Weather headache for PGA Tour
Hurricanes, earthquakes, lightning, slow play, burrowing moles – Mark Russell has had to contend with a wide range of obstacles in his role as a tournament director for the PGA Tour.
There were 45 events during the 2011 season that ended with the Disney Classic in Florida on Sunday and by far the biggest headache for Russell has been the vagaries of the weather.
"We're like airline pilots -- hours of boredom and moments of terror," Russell told Reuters with a glint in his eye while reflecting on this year's tour. "The weather is by far our biggest problem.
"It's great when you set the golf course up and we have good weather, the players stay in position and we don't need any rulings. But we play a game that is basically outdoors daylight till dark.
"If you count the pro-am, that's five straight days and it's very difficult to go somewhere and get five straight days without a weather change. We can't take a chance on people getting struck by lightning so we monitor that very closely."
In one of the most unlikely buildups to any PGA Tour event, the August 25-28 Barclays Classic in Edison, New Jersey, faced the threat of Hurricane Irene after a rare earthquake had struck the area earlier in the week.
Hardly surprisingly, the tournament was eventually reduced to 54 holes because of the severe weather and American Dustin Johnson ended up winning the title shortly before the arrival of a heavy thunderstorm.
"We deal with volatile weather from time to time and we have meteorologists on our staff," Russell said. They have the best equipment and they are invaluable.
"But no two situations are ever the same so there is no standard operating procedure. You've got to look at what you have with the weather, evaluate the situation and make a plan from there."
Weather delays in the opening round can be a nightmare for tournament organisers as playing catch-up with a full field of 156 players is never easy. Remarkably, though, there was only one Monday finish on the 2011 PGA Tour due to weather issues – at the frost-delayed Phoenix Open in February.
"If you can at least get some golf in, you've got something in the bank but when you have weather problems on a Thursday morning, there's not much you can do," Russell said.
"Our regulations say that we need to play 72 holes so that's pretty much what we do ... even if it would come down to playing 36 holes on a Monday, which is difficult."
Apart from coping with weather problems, tournament directors and their staff have to set up the golf course, monitor the pace of play and issue rulings when required.
"We decide where the holes go on the greens, we decide where the tees go and then once the golf tournament starts, we are out there monitoring the pace of play," Russell said.
"We spend our whole day dealing with the pace of play and then if somebody needs a ruling, we will come in and make that."
Asked what had been the most bizarre ruling he had experienced, Russell recalled an incident which took place during a playoff between Fijian Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia for the 2008 Barclays Classic at Ridgewood Country Club.
On the second extra hole, the par-five 17th, Garcia hooked his drive into the left rough from where he hit his second shot behind a huge tree in the right rough.
However, the Spaniard ended up getting a free drop six feet to the left of where his ball had settled – all because of a burrowing mole.
"Sergio was in a situation where the mole was under the ground and the mole was moving the ground while he was trying to play his shot," Russell grinned. "That was a pretty crazy thing, so he got a drop.
"But the rules are the rules. As long as you stand on the rules no matter how crazy it seems, you can't go wrong. If you deviate from the letter of the law, that's when you have a problem."
Russell's definition of a successful PGA Tour event, from his point of view, is very simple.
"We need to stay behind the scenes," he said of the tournament director and his fellow officials. "When you see our staff out and about, nothing good is taking place."