Traditionally a links-style course with hard, fast fairways framed by native grasses, Newport Country Club was a lush and wet mess for the U.S. Women’s Open.
If not for the supreme efforts of superintendent J. Robert Reynolds, Newport may not have been playable for the USGA’s first visit since 1995, when Tiger Woods won his second of three U.S. Amateurs.
In ’95, Newport played like it usually does – hard and fast. It has no irrigation except on the tees and greens, and the course didn’t require mowing of the fairways or rough the entire week. Women’s Open week arrived on the heels of 13 inches of rain over six weeks, creating mucky conditions on a course that sits at sea level and relies on ocean movements for drainage.
The heavy rain prompted Reynolds’ staff to pump more than 3 million gallons of water off the low-lying areas of the course.
“The weather did not cooperate, that’s the problem,” said Reynolds, in his 29th year at Newport. “It’s not unusual to get in a pattern like this. But we’re not usually holding a major when it’s happening.”
Reynolds had volunteer help from seven courses in the area, expanding his normal staff of 14 to 60, with 30 working the morning shift and 30 working afternoons to remove the water. In the process, Reynolds had to finagle pumps from two construction companies and a local landscaping firm. Nine pumps of varying sizes were used on the course, requiring 1,000 yards of hose and the assistance of the fire department in pumping the water out to the ocean.
Because the course elevation difference is only 6 feet from its high point to its low, the water drains slowly, and duringhigh tide, the pressure basically stops drainage.
When Michelle Wie arrived at Newport for her first round early Friday, three holes were under water. An hour later, the course looked – and played – fine. Though there was standing water in many bunkers, dry areas were ample enough to allow players to take drops in the hazards.
“We just don’t want situations where the entire bunker is full of water, where the player in trying to take free relief can’t take relief in the bunker and has to take a one-shot penalty and play out,” said Mike Davis, USGA senior director of rules and competitions.
The fact a starting field of 156 players – 68 of whom made the cut to play 36 holes Sunday – finished 72 holes by Sunday evening was a minor miracle. The staff was able to double-cut and roll the greens, getting their speed to 11 on the Stimpmeter for the weekend.
“The course is really in great condition,” said Angela Jerman, who played in one of the first groups Saturday. “The grounds crew here really did an incredible job just to get this place ready.”