OMAHA — At about 8 a.m. on Friday, Jim Nedrow turned off a sprinkler watering the fairway on the 18th hole, stepped back into his utility golf cart and said that the course preparation for that day was pretty much complete.
That concluded what could be described as thorough, organized chaos for about three hours in order to have the Indian Creek Golf Club ready for Friday’s second round of the Pinnacle Bank Championship. The tournament on the Web.com Tour — one step below the PGA Tour — is the biggest golf tournament in the state this year.
The description of that morning's work could also apply to the work in the year leading up to the tournament.
Nedrow helped lead that effort as course superintendent. His job is some sort of combination of scientist, meteorologist, laborer, motivator and payroll manager. He must juggle several tasks at once, literally. Early Friday morning he had a cell phone in one hand, a radio in the other and was steering his cart with his knees. During the rush to the first tee time, it’s rare that he goes more than a few minutes without someone needing his assistance on one of the two radios he carries.
He does it all very well, while treating the president of the tournament’s sponsor and the 16-year old boy volunteering to rake sand traps at 5 a.m. in the same friendly and respectful way.
When the tour players arrive on the first tee, or the spectators walk the course or sit in a suite, they have a limited understanding of what has gone into getting the course ready, but they get to experience the rewards when the excellent condition of the putting greens helps a player roll in a long putt for a birdie. Nedrow let the Journal Star ride along for part of the day on Friday to see what goes into getting the course ready for the pros.
4:26 a.m.: They’re anxious to go, one of Nedrow’s assistants says to him, and shortly after that the first lawn mower is out the door. It’s still dark, but to have most of the holes ready when the first group tees off at 6:45 a.m. they must work now.
There are about 40 on the crew, a mix of volunteers and paid full- and part-time staff. One group will hand rake each of the 56 sand traps on the 18 holes used for tournament play. That's a job that is usually done by machine, but this week is supervised by a PGA Tour official.
One of the workers yells at Nedrow from across the maintenance shop. Did you go home last night, Jim? He went home at 11 p.m. on Thursday, and was back at 3:30 a.m. Friday.
Nedrow, 36, grew up working at a golf course in Norfolk, where he graduated from Norfolk Catholic. He studied agricultural sciences with an emphasis in turf grass at UNL. Textbooks and manuals fill a bookcase in his office.
The job is so much more than mowing. He’s been the course superintendent here for about eight years, a job that’s big, and then got bigger when the course decided it was ready to host a tournament of this caliber.
Nedrow has three young children, including a newborn daughter who has given her sleep-deprived father a break by sleeping well at night.
His work is a passion, just like the home owner working to achieve a great lawn. He’s just doing so on a property that has 27 golf holes and 250 acres of property, including 60 acres of fairways and tee boxes and 6½ acres of putting greens. And he’s trying to keep all that turf from dying or getting disease while getting beat up up by golfers, spectators and 100-degree heat.
And during this tournament, unlike a normal day, he can’t water that turf while players are on the course.
“There is nothing more empowering and refreshing than hitting start on that first irrigation cycle at 5 o’clock, when everything is frying,” Nedrow said. “That felt really good Thursday.”
4:45 a.m.: The crew is all out the door, and now so is Nedrow. He drives to water spots on the course that he knows will struggle when it gets hot.
This is the third time since play concluded on Thursday evening that some spots have been watered. Some will be watered for a total of about 20 minutes, but it’s most effective in three doses. That also keeps spots on the course from being soggy, which is bad for golf.
5:30 a.m.: Nedrow drives up to hole No. 5, and the work is in full force.
Before a hole is ready, and then approved for play by a tour official, the putting green will have been watered by hand, and tests conducted to measure how much moisture is in the soil. The green will be mowed, and then rolled. Rolling takes away any imperfections in the putting surface and adds up to 12 inches in ball roll. The fairways, tees and approaches will be mowed. Lastly, a blower pulled behind a golf cart will clear the fairway of any debris.
“It’s when you come up on this where you kind of feel like, ‘All right, we’re doing something kind of big,’ because this is the type of stuff you see at the majors,” Nedrow said. “Now we’re not that. You go to the U.S. Open and they’ve got 12 fairway mowers. It’s like an army going down the fairway. This is kind of our version of that.”
Even in partial darkness, Nedrow notices minor details. The fairway mower missed one spot, making the grass just fractions of an inch taller. Nedrow understands the mistake, because of the dark and the dry conditions, but they get it fixed.
5:47 a.m.: With play set to begin in about one hour, tour officials are out for final preparations. That includes the decision on where the tee markers will be, and the location of the cup, which will be different each day.
“Those rules officials have an idea of where that pin is going to be for the day, but it’s not exact,” Nedrow said. “They’ll walk up there and they’ve got their putters and their levels. They’ll mark their dot, and then stand back and watch our guy cut the cup.”
Part of the consideration for the length of the hole and hole location is pace of play. If you make the hole more difficult, it can slow down the pace of play, which isn’t good when 156 players must get through the course for the first and second rounds.
In setting the hole locations for Friday’s round, officials are already considering how the weather forecast for Saturday may impact the course conditions that day.
4 p.m.: Nedrow went home for a few hours of rest in the morning, but then returned to the course. A few crew members are always ready if there is an emergency, such as a damaged hole or a water leak.
Nedrow has been monitoring the golfer's scores, but not obsessing over them. Still, he’d prefer if the tournament winner isn’t at 20-under par.
“I just want the course to show its teeth a little bit, and not let anybody come in here and fire a 60 or 61,” he said.
Seven tee boxes were added or renovated in anticipation of the tournament, adding about 300 yards to the length of the course for the pros. One of the new tees came from a suggestion from tour pro Scott Gutschewski from Omaha.
“The course updates had input from ownership, myself, our pro shop staff, PGA Tour architects and setup guys, tour pros. Everybody kind of has a thumbprint out here now,” Nedrow said.
The tour officials have control over how difficult the course is on tournament week. Nedrow did have a big part in determining the length of the rough, which is about 4 inches tall.
All the work took place while public play not only continued but picked up at the 25-year old, public-play course. The combination of good weather, and golfers wanting to play the course the pros would play, means that about 1,700 more rounds had been played than the previous year.
The amateurs who regularly play the course aren’t as excited about thick rough, and Nedrow knows that.
“My job on Monday is going to be getting it back down to 2½ inches as quick as I can,” he said.
5:40 p.m.: Nedrow and his assistants — Tim Soppe, Jeff Moeller, Alex Dredge, Adam Dredge and Shawn Tordrup — meet in a small, hot office at the maintenance shop before the evening work on the course begins.
For two weeks Paul Vermeulen, a senior director of agronomy for the PGA Tour, has been in Omaha to assist Nedrow, and make sure the course meets the expectations set by the PGA.
They talk for several minutes about the moisture level in the greens. Vermeulen tells the crew they’re putting on a clinic now as it relates to the moisture level of the greens.
Earlier, Nedrow shared a photo from earlier in the week when a crew member was watering part of a green with a drinking water bottle. That’s how precise the work can be.
Vermeulen said the greens on this golf course are excellent.
“I would be delighted to play golf on these greens managed by this team for every tour event on the schedule. They are good greens in that they were built correctly, and they were established with an elite creeping bentgrass variety. It’s a wonderful kitchen to cook in, but if you don’t have the right chef the food doesn’t come out the same. And that’s a master chef,” Vermeulen said, pointing in the direction of Nedrow.