With the season coming to a close, there are just a couple of events left on the LPGA Tour calendar. The first, next week, being the Pelican Women’s Championship at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida. The recently renovated course is a Donald Ross design and one LPGA Tour players are still learning. This is only the second year the event has been on the LPGA Tour schedule with the inaugural in 2020.
But with newfound leadership in Terry Kennelly, Director of Golf Course and Grounds, fans and players can be sure that the facility is in top-notch condition for the start of tournament play. Kennelly’s tenure at Concession Golf Club came to an end this May and brings that wealth of knowledge to the Tampa Bay area. Taking the helm ahead of the LPGA’s penultimate tour stop, he is helping the club prepare to host the world’s best players this November.
Transitioning to a new facility with a new standard of maintenance is always challenging, but with partner John Deere’s commitment to excellence and their support of his agronomy staff, Kennelly is feeling better than ever in his new role. As 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 Concession to Pelican Golf Club and what role has John Deere played in your line of work?
I think tournament experience is obviously one of them, but I try and provide championship playing conditions on a daily basis. That's what we strived for at Concession. And I would say, for the most part, we probably did it, and that's the goal at Pelican Golf Club as well. It's been a pretty easy transition. It's still work. It's still hard. You still have to have some breaks with the weather but the ownership here is unlike anybody I've ever worked for as far as support and getting us what we need. I don't care what type of business it is. You've got to have financial support and that’s key, but you also need the tools and resources to do the job. The owners here have been nothing but exceptional.
We just purchased some John Deere fairway units, walking mowers, and triplexes, so adding to our fleet of John Deere which I've worked with in the past. John Deere plays a pretty important role in my work, for sure.
How did your experience at Concession prepare you to come to Pelican Golf Club and immediately begin to prepare for an LPGA Tour event?
It's really knowing what it takes to provide tournament conditions on a daily basis. I had 17 years of experience there and another 10 years before that, working two U.S. Opens at Congressional and two PGAs at Inverness Club. I've been in the business quite a while and it's one thing to see the conditions, it's another thing to know what it takes to achieve those. It's never easy, but once you go through it, there are always mistakes you learn from and can acquire some tricks of the trade from, whether from peers in the business or volunteers or vendors. As crazy as it sounds, I think every tournament gets a little bit easier because you learn a little bit from each event. Whether I was at Concession or at Pelican Golf Club, you still take the stuff you learn and apply it to another place.
How marked are the differences in preparing for PGA Tour events versus LPGA Tour events?
There are some differences in the green speeds and firmness but the preparation is still the same. You’ve got to have a good staff. You've got to get some breaks in the weather. You've got to have support from your ownership and we're looking forward to it. We think we're going to have a really good event for the LPGA and we're excited about it. I know the club is, me and my staff are, we're really looking forward to it.
Does the way the course is designed (ie a Ross versus a Nicklaus) change how it’s cared for by an agronomy staff?
Pelican Golf Club is an old Donald Ross design that was renovated by Beau Welling around four years ago. Concession was a rough, rugged golf course that required hard, firm, dry, fast conditions. At Pelican Golf Club, we still strive for that, but this is a bit more of a modern design with crisp edges making the bunkers easier to maintain. Concession was really rugged whereas these are Augusta shut-type bunkers with straight edges. So as far as edging, trimming, and maintenance goes, they are treated differently.
They’re two totally different golf courses and at the end of the day it’s still golf course maintenance. At Concession, trying to maintain hard, firm, dry, fast conditions is not just shutting off the water. You're still watering, but there's a lot of hand watering. It's 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've used probably every vendor that's out there. I've had Jacobsen. I've had Toro. I've had John Deere. I think everybody in the world has been affected by this pandemic in one way or another and when I got here, there was some equipment that we needed. We talked to Toro and John Deere and but John Deere delivered a lot more quickly and they had the units in inventory that we needed. I have friends in the business that ordered equipment six, seven, eight months ago, and they're still four to five months out from getting the equipment whereas John Deere had it for us in three to four weeks. Where they really came through was with loaners and it got to where literally anything we asked for, John Deere delivered it. And if they didn't have it, they went and found it for us. As superintendents, we can be a little impatient when we want things and sometimes ownership can be a little impatient as well. I can tell you everything we've asked for from support to equipment to customer service needs John Deere has been there for us. They've been with us every step of the way.
What does your partnership with John Deere mean to you and your staff and to the overall Pelican Golf Club facility?
It’s invaluable knowing that if we have an issue that it’s going to be taken care of. I'm sure it's going to be that way for tournament support over the next couple of weeks. Literally, anything we've asked for, John Deere has delivered it. We know something's going to come up during the tournament and unfortunately, we just don't know what yet. But it's nice to know that if it's equipment related, we can pick up the phone and we know without taking it for granted that John Deere is going to deliver whatever we need.
How does John Deere’s commitment to excellence affect you and your team?
It's one less thing we have to worry about. If we have a piece of equipment that breaks down there is just peace of mind working with John Deere. When you start hosting tournament events, you try to eliminate any scenarios that are going to cause problems. It might be equipment-related, weather-related. We can't control the weather, but any issues that are equipment-related are solved by something as easy as picking up the phone.
What specifically are you and your team working on ahead of the Pelican Women’s Championship?
We had a member-pro event which is like a practice round. Whether it's double-cutting or rolling or trying to get the guys in tournament mode, it helps us on what to expect during our advance week and the week of the event. It's a two-day event that we take very seriously here, and the conditions that we strive for this event are very close to what we would want for the LPGA. It's kind of like a mini practice round for the four o'clock starts and the rolling and the mowing. There were thirty mile an hour winds during the event which is good and bad. It's a pain, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to think that we might get some of that weather during the Pelican Women’s Championship. It would be good 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 bit of experience like that for the staff to draw on is always invaluable.
Do you think it's important to kind of encourage women to get into the golf agronomy business?
Absolutely I think it's important. It's a physical job, there's no question about it. The golf industry today, specifically golf course maintenance, we're no different than a lot of other industries out there. Staffing is very difficult now and the more women that get involved in it, the better, especially hosting an LPGA Tour event. The two ladies that we have working for us now are every bit as good as the men we have working for us.
It takes a different mentality. There's not a whole lot of people that like getting up at four o'clock in the morning and working eight or ten hours a day. It takes a unique individual, man or woman, and I have no preference one way or the other, but I do think it's important.
What would you want people to know about number one Pelican Golf Club, but number two the work that you and your team do daily?
The golf course maintenance side has always been behind the scenes. People outside of golf I don't think have any idea what goes into maintaining 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 aren't quite as fast as they want them to be. Sometimes the fairways might be a little soft or might be a little wet. There's a lot of stuff out of our control.
Some people might see events on TV or come see in person and think, ‘It must be a lot of fun to work outside’ and stuff like that. It's long hours. I've been doing this for over 30 years and for me and my key staff, it's not out of the ordinary to say we work 10-12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. Like any other business, if you're going to be good at it, you've got to have a passion for doing it. It's a tough job. I don't think the people really understand what goes into it. I mean, there's an art to it. There's a science to it. And things change daily but to me, the key to success is trying to stay one step ahead because it's a lot easier to try and prevent things than to try and play catch up.