Here's the second part of my running diary from my morning with Omaha CC lead assistant superintendent Spencer Roberts:
6:08 a.m. — The issues at Nos. 11 and 14 now dealt with and his radio finally silent for the first time all morning, Roberts is finally able to head to the front nine for that long-delayed examination of those holes. He also finally cracks open the can of Mountain Dew that had sat unattended for more than an hour. When it was noted that the large refrigerators in the volunteer tent at the maintenance facility didn't actually contain any Mountain Dew, he laughed and said, "Yea, I've got my own personal stash in my office."
If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have guessed Roberts needed any motivational assistance from a can of heavily caffeinated soda. Even at this early hour, with almost a full-week of sleep deprivation behind him, Roberts seems to possess endless energy and enthusiasm. He's carried that through his turfgrass education at Kansas State, into an almost five-year stint as an assistant at Shadow Glen Golf Club in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe and, now, into two-plus years at Omaha CC.
And he plans to carry it into his first head superintendent position, whenever that might come. "I've seen guys take the first superintendent job they could get just to say they were head superintendents, and have it not work out," he explains as he drives up Omaha CC's fourth hole. "I want to make sure my first job is the right one. I love it here and I'm not in any rush. So I feel like I can be particular about my next steps."
6:24 a.m — Near the sixth green, Roberts encounters a two-person roller team. They're making good progress, but the backpack blower they're using to clear a path for the roller is low on fuel. So Roberts calls back to equipment manager Randy Strohfus and asks if they can run another blower out to that team so they can continue their work.
6:31 a.m. — As Roberts drives up the eighth fairway, a staff member using a pull-behind blower is working to clear the fairway of any grass clippings left behind by that morning's cut. Roberts stops the cart, ducks under the ropes and has a short conversation with the operator. He's concerned about clumps of grass remaining on the intermediate cut of rough, so he instructs the operator to make one final clean up pass around the perimeter of the fairways, just to make sure they disperse those stubborn clumps.
6:58 a.m. — After taking a careful look at the eighth green, Roberts' radio comes to life again. It's Darin Bevard with the USGA Green Section, asking if both he and Eric McPherson, CGCS, can make their way to the 15th green to talk bunkers with Jeff Hall, who is leading the USGA's set-up efforts in Omaha as the organization's managing director of the Rules of Golf, competitions and amateur status. With a quick "on my way" in response, Roberts points his Toro Workman toward the back nine and races off.
7:24 a.m. — It's hurry-up-and-wait-time at the 15th green. The drive here from the front nine took Roberts less than five minutes, but when he arrived (almost simultaneously with McPherson), their own set-up crew was still working to cut the day's cup on that green, and the USGA team had yet to arrive. A few minutes later, that changes, but Hall and his co-workers go through their paces of identifying potential hole locations for the four days of championship play. When that's done, Hall asks Roberts to grab a bunker rake and to come "work his magic."
The trio — Hall, Roberts and McPherson — head to the back right bunker. Hall, an excellent golfer in his own right, tosses a few golf balls onto the spot and proceeds to spin both shots to within a few feet of the hole. He then asks Roberts to rake that spot, then tosses the balls back into the trap. This time, instead of setting up nicely ontop of the sand, the balls drop deeper into the soft, freshly raked sand. Hall barely escapes the bunker with his first shot, while his second runs 15 feet past the hole.
Obviously concerned with the firmness of the sand and how players later in the day might find much different bunker conditions than players who find that hazard in the morning, the trio talks quietly about the situation. They agree to an wait, watch and see approach, Hall takes his leave toward the 16th green and Roberts and McPherson head their own ways, with Roberts steering his Workman toward 18 green.
7:44 a.m. — After tracking down a pair of staffers to re-rake the bunker on 15 — with specific instructions to tap down the area when Hall had hit his shots to firm it up as much as possible and to stay away from re-raking the steep face of that bunker — Roberts stops at 18 green, where a crew including the USGA's Derf Soller is making one final check on green speeds and moisture levels. After taking one more bit of grief from Soller about his front-page appearance in that morning's Omaha World Herald, they all agree the course is ready for the final day of practice rounds. "It's breakfast time," says Roberts, and the entire crew climbs into their carts to head back to the maintenance facility.