By Jay Skurski
News Sports Reporter
Some of the top amateur golfers from both here in Western New York and around the globe are ready to take on Niagara Falls Country Club this week in the second Women’s Porter Cup.
Thankfully, the course is ready for them.
That was no sure thing after the brutal winter atop the Niagara escarpment. Prolonged subzero temperatures caused at least some — and in many cases significant — damage on all of NFCC’s greens.
It wasn’t until May 31 that the 12 greens hit hardest opened for the season.
NFCC head professional John Boss and superintendent David Meteer knew during the winter that they’d have a problem on their hands in the spring. Core samples taken during the coldest months showed “no growth,” according to Boss.
By March, when enough snow had melted, the extent of the damage was apparent, but a plan to bring them back had already been formulated.
“We knew the greens were dead. We knew they weren’t coming back,” Boss said. “But we were very proactive in getting tarps on and getting the soil warmed up.”
Because of the course’s age — it was constructed in 1919 by A.W. Tillinghast — most of the greens have no sub-surface drainage. They are also without irrigation, and thus are designed in a bowl shape to get water onto the green. Newer courses, by comparison, have greens designed to filter water off them because they are properly irrigated.
Water on the greens over a cold winter like we just experienced means a course runs the risk of crown hydration on its greens, when grass takes in water and then is hit with a sudden freeze. Winter desiccation — which is a form of dehydration from constant exposure to wind — or anoxia, a low oxygen level caused by heavy snow or ice cover, also contributed to the winter damage at not just NFCC, but other area courses.
Across the bridge on the Canadian side, Whirlpool Golf Course is opening for the season today, and Burlington Golf and Country Club, a reciprocal of NFCC, won’t open until July 1.
“The bottom line is a lot of courses around here had a lot of damage,” said Boss, who’s been at NFCC for 26 years.
To combat the problems and get the course ready for tournament play, Boss and Meteer tarped the greens. Doing so raises the ground temperature by up to 30 percent. A temperature between 50 and 55 degrees is needed for growth.
After the soil was warm enough, the tarps were removed and the greens were aerated, seeded, sanded and rolled. The tarps were then placed back on, and when grass began growing, taken back off to let “nature take it from there,” Boss said.
The plan worked, and things are now back to normal, although the greens are currently being kept a little longer than usual.
“We’re in good shape, but the superintendent is going to baby them a little bit,” Boss said. “They won’t be super fast, but they’ll be smooth. … The lower you cut a green, the more susceptible it is to damage, so we couldn’t cut them real low.”
There will also be one more change this week for the Women’s Porter Cup, in that the green on the par-3 fourth hole is being rebuilt. Work is expected to be done in time for next month’s men’s Porter Cup. In the mean time, NFCC has an extra par-3 hole that will be put into play this week.
“If you’d asked me three weeks ago, I probably would have said ‘no comment,’ ” Women’s Porter Cup Tournament Director Brian Oakley said when asked what the condition of the course is like. “It was a tough go. I honestly can’t believe it. If you saw the pictures that were taken six weeks ago, and what they look like now, I mean, we’re 95 percent there. There are a couple of very minor spots, but overall the course has rebounded remarkably.”
In its second year, the Women’s Porter Cup has grown from an inaugural field of 39 to 66 who will tee it up beginning at 7:30 a.m. today. The 54-hole, stroke-play tournament will conclude Friday.
“Things just exploded on us this year,” Oakley said. “Unfortunately, I had to turn some down, but I was afraid of growing it too quickly.”
In keeping with Porter Cup tradition, seven different countries are represented in the field — including all five members of the Canadian national women’s amateur team. That includes Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., who, at No. 3 in the latest World Amateur Golf Ranking, is the pre-tournament favorite.
Henderson is joined on the Canadian team and in this week’s field by Jennifer Ha (No. 62), Anne-Catherine Tanguay (No. 74), Brittany Marchand (No. 82) and Augusta James (No. 89).
Another player in the top 100 in the world is 17-year-old Princess Superal of the Philippines, at No. 80.
The two highest-rated American players in the field are No. 76 Jessica Porvasnik of Hinckley, Ohio, and No. 90 Maddie Szeryk of Allen, Texas.
There is also a strong local contingent in the field, with 12 players from Western New York (and another four from the Rochester area). That’s led by Buffalo’s Rene Sobolewski, who recently completed her senior season with the Vanderbilt University women’s team, and Cat Peters, the Clarence native who just finished her sophomore season with the University of Michigan team.
It’s a busy week on the amateur golf scene, as just down the Thruway, the Country Club of Rochester is hosting the American Junior Golf Association 2014 Rolex Girls Junior Championship. The tournament, one of 13 invitationals on the AJGA schedule, brings together the top junior girl golfers in the country.
Six of the top 10 players in the Polo Golf rankings are in the field of 71, which includes 25 Rolex Junior All-Americans and 47 AJGA winners.
Pittsford’s Christine Schmitt is one of only two players from New York in the field. Schmitt is an Our Lady of Mercy graduate who will play for Georgetown in the fall.
“Rochester is a very big golfing community,” said Schmitt, who won the 2013 state high school golf title. “My goal is to play strong rounds each day. I’m excited to play in my first Invitational.”
Elizabeth Wang of San Marino, Calif., carded a 2-under-par 68 Tuesday to take the lead after the first round. The tournament, which features girls from 12 to 18 years old, continues through Friday. Both events are free to the public, with tee times beginning each day at 7 a.m. at CCR and 7:30 a.m. at NFCC.
B.I.G. Inc. to hold fundraiser
Buffalo Inter-City Golf Inc., a non-profit organization established in 1993 that aims to teach life skills to local children from ages 6 to 18 through the game, will hold its inaugural “Father’s Day Golf Tournament” Saturday at Delaware Park. Cost is $300 per foursome or $75 per individual for the noon shotgun start and includes greens fees with a cart, a grab bag, dinner and prizes. Long drive and closest-to-the-pin contests will be held for men and women.
“The theme of our event is ‘Fathers can make a difference,’ ” Randy Edwards, the organization’s executive director, wrote in an email to The News. “Recognizing fatherlessness is a growing crisis in our community, we are asking the men in the community to take the Fatherhood Pledge.” Those interested can do so by visiting fatherhood.gov.
All funds raised from the tournament will benefit the needs of B.I.G. Inc.’s junior participants. Through the introduction of the game, as well as by providing mentoring and academic support, the organization hopes to make positive changes in the community. Free youth golf instruction is offered from 5 to 6 p.m. on Monday nights at Delaware Park until the end of the school year. At that time, instruction will move to Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 to 11 a.m. at Delaware Park, Harris Hill Golf Course in Bowmansville and Harvest Hill Golf Course in Orchard Park.
• Registration for the 2014 New York State men’s amateur championship closes Friday. The cost is $100, with another $50 championship fee due for qualifying players. The tournament will be held July 22-24 at Bellevue Country Club in Syracuse. Clarence’s Matt Stasiak is the defending champion.
To be eligible, golfers must be New York residents and belong to the NYSGA either through a member club or as an associate member, and have a USGA handicap of 7.4 or less. The local qualifying tournament will be held June 25 at River Oaks on Grand Island.
• The Buffalo District Golf Association Men’s Match Play championship begins today at Transit Valley. Defending champion Michael Carrig is not in the field, which features Stasiak and Raman Luthra, the reigning BDGA Men’s Player of the Year.
• Three U.S. Open picks for this week at Pinehurst, where you have to be able to bomb it off the tee and scramble around the greens: Graham DeLaet (fifth in total driving), Keegan Bradley (16th in scrambling, averages 300 off the tee) and, gasp, Sergio Garcia (69.484 scoring average leads the PGA Tour).