The major returns to the Pete Dye-designed course in May for the second time
For the past two years, Jeff Stone and his 12-person team have been fertilizing and watering the greens and fairways of The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in preparation for the PGA Championship, the second major to be held at the course. During the week of May 17 to 23, the course superintendent will work around the clock and behind the scenes, checking that no blade of the ‘Sea Isle Supreme‘ or ’Sea Spray’ paspalum goes unmowed and verifying each green’s ”stimp rating,” the value that represents how fast a golf ball rolls on a putting surface. Ensuring a golf course plays well can be challenging, but guaranteeing The Ocean Course looks pretty won’t be difficult at all. Stone, who has been working at Kiawah since 1989, credits Pete Dye, the legendary designer who masterminded The Ocean Course back in 1991, for making his job easier. Here, Stone shares what steps his team is taking to get championship ready and why The Ocean Course can be so difficult to play.
CM: When did preparations start for the PGA Championship?
JS: Turf-wise we’ve been preparing the past two years—seeing what the golf course is gonna play like in May and how the grass is acting that time of year. We’re right where we want to be; we’ll just continue to monitor soil temperatures and moisture levels. Right now, we’re full-tilt starting to prepare for the infrastructure—the tents and all of the cottages coming in. We’re doing some of the peripheral work as far as parking lot layouts, cottage layouts, and getting TV towers where they’re gonna go. In reality, we’re waiting on Mother Nature to warm up and start really getting the grass growing.
CM: How many people are required?
JS: As far as getting the golf course ready for a major, it takes a lot of people. We’ll probably have, outside of our crew of 13 [one superintendent, two assistants, one mechanic, and nine staff members], another 80 volunteers coming in to help set up the golf course. We have fantastic vendors that bring in copious amounts of equipment, so we can get in and mow the course in an hour and a half.
CM: What makes The Ocean Course so challenging?
JS: It’s the proximity right along the ocean. You don’t have a lot of trees to help protect golfers from wind. You’re a wet shot away from the Atlantic Ocean, so that’s the biggest thing—exposure to the elements. I’ve got my fingers crossed; I want it to be windy, you know? So the guys can really experience what The Ocean Course is all about.
CM: There are so many incredible story lines going into this year‘s championship. As a golf fan, what are you most looking forward to?
JS: I really love to see these young pros come in, ever since the onset of Tiger Woods. Now you’ve got Brooks Koepka, you’ve got Bryson DeChambeau; these guys are fantastic. They’re super athletes to begin with; they’re dieticians; they’re in the gym all the time. And we’ve all seen how the golf pros have progressed and are hitting the balls so much farther. To see where The Ocean Course stacks up against the best in the world—that’s the biggest thing for me.
Born: Daytona Beach, Florida, 1966
Education: Graduated from Lake City Community College with a degree in golf course operations
Lives: With his wife, Ashley, on Wadmalaw Island
Works: Superintendent of The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort