Keeping the course up to par

As superintendent of Harding Park Golf Course, Wayne Kappelman can control a lot of things in preparation for The Presidents Cup.

He can oversee the reworking of the course’s bunkers and fairways, control the irrigation schedule on the greens, import hundreds of thousands of pieces of sod and carefully design the right mix of flowers so the clubhouse’s welcoming garden has a colorful depiction of The Presidents Cup’s iconic gold trophy.

He can and has done all of those things, but there’s still one all-too-important factor beyond his grasp when the PGA Tour event brings 24 of the world’s finest golfers to The City on Tuesday: the weather.

Sitting on the western edge of San Francisco adjacent to Lake Merced, Harding Park sits in perhaps the foggiest part of a very foggy city.

That makes it difficult to replicate the slick, fast-moving fairways that pro golfers pine for.

“Well, the wetness creates a very lush, deep green color for the grass,” said Kappelman, who’s been the superintendent at Harding since 2006. “But I think the players wouldn’t mind seeing a patch of brown here and there if it meant the ball moved a little faster and more consistently.”

Given the colossal task of transforming a public golf course into a standard-bearer for the PGA Tour, Kappelman and his staff should be forgiven if they’re unable to force the sun to shine.

They’ve done just about everything else, including long-term projects such as carefully plotted tree removal and detail-oriented work such as hand-watering the greens to make sure they receive the right amount of moisture. The Harding Park crew has done this before — the course hosted the American Express Championship in 2005, a World Golf Championship PGA Tour event — but The Presidents Cup is anticipated to draw much larger crowds.

“Our staging for this event is about 2½ times bigger than the Am Ex tourney,” Kappelman said. “We’re expecting crowds of about 25,000 to 30,000 a day for the event, and we want to make sure that they all stay happy.”

Unlike with private golf clubs, which usually have a month to prepare for a PGA Tour event, Kappelman and his workers had just a week after the course closed to the public Sept. 28. So, the crew of landscapers tended to their extensive responsibilities while mostly working around the regular crowd of golfers at Harding, where you can play for $46 a round if you’re a city resident.

Getting the course up to par hasn’t been cheap. Kappelman’s normal 23-person staff was recently increased by six and the hours are extensive, with most of the landscapers working from dawn till dusk in preparation for the big event.

The extra attention for the course is all worth it, said Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the Recreation and Park Department, which maintains operations at Harding. Ginsburg conceded that workers have been forced to use overtime hours to complete their duties, but he said The City will likely recoup that money from the $1 million commitment the PGA Tour has already made to San Francisco for use of the park.

Plus, the long-term benefits of hosting a world-class tournament will be the ultimate reward.

“We’re going to have 36 hours of international television coverage of San Francisco,” Ginsburg said. “That’s extremely valuable, so I think our investment will certainly pay off.”

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd — whose district includes Harding Park and who lobbied diligently to invest in the course to get it up to PGA Tour standards — concurred with Ginsburg, saying the event is ultimately about showcasing San Francisco.

“We’re creating an event that can make San Franciscans proud,” Elsbernd said. “There is the obvious benefits like the hotel tax and sales tax revenue we’ll get from people attending the event — and lord knows we need the revenue. But I think the attention of The Presidents Cup, of people seeing the world’s best play on a public course, will generate a tremendous amount of pride for this city, and that’s important as well.”

The Lake Merced community can celebrate their course for its presentation, but they will also feel the crush of visitors expected to descend on The City. With thousands — including several presidents — cramming in to the area, residents will have to deal with street closures and changes to public transit lines.

Mona Cereghino, a resident of the nearby Lakewood Apartments, said the neighborhood has experienced this attention before and isn’t expecting major conflicts.

“This event hasn’t been a major concern for people in the community,” said Cereghino. “It’s only for three or four days and we’re seeing a little cosmetic benefit from The City, whether it’s some street repaving or a little extra landscaping. Still, I think people will be a little relieved when it’s over.”

That last sentiment is one that Kappelman can appreciate. Although he’s looking forward to watching Tiger Woods tee off on the course he helped groom, the stress of preparing for The Presidents Cup — including trying to harness the thick fog on Lake Merced — is something he won’t miss.

“After this is over,” said Kappelman, “I’m definitely going to sit back and enjoy a nice, cold beer.”

Stars of links to square off in The City

For the second time since Harding Park reopened in 2003, the municipal golf course will host a PGA Tour event — although the latest competition will be quite different from the first.

Unlike the 2005 American Express Championship — a more common stroke-play tournament Tiger Woods won with a four-day score of 10 under par — this year’s event is The Presidents Cup, a biennial competition pitting 12 of the country’s top golfers against 12 international golfers, with the winning team decided by match-play results.

Match play involves individuals and two-team groups (in this case representing the U.S. and international squads) squaring off. When one side wins the majority of holes on an 18-hole course, it receives a point (in doubles competition, a half point is awarded in the result of a tie). Whichever team accumulates the most points in the four-day event is declared the winner.

Unlike the Ryder Cup — a similar match-play event in which the U.S. squares off against Europe’s top golfers — America will face a squad of 12 international players from outside Europe. The international team features Argentinean Angel Cabrera, who won this year’s Masters tournament; Y.E. Yang, a Korean golfer who captured the 2009 PGA Championship; and South African Ernie Els, a three-time major-tournament champion.

The U.S. squad will feature Woods, who has captured 14 major-tournament titles, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Stewart Cink.

In another twist that makes The Presidents Cup unique, there will be no prize money awarded to the players competing in the event.

Instead, all proceeds will go toward various charities of the players’ choosing. Since the event was founded in 1994, it has raised more than $17 million for charities, according to the PGA Tour.

The U.S. team has won five of the seven Presidents Cup competitions, with a tie in 2003. — Will Reisman

If you go

The Presidents Cup

Harding Park Golf Course, San Francisco, Tuesday to Oct. 11

Times
Day    Gates open     Gates close
Tuesday    8 a.m.    6 p.m.
Wednesday     8 a.m.     6 p.m.
Oct. 8    9 a.m.    7 p.m.
Oct. 9    9 a.m.    7 p.m.
Oct. 10    6:30 a.m.    7 p.m.
Oct. 11    7:30 a.m.    6 p.m.

Ticket prices
Tuesday and Wednesday: $35
Thursday and Friday: $55
Saturday and Sunday: $75

Info: www.pgatour.com/tournaments/presidentscup

Harding Park

  • Established: 1925
  • Renovated: 2002-03
  • Holes: 18
  • Par: 72*
  • Average rounds played a year: 70,000
  • Green fee for S.F. residents: $46
  • Attendance expected for The Presidents Cup: 25K to 30K daily

    * Course will play as a par 71 for The Presidents Cup

Sources: Harding Park, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

About the Cup

  • Year founded: 1994
  • All-time record: U.S. leads international squad 5-1-1 (tied in 2003)
  • Notable players competing: Tiger Woods (U.S.), Phil Mickelson (U.S.), Ernie Els (South Africa), Vijay Singh (Fiji)
  • Money raised for charity since 1994: $17 million
  • Money raised for charity in 2007, the last event: $4.2 million
  • Revenue donated to The City for hosting 2009 event: Up to $1 million
  • Revenue donated to First Tee of San Francisco: $500,000

    Source: PGA Tour

wreisman@sfexaminer.com


 

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