Um, I'm not in Kansas anymore.
Check out my new friend, a 5-foot alligator (OK, maybe it was only 4 feet, but 5 sounds more ominous and impressive) that I inched ever so slowly toward today as the reptile meandered across the No. 7 fairway during my visit to see GCSAA superintendent member Jeff Stone, who will be kind of busy this summer.
Stone oversees The Ocean Course, a Pete Dye design, at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. That is where the PGA Championship takes place Aug. 9-12.
I wasn't the only person who witnessed an alligator on a rainy, sunless morning along the Atlantic Ocean.
"An alligator was following us. It made me a little nervous," says Jim Boerger, who lives in Michigan but was in the area to take care of business and mix in a little pleasure by getting in a round at the Ocean Course. "My caddie says he's seen some of them 10- or 12-feet long. I don't need that."
Stone, who has been on the scene at the Ocean Course since 2003, is thinking more about a Tiger (Woods) than an alligator as the big event draws closer. It will be the first time a professional major on the regular tour has come to South Carolina, and the first key event since the 2007 Senior PGA Championship was held there.
The 18th green has been moved closer to the ocean. The spot where Langer putted? Today, there was a huge white tent (pictured right) that was being set up to use for a wedding party this weekend on what formerly was the 18th green where Langer missed under pressure, a result that put the Ryder Cup in U.S. hands.
"Pete changed the 18th and made it more of a dogleg," says Stone, adding, "so now it's a long par-4 uphill, in to the wind."
Ah, the wind. It definitely is the Ocean Course's best defense, Stone says, a factor he and his staff of 17 deal with on pretty much a daily basis. The Ocean Course, though, already had a reputation for being difficult. Golf Digest magazine rated it the toughest course in America. Keegan Bradley, 2011 PGA Championship winner, says if the wind howls, the 2012 champion might be over par.
"The course changes week by week," says Stone, 25-year GCSAA member. "The golf course, basically, is on a sand bar. We can have turf elevations that rise as much as two feet in one year."
There are no paved cart paths, no bunkers at the Ocean Course, only natural areas that include dunes in many locations. Shortly after Stone arrived, the Ocean Course greens were changed from Ultra Dwarf to paspalum, which seems to tolerate the high salt content.
Stone, 45, actually thanked me for coming to town ("We appreciate you bringing us some rain. We need it," he said). He isn't looking too far down the road because the PGA Championship still is fourth months away. Still, he understands the importance of what will happen come August.
"Its a huge event for us, for South Carolina," Stone says. "Once July rolls around, that's when I'll get amped up. My staff will limit how much coffee I'm allowed to drink because I'll drive them crazy."
GCM plans to shadow Stone and his staff in August when PGA Championship week arrives. Hopefully, it will be a week that is alligator-free.