In a demanding society that can often force the structure of your life to be somewhat mechanical as you head from home to work and back again the next day, you can often overlook the surroundings that we take for granted living in Middle Tennessee. With the rolling hills that are covered by a dense population of trees and the natural haze that hangs in the air at the top of each peak, giving the Smokies its name, the scenery of Middle Tennessee cannot be found anywhere else outside of the state and it can stop a newcomer in their tracks as they take it in for the first time.
When visitors pour into Middle Tennessee for the NCAA Women's Golf Championships May 22-25, they will get to enjoy the distinct topography in its full beauty as they traverse the grounds at Vanderbilt Legends Club.
Nestled in the rolling hills just south of downtown Nashville in Franklin, Tenn., the golf club accentuates its surroundings with its thoughtful design, plush fairways and well-manicured greens. The individual charged with making sure Vanderbilt Legends Club is looking its best is superintendent Joe Kennedy.
Kennedy has been working at the golf club since 1991 and has been at the forefront of making Legends Club one of the top golf courses in the region. His daily role includes ensuring the golf course is in the best shape it can be all 365 days a year. Preparing the course for a tournament is nothing new to Kennedy, who has helped ready the course for LPGA events from 2000 through 2006, an SEC Championship and the annual Mason Rudolph Championships.
The course and its staff are tournament tested and ready to showcase the facility to the top collegiate golfers in the country.
But hosting an event such as the NCAA Championships does not come without a challenge. There will be a number of measurements from a course management standpoint that Kennedy and his staff already have and will implement as the tournament nears.
Vanderbilt Legends Club features 36 holes that form a North and a South Course. The NCAA Championships will be played on the North Course, which will include a 6,377-yard, par-72 layout.
To someone familiar with Vanderbilt Legends Club North Course, there will be two dramatic changes to how the course typically plays. Hole No. 4, which is usually a par-5, will play as a par-4 and hole No. 9, typically a par-4, will be played as a par-5.
The NCAA will also dictate the yardage and hole location of each hole for every round of the tournament. Outside of possibly needing to adjust the speed of the greens, Kennedy envisions very few other changes to how the golf course plays come tournament time compared to how it plays now.
"The NCAA standards are not any different than things we have done in the past or how we normally prepare the course," Kennedy said. "They did ask about where potential scoring questions might be and we had to clean some wooded areas up where they believed a golf ball could be hit, but that was it."
For Kennedy and his staff, the majority of changes that will directly impact their day-to-day role with preparing the course will not be noticeable to the general public.
The largest change will be the number of hours that are committed toward maintaining the course. The maintenance staff will begin working 14 hours a day for six days leading up to the tournament and will continue the same workload through the four days of the NCAA Championships. During those 10 days, the staff will increase the amount of times they mow. Every green will be mowed twice a day - once in the morning and once in the evening. The fairways, the rough and the tee boxes will be cut in the evenings.
"We do most of our mowing in the evenings for fairways and rough and tees because it produces a cleaner product for grass clippings because there is no dew out there," Kennedy said.
The most attention that week will be given to the greens, which were replaced just last summer. The new greens are comprised of a MiniVerde Ultra Dwarf Bermuda Grass and are more heat tolerant. The new grass can also make for extremely fast conditions.
With the new greens being faster than the previous ones, an emphasis will be placed on keeping them from becoming too fast.
"The greens now are a lot tougher than the old greens so we have to be kind of careful because we want to make it a real competition and not have a lot of luck involved," Kennedy said.
To maintain the greens, Kennedy and his staff will also use green rollers, which are used like clothes irons. Every green will be rolled once a day to ensure smoothness. Every bunker will also be raked by hand each morning as opposed to being done by tractor.
Nothing will be more closely watched than the greens, but the amount of attention given to the fairways, the tee boxes and the rough will also be heightened during the week.
"All cutting heights are the same, we will just cut more," Kennedy said. "We typically cut the fairways three times a week, and they will get cut for about 10 straight days. The more you cut, the slicker it will get. It isn't so much for speed, but just for more insurance that you get a better clip."
While some maintenance practices are being added for the tournament others are having to be stopped.
"We verticut (vertical mowing) our greens, which leaves a slit in the grass," Kennedy said. "It can then take one to two weeks before the lines go away and they request that all greens are free of verticutting marks."
To help with final course preparations, golf carts will be restricted to the cart path beginning one week before the event, and on the Saturday before the tournament (May 19), Vanderbilt Legends Club North Course will close down in the afternoon. During that time, scoreboards and bleachers will be erected and spectator ropes will be hammered into the ground.
Kennedy and his staff will compensate for the additional work load by bringing in extra mowing equipment. "We can't mow after 7:30 in the morning and we can't start back until 5:30 or 6 at night so we need the extra equipment," Kennedy said.
In addition to managing the North Course, Kennedy will also have to keep tabs on the South Course, which will remain open to members.
"We will just go mow the South Course when they tee off each day in the NCAA Championships," Kennedy said. "The South Course is open for the tournament. It's going to be good, it is not going to be great and I've already told the members. If there is rain, we may not even mow that day because we will have to spend so much time fixing bunkers and what not. Hopefully it does not rain."
Balancing maintenance time between the two courses will be a challenge, but Kennedy has timing on his side - something that hasn't always been the case with other tournaments the course has hosted.
"This tournament is actually easier than the LPGA because it is late in May and I will have my summer help here," Kennedy remarked. "I have 8-10 more bodies than I do today, because they are all starting in the next few weeks."
Hosting the tournament will require an added workload from Kennedy and his staff, but he has no doubt that the extra commitment will be well worth it.
"I'm excited the NCAA chose to do it here," Kennedy said. "It showed a lot of confidence in our facility and I'm excited for Vanderbilt, and for the opportunity to show everyone what our club offers."