Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Goodwin and Suspension of Play

            Running tournaments in Northern California, we rarely have to deal with suspensions of play.  Today at The Goodwin hosted by Stanford, we had a bleak forecast for most of the week and then it became even worse on Friday after round one.  We never want to suspend play, but it sometimes becomes necessary generally for two main reasons: 1) a dangerous condition is approaching or has suddenly arisen (typically lightning but in the Midwest tornadoes would also be good reason to get people off the course as quickly as possible) or; 2) weather conditions have made the course unplayable.
            Today was an instance of the second cause.  The forecasted rain did come in right on schedule, and when the heaviest downpour hit, it rendered 5 of the putting greens unplayable almost simultaneously.
            Before going into the suspension itself, it’s worth discussing the preparations beforehand that were made with the forecast in mind.

“Rainy Day” Hole Locations
            If you have a bleak forecast, it is smart to choose your hole locations in places that are at the highest ground and away from drainage.  On even the rainiest of days, play can continue as long as it is possible to take relief for casual water intervention on the line of putt and still get to the hole.  It is only once the hole becomes surrounded, or relief can only occur by moving the ball significantly that play must be stopped.  With this in mind, we did not physically dot the hole locations until after the first round until we had the most up to date information about the incoming weather.  Then using a Break Master (digital level designed for golf), we made sure we selected hole locations on high ground but that all had less than 2 degrees of slope.  This ensured fair (albeit some were still quite tucked) hole locations that were away from drainage and gave us the best possibility for playing through the rain as long as possible.
            The hole locations we selected did last longer than a normal set would have, but eventually the rain won out.

Forward Tees
            While we didn’t change many, we did select a couple tees that needed to be moved forward to account for the lack of roll and would better facilitate pace of play.  Always consider the forecasted winds when setting your tees if trying to get a round played in nasty weather.

Advance Communication
            We had multiple conversations with the host Coaches and the course staff to be prepared for what might be necessary in case we either needed to suspend or needed maintenance assistance.  At the beginning of the day we made sure squeegees were available so we could take care of some greens either to prepare for a restart or to attempt to stave off the inevitable.  We knew in advance how long a suspension we could sustain before we would be unable to complete the round and discuss a potential morning restart or plan Z, cancellation of the third round (fortunately we didn’t get to this point).
            The scoring area was condensed into one central scoring area that was covered and sided so that both players and officials could deal with scoring in a dry, secure place.

            Even the most prepared can be caught off-guard when a suspension becomes necessary though, and today was no different.  The rain today was fairly steady from the start of play but was also reasonably light.  As it started to get heavier I immediately radioed to officials to start checking our “problem” greens, that is – the greens that were most prone to flood and become unplayable the quickest.  The sudden downpour came around noon, just as forecasted and within 10 minutes I started to hear a call or two about standing water.  Relief was still available and holes were not surrounded but I was on alert.  As I grabbed the squeegees to try and stave off the impending suspension, it began to rain even harder and the dreaded call came that the fourth green was surrounded.  The carefully selected hole itself was fine and about 5 feet around it was fine, but the drainage lines had left the hole completely surrounded by standing water for putts of more than 8 feet.  Then another green radioed in, then a third. 
At this point I had grabbed my air horns and quickly briefed the officials on the procedure for suspension of play.  I had them tell their players the suspension was coming, that it was for a non-dangerous situation and they would be permitted to complete the hole had they started it.  If they wished to discontinue they should mark their golf balls, preferably with multiple tees to avoid the possibility of the marks being moved and let them know we would not be holding the players in place.  Then I gave the countdown and blew the horn – three short blasts for a non-dangerous suspension.
Of course, Mother Nature likes to mock the golf administrator, so immediately after the suspension and despite the bleak radar, the rain began to lighten as the players walked in. The troublesome greens quickly started to absorb the lighter rain and by the time I got down to see the 8th hole, it had become nearly playable again (see picture).  After taking a look at several of the trouble greens I went inside and started discussing the plan with the Committee.  We recognized 5 specific greens that needed to be squeegeed to prepare for a restart as it looked like we were going to get a break in the weather.  The host assistant coach sent a group text that an announcement would be made at 1:10 (35 minutes after the suspension). 

The 8th Green about 20 minutes into the suspension.

After viewing the radar and forming a plan with my Committee and the assistance of the host coach and facility, I was able to announce at 1:10 that we would resume play at 1:45.  This allowed enough time for all players to get back into place, for us to squeegee the problem greens and let players hit some putts or chips on the practice short game areas, finish drying off or finish eating lunch (as everyone had gathered in the buffet tent and grabbed a bite). We did not open the driving range for use as it was not located in a position to permit players to use it and still get into place on time.
Prior to the resumption I gave a quick briefing to officials about resuming play (always place the ball) and some reminders about casual water in bunkers and maximum available relief.  I ran the countdown and we resumed play at 1:45, without incident.  Again to mock me of course, the rain started as soon as we began but it never came down as hard as the earlier downpour until the final group was on the 18th green (that didn't stop number 1 ranked amateur Patrick Rodgers from draining a 30 footer for a 69 and a three-stroke lead).  We managed to complete play with time to spare and now have sunshine in the forecast for tomorrow.
All in a day’s work…

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