A good case could be made that the Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club is the ultimate setting for the United States Women’s Open Championship. Located in Southern Pines, North Carolina, the club occupies an extraordinary position in the history of women’s golf.
Since 1953, the property has belonged to the Bell family, whose matriarch, World Golf Hall of Famer Peggy KirkBellhad a career in golf as a player, instructor and advocate of the game that spanned more than 60 years before her death in 2016 at the age of 95.
The golf course is a Donald Ross design that dates back to 1927. Updates have been made by John fought in 2004 and Kyle Franz in 2016.
Pine Needles has hosted three Women’s Opens in the past and will soon become the first club to host a fourth. The 77th edition of the championship will be played from June 2 to 5.
For David Fruchte, preparing for a major event is part of a day’s work. Fruchte’s title is Director of Maintenance and Golf Courses. He has been in Pine Needles since March 1992 and has no desire to go anywhere else. He also oversees two other golf courses: Mid Pines and Southern Pines. Fruchte, who was educated at Purdue, says the job matches her personality.
“All three golf courses are family owned,” he says. “The Bell family and another investor own all three properties. The main thing is that I answer to the family, so I don’t have a new green president every two or three years. I don’t have committees on my back or anything like that. So the pressure on me is pretty much internal for the most part. I definitely have to do my job to make sure the golf course is suitable for arriving guests, but it worked out great for me.
Like his peers, Fruchte has seen his job description evolve over the years, particularly in the area of equipment technology.
“The most important thing would be the moisture meters,” he says. “Before, we drove a knife into the grass and determined how much moisture we had with a knife. Now you plant a moisture meter in the ground. This gives you a good reading of your moisture and irrigates where you need it.
Pine Needles is one of America’s busiest upscale golf destinations, hosting approximately 40,000 rounds a year. The tee sheet is full most of the year.
“When I started here, we had two seasons: spring and autumn,” says Fruchte. “We haven’t had a lot of summer and we haven’t had a lot of winter, as far as playing goes. But now that has changed drastically. We are pretty much busy 10 months out of the year.
Pine Needles won their fourth Women’s Open in 2018. Serious preparations for the championship began two years ago. Fruchte was present for the club’s three previous Women’s Opens in 1996, 2001 and 2007, as well as three other USGA Women’s Championships, most recently the United States Senior Women’s Open in 2019. He is not foreign to the organization of major events. But in the build-up to this year’s championship, he found himself doing some things differently.
“Two years later, we stopped overseeding with ryegrass,” he says. “Over the years we’ve always had ryegrass oversown on our fairways and tees, (but) knowing that the Women’s Open was going to be at the end of May or June, it was better to play ryegrass Bermuda versus ryegrass.”
Fruchte notes that much of the crude has been removed. As a result, the golf course will be somewhat different from previous USGA Championships.
Betsey Mitchell, USGA
“At previous Women’s Opens, we’ve always had a tough guy,” he says. “Fairways 30 meters wide and rough on each side. Now we have gone to more fairways with native areas on the sides so we have very little rough. The only rough we have is in places to help hold down the floor.
Mintmier says the biggest agronomic problem he faces is getting Bermuda grass greens up to championship speeds. Due to the volume of play at the club and the need to keep the game moving, daily green speeds at Pine Needles are normally around 10 on the Stimpmeter. The speeds will be boosted for the US Women’s Open.
“The green speeds will be much faster than what we usually have,” says Mintmier. “That will probably be the biggest difference. I think they made us lower the height of the fairway a bit, not something crazy but around the greens, tees and stuff.
Arguably the biggest issue impacting Fruchte and Mintmier’s preparations is labor or, more specifically, the lack of labor. As of this writing, Fruchte has less than 40 people to maintain three golf courses. Mintmier’s crew at Pine Needles is only 11 including him.
“Before, we had 28 guys on staff at (Pine Needles),” Mintmier says. “We used to have three assistants and a super, and now we have myself and an assistant and some other guys. That’s it.”
Having a smaller team means prioritizing and some detail work has to be set aside. “We can take care of the mowing of the greens and the raking of the bunkers, and all the heavy lifting,” says Mintmier, “but that’s all the details. Picking up pine cones and weeding the edges of cart paths, all the little things that, frankly, golfers probably don’t even realize, but it’s all the little things that are just plain hard to do if you don’t have body to do it.
Mintmier notes that the volume of play makes it more difficult to perform routine maintenance tasks.
“It’s really tough for us because we all have to get the place ready in the morning and try to do stuff in the afternoon with the amount of play we have,” he added. “It sometimes seems pointless, just because there’s so much golf there (120-130 rounds a day is not uncommon). It’s unreal the amount of golf that goes through this place.
Fruchte and his team will be supported during the week of the championship by their peers from other clubs in the region. Fruchte considers this to be one of the most satisfying aspects of hosting a major event.
“In the past, I’ve had former superintendents,” he says. “In recent years, it’s been local superintendents meeting with them, their assistants and members of their crews.”
Partly because the crew is smaller than would normally be the case for a major championship, Pine Needles management plans to close the golf course sooner than it otherwise would. “Which,” says Fruchte, “is going to be very good for the golf course to recover from all the play we’ve had. Filling all the divots without anyone slowing us down while we do the maintenance work. … It’s going to be huge with the crew that I have now. We don’t have many people. »