Club as well. It was a fairly easy transition. It’s still work. It’s still hard. You still have to have breaks over time, but the property here is unlike anyone I’ve worked for when it comes to supporting and getting what we need. I don’t care what type of business it is. You need to have financial support and that’s the key, but you also need the tools and resources to get the job done. The owners here have been nothing short of exceptional.
We have just purchased John Deere fairway units, ride-on mowers and triplexes, adding to our John Deere fleet that I have worked with in the past. John Deere plays a pretty big role in my job, that’s for sure.
How did your experience at Concession prepare you to come to the Pelican Golf Club and immediately start preparing for an LPGA Tour event?
It’s really knowing what it takes to ensure the conditions of a tournament on a daily basis. I had 17 years of experience there and another 10 years before that, working two US Opens at Congressional and two PGAs at Inverness Club. I’ve been in the business for quite a while and it’s one thing to see the conditions, it’s another to know what it takes to achieve them. It’s never easy, but once you’ve gone through it, there are always mistakes that you learn from and that you can learn about the trade, whether from peers in the business. , volunteers or salespeople. As crazy as it sounds, I think every tournament gets a little easier because you learn a little bit from every event. Whether I’ve been to Concession or the Pelican Golf Club, you keep taking what you learn and applying it somewhere else.
How significant are the differences in preparation for PGA Tour events compared to LPGA Tour events?
There are some differences in the speeds and firmness of the greens but the preparation is still the same. You have to have good staff. We have to take weather breaks. You must have the support of your landlord and we look forward to it. We think we’re going to have a really good LPGA event and we’re excited about it. I know the club is, me and my staff are looking forward to it.
Does the way the course is designed (i.e. a Ross vs. a Nicklaus) change the way it is run by an agronomist?
The Pelican Golf Club is a former design by Donald Ross that was remodeled by Beau Welling about four years ago. The concession was a rugged and rugged golf course that required harsh, firm, dry and fast conditions. At the Pelican Golf Club, we always strive to achieve this goal, but it is a slightly more modern design with crisp edges making it easier to maintain the bunkers. The concession was really hilly even though they are closed Augusta-type bunkers with straight edges. So, when it comes to edging, cutting and maintenance, they are treated differently.
They are two totally different golf courses and at the end of the day it’s always about the maintenance of the golf course. At Concession, trying to maintain hard, firm, dry and fast conditions isn’t just about shutting off the water. You still water, but there is a lot of hand watering. These are two totally different designs at Concession vs Pelican and each requires two different types of maintenance.
How has John Deere supported you and your team during the transition and during the preparation for the Pelican Women’s Championship?
I have probably used all the providers that exist. I had Jacobsen. I had Toro. I had John Deere. I think everyone in the world has been affected by this pandemic in one way or another and when I got here there was some material we needed. We spoke to Toro and John Deere, but John Deere delivered much faster and they had the units we needed in stock. I have friends in the company who ordered equipment six, seven or eight months ago, and they still have four to five months to get the equipment while John Deere got it for us. in three to four weeks. Where they really succeeded was with the loans and it got to where literally everything we asked for John Deere delivered. And if they didn’t have it, they would find it for us. As superintendents we can be a little impatient when we want things and sometimes the property can be a little impatient as well. I can tell you everything we asked for, from equipment support to customer service needs, John Deere has been there for us. They have been with us every step of the way.
What does your partnership with John Deere mean for you and your staff and for all Pelican Golf Club facilities?
It is invaluable to know that if we have a problem, it will be fixed. I am sure that will be the same for tournament support over the next couple of weeks. Literally everything we asked for, John Deere delivered. We know something is going to happen during the tournament and unfortunately we don’t know what yet. But it’s good to know that when it comes to equipment, we can pick up the phone and we know without taking it for granted that John Deere will provide whatever we need.
How does John Deere’s commitment to excellence affect you and your team?
It is one less thing that we have to worry about. If we have a piece of equipment that breaks down, we have peace of mind working with John Deere. When you start to organize tournaments, you try to eliminate any possible problematic scenarios. It can be related to the equipment, the weather. We can’t control the weather, but all equipment issues are solved by something as simple as picking up the phone.
What exactly are you and your team working on ahead of the Pelican Women’s Championship?
We had a pro member event which is like a practice round. Whether it’s double-cutting or rolling or trying to put the guys into tournament mode, it helps us know what to expect during our lead week and event week. It’s a two-day event that we take very seriously here, and the conditions we’re looking for for this event are very close to what we would like for the LPGA. It’s kind of like a mini practice tour for the four o’clock starts and the taxiing and mowing. There were thirty miles per hour winds during the occurrence which is good and bad. It’s painful, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think we could have that time during the Pelican Women’s Championship. It would be nice to look back during the tournament and say, “Two weeks ago we had a similar situation, and this is what we did to respond to it.” Any little experience like this that staff can draw upon is always invaluable.
Do you think it is important to encourage women to get into golf agronomy?
Absolutely I think it’s important. It is physical labor, there is no doubt about it. The golf industry today, especially the maintenance of golf courses, we are no different from many other industries. Staffing is very difficult now and the more women involved the better, especially when hosting an LPGA Tour event. The two women we have who work for us now are just as good as the men we have who work for us.
You need a different mindset. There aren’t many people who like to get up at four in the morning and work eight or ten hours a day. It takes a unique individual, male or female, and I don’t have any preference one way or the other, but I think it’s important.
What would you like people to know about Pelican Golf Club number one but number two about the work you and your team do on a daily basis?
Golf course maintenance has always been behind the scenes. People outside of golf, I think, have no idea what goes into the maintenance of a golf course every day, whether it’s for a tournament or for a membership. Sometimes the weather is less than cooperative, and sometimes the greens are not as fast as they would like. Sometimes the fairways can be a bit soft or a bit wet. There are a lot of things out of our control.
Some people can see events on TV or come and see them in person and think, “Must be a lot of fun working outside” and stuff like that. It’s long hours. I have been doing this for over 30 years and for me and my key staff it is not unusual to say that we work 10-12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. Like any other business, if you want to be good at it, you have to have the passion to do it. This is a difficult work. I don’t think people really understand what’s going on in there. I mean, there is an art in there. There is a science in this. And things change every day but for me the key to success is trying to stay one step ahead because it’s much easier to try to stop things than to try to catch up.