Grounds crew earns lots of respect at State Amateur

Golf course superintendents and maintenance crews have faced more challenges this year with the punishing heat, and they seldom receive appreciation. But to understand their value, turn the calendar to Aug. 6 and the State Amateur at Columbia Country Club.

Six inches of rain in less than four hours trashed the course with debris and washed out the bunkers. The weather, which S.C. Golf Association executive director Happ Lathrop called the worse he had seen since Hurricane Hugo in 1989, left the state’s most prestigious amateur tourney in limbo.

“Normal cleanup would take two days, maybe three,” said Chris Sparrow, Columbia’s general manager and head golf pro.

Instead, superintendent Jim Young called in reinforcements for his usual workers, and the expanded crew had the course ready in less than six hours. They started at first light and finished before noon.

“We told the players we would start at 9:30, but I had no idea we could,” Lathrop said. “The first groups went out about 10, which tells what a phenomenal job the Columbia people did.”

With groups going off the first and 10th tees, maintenance crews raced to keep ahead of the golfers. They finished the bunkers on the 9th and 18th holes just in time.

“We brought in 12 extra workers, and we would never have gotten the job done without them,” Sparrow said. The effort to get the course ready, he added, typifies the pride members have in the layout.

“This is (Columbia’s) sixth State Amateur, and the members always get behind the tournament,” Sparrow said. “I had six to 10 members each day volunteering to help. The members like to see how the course holds up against outstanding players.”

Even though the downpour softened the course and forced officials to use lift, clean and replace rules that led to some lower scores in the second round, the course more than held its own.

Drew Ernst took home the championship after his birdie on the first playoff hole against Wesley Bryan, but Young and his crew deserve a share of the laurels. Their yeoman-like performance illustrates perfectly the value of some golf’s most unappreciated ‚ and vital ‚ contributors.

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