Denn avoids greens crisis at Porter Cup

LEWISTON, N.Y. – Running a golf tournament can sometimes be quite trying. A tournament director can face a variety of crises, both big and small. All need attention, whether it be prior to the start of play or during the competition itself.

There’s those last-minute withdrawals; the delays and disruptions caused by severe weather; player housing and transportation. The list goes on and on.

Steve Denn, tournament director for the Porter Cup for the past 10 years, has experienced his share of these problems, and still has kept his event as one of the most prestigious amateur tournaments in the country.

This year, Denn and Niagara Falls Country Club, which has been home to the Porter Cup in its 52-year history, were truly put to the test.

Let’s go back just a little. It was the Fourth of July, and Denn and his wife of eight months, Susan, planned to spend a nice evening at the club, where they could watch the fireworks show put on by the City of Lewiston down by the Niagara River.

For Denn, the fireworks – not the ones in the sky – started early. A member of the club came up to him and told him there had been a malfunction with the course’s irrigation system. When the sprinklers were turned on, they started spewing raw fertilizer on the manicured greens.

Numerous greens showed brown, burned-out spots, and two – Nos. 11 and 13 – were probably goners.

“I was just sick to my stomach,” Denn said. “I couldn’t make myself go out there and even look. Here we were, just three weeks away from Porter Cup, and something like this happens. Needless to say, I didn’t really enjoy the fireworks.”

After later evaluating the situation, it was deemed the greens at 11 and 13 would have to be replaced – and quickly.

“No. 11 (green) did not have blade of green grass, and 13 wasn’t much better,” Denn said.

Temporary greens were installed on the two holes, and NFCC contacted Colin Boyd, owner of Boyd Turf in Grove City, Pa., to re-sod and repair the two putting surfaces.

“We were told he is the best in the business,” Denn said. “It’s his specialty to come in and make the best of a bad situation. I’m told he did the same thing at Oak Hill in 2003 when it was hosting the PGA Championship.

“He came in here with his equipment and his own sod, and it was an amazing process to watch.”

Denn also said he had heard that Boyd was in the process of installing a green at the White House.

“I’m not sure if he finished making that green for the president or dropped everything and came to Niagara Falls,” Denn said. “All I know is, he was here in a day or two.”

During member play, and in Porter Cup practice rounds, the temporary greens were used. The new greens were played for the first time in Wednesday’s first round.

“Considering when this happened and what they had to do in such a short time, I think they did a great job,” said Nathan Smith, the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion. “The greens were fine. The thing is, if you’re putting well, you don’t even notice.”

Added Russell Henley, a senior at Georgia who tied for 16th last month at the U.S. Open and had 14 birdies in his first two Porter Cup rounds, “The greens were a little slower than what they usually have, but overall they were fine. When you think about it, they did a fantastic job under the circumstances.”

Denn said they will probably consider replacing a few other greens in the future, as well.

For now, though, the Porter Cup goes on, again in a smooth and efficient manner, the latest crisis under control.

Denn was also breathing a lot easier once the tournament got under way and he was getting positive feedback.

Of course, like most tournament directors, he’s bound to have a few gray hairs surfacing in the near future.

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