Rich Harvest Farms is ready for the Solheim Cup
By Angela Nitz
The players on Captain Beth Daniel's Solheim Cup Team are big enough for just one name: Creamer, Gulbis, Kerr, Inkster, Wie and the rest. One player on golf course superintendent Jeff VerCautren's Solheim Cup Team is big enough to go by just one name: Bunker.
Bunker is a four-year-old golden retriever and unofficial mascot for VerCautren, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America Class A superintendent at Rich Harvest Farms, and his staff who are preparing the facility for Daniel's team and European Captain Allison Nicholas' players beginning Aug. 17.
VerCautren said Bunker, who is a favorite of Rich Harvest Farms club members, has also made a few friends with the LPGA and LET players when not performing his geese chasing duties. "The ladies love him," VerCautren said.
The interaction between VerCautren (and Bunker) and the players, is just one aspect of getting Rich Harvest Farms ready for world class golf and 150,000 fans expect to watch.
"I have a lot of interaction with the players. I talk to the captains about how the course is playing, the length, etc. I am really trying to get their feel of the course," he said.
With just 49 members, the Sugar Grove, Ill., private club encompasses more than 1,800 acres. Preparations for the event have been years in the making. VerCautren and his staff have redone numerous tees and bunkers at the 20-year-old course in preparation for the Solheim Cup. VerCautren is planning on fast greens for the event. He said he is hoping to have green speeds at 12. "The greens really putt the best at 12," he said.
With the support of club members and monthly onsite visits from LPGA Tour Agronomist John Miller (a GCSAA certified golf course superintendent) VerCautren's biggest challenge in tournament prep has been the weather.
"It's been a record amount of rainfall. We've had a few struggles. We went from record rain straight into 90-degree heat. (The greens) really smoked," he said. The maintenance staff has been putting in extra effort to keep up with the challenges of Mother Nature. VerCautren has been working 14-hour days and has taken just one day off since April. He and his staffed have clocked in hundreds of hours of overtime.
VerCautren said while the overall maintenance plan for a team event does not differ greatly from individual play, he taking into consideration the style of rounds and what that means for wear and tear of the course.
"During a traditional event, you'll have many groups spread throughout the course," he said. "But with this, you'll have just four groups out on the field, spread between six to eight holes." The main concern with this equation is that means the expected daily crowds of 40,000 spectators, and the wear and tear to the course they bring, will be concentrated on just a few holes at a time. And from foot traffic to creating 5,000 new parking spaces, VerCautren said his goal is to make sure "no one has a bad experience."
Helping VerCautren in these efforts is Miller, the LPGA Tour agronomist. "He's been great," VerCautren said, "He's here to work with us to create great playing conditions that are consistent with other event throughout the Tour."
But great conditions aren't the only thing on VerCautren's mind. While making the Solheim Cup an event to remember for players and spectators, he's also mindful of the environment focus that has driven the facility over the last several years.
VerCautren uses an Integrated Pest Management System to ensure the sustainability of the turf in meeting the challenges of weather, disease and wear and tear. Ninety percent of the water features on the property are bordered with native grasses to reduce runoff and filter the water that runs through the property. A state-of-the-art irrigation system also limits use of water. A recycling program which includes staff, membership and guests was implemented and has reduced waste by 40%. And this year, Rich Harvest Farms began using biodiesel fuel in its equipment. This renewable fuel source reduces harmful emissions, and actually saves the facility money.
"We're proud to be working at a facility that can be rated in Golf Digest's 'Top 100 Greatest Golf Courses' and still be 'green,'" VerCautren said.
As the Solheim Cup teams get ready to tee off, VerCautren is ready for long days (he expects to be up at 2:30 a.m. each day and getting home near 11:00 p.m. during tournament play) and ready to see his course at its finest.
"I just can't wait to see it all take place, and the fruits of our labor."
And neither can the 150,000 fans.
Angela Nitz is the manager, corporate communications for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. GCSAA is a leading golf organization, which has as its focus golf course management. Since 1926, GCSAA has been the top professional association for the men and women who manage golf courses in the United States and worldwide. From its headquarters in Lawrence, Kan., the association provides education, information and representation to more than 20,000 members in more than 72 countries. GCSAA's mission is to serve its members, advance their profession and enhance the enjoyment, growth and vitality of the game of golf. The association's philanthropic organization, the Environmental Institute for Golf, works to strengthen the compatibility of golf with the natural environment through research grants, support for education programs and outreach efforts. Visit GCSAA at www.gcsaa.org.
Topics: Solheim Cup