AKRON, Ohio – Advance on World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
The heavy lifting is over. The plan is set. At least that’s what Brian Mabie hopes. “It’s all up to Mother Nature now,” said Mabie, the golf course superintendent at Firestone County Club. More than 80 of the world’s best golfers will descend on Firestone’s South Course this week for the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. Practice rounds are today through Wednesday, leading to Thursday’s opening round. Mabie and his crew of 74 have worked since September to get the South Course’s 7,400 yards ready. They’ve hydroseeded. They’ve aerated. They’ve applied herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. They’ve mowed and sodded. If only they could prevent rain. “It’s the one thing we can’t control,” Mabie said. “We want dry weather. That’s how we can produce the right playing conditions.” Weather forecasters are predicting near perfect conditions throughout the week, but Mabie estimates it only takes about a tenth of an inch of precipitation to cause problems. Washed-out bunkers are a major headache. Play can be suspended because of rain, causing the golfers to come back early the next day and essentially play two rounds, something that happened in 2004 and 2005. Last year’s final round was moved up because of threatening forecasts. All of that means more work in limited time for Mabie. “The worst problems are caused by rain,” said Mabie, who can only remember three or four completely dry tournaments during his 23 years at Firestone. “My crew has always risen to the occasion.” Few Course Changes The South Course shouldn’t look much different than last year, when Tiger Woods won his second straight Bridgestone title and fifth overall. The only changes are two new championship tee boxes that were built in late October. The new boxes add 40 yards to No. 8 and 20 yards to No. 9. Not much is done to toughen the course for the pros. The course conditions today are pretty much the same as in April or May. “The only thing we affect is the height of the rough,” Mabie said. The South Course’s rough is 2 1/4 inches throughout the year. For the Bridgestone, it’s 4 inches. The rough was cut one last time over the weekend. With the wet weather last week, Mabie said it’s possible for the rough to grow an inch or two by Sunday’s final round. The PGA can request that the rough be shortened, but Mabie only remembers that happening a handful of times during his two-plus decades. Also, the greens will be cut more often than usual this week “to keep the speed on them,” Mabie said. The pros annually rave about Firestone. “What they consistently say is, ‘What you see is what you get,’ ” Mabie said. “It’s all right in front of you. The course isn’t tricked up with hidden hazards.” Sixteen of the holes run in a north-south fashion, making it easy for fans to bounce around and watch different golfers. The course is devoid of any true doglegs. “It’s going to play its full length,” Mabie said. “There aren’t angles to cut.” Over the years, Mabie has developed a feel for the course and how it reacts in certain conditions. He said Firestone has “micro-climates” and that no two greens are alike. It’s almost like dealing with a person. “When you get into this business, you’re dealing with a living thing,” Mabie said. One of his two sons, Eric, is the assistant superintendent at Brookside Country Club in Jackson Township. Despite tending the course, Mabie has only played it twice this season. “After about three or four holes,” he said, “I usually see things I need to work on.” Reach Repository sports writer Josh Weir at (330) 580-8426 or email@example.com. FIRESTONE SOUTH COURSE A look at Firestone County Club’s South Course, site of this week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational Par 70 Yardage 7,400 Sand bunkers 70 Water hazards 2 Stimpmeter 13 feet-* Average rounds per year 20,000 Course architect Bert Way, 1920 Most recent redesign Robert Trent Jones, 1960 Course record 61 (Tigers Woods, second round, 2000; José Maria Olazábal, first round, 1990) Other events hosted World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational, 1999-01, 2003-05; Senior PGA Championship, 2002; World Series of Golf, 1962-93, 1995-98; American Golf Classic 1961-65, 1967-74; PGA Championship, 1960, 1966, 1975; Rubber City Open, 1954-59. *-According to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, the stimpmeter is a ramp that allows for consistent and fair measurement of green speed on a particular course. AT A GLANCE WHAT World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational WHERE Firestone Country Club’s South Course WHEN Today through Sunday TV Thursday—Golf Channel, 2-6 p.m. Friday—Golf Channel, 2-6 p.m. Saturday—CBS, 1-6 p.m. Sunday—CBS, 1-6 p.m. TICKETS For tickets, call (877) WGC-4TIX or visit www.worldgolfchampionships.com. PARKING Public parking at Lockheed Martin and Aircraft Braking Systems is free. A shuttle service will be provided, beginning at 7 a.m. today, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and 9 a.m. Thursday and Friday. Shuttles will end each day one hour after the conclusion of play CAN’T BRING IT IN Prohibited items for spectators: cell phones, cameras (after Wednesday), radios, TVs, signs, banners, coolers, beverages, food, backpacks, packages, chair bags, step ladders, large folding chairs. No items will be checked at the gate. You must return items to your car. SCHEDULE Today 7 a.m., practice round; 7:30 a.m., gates open to public Wednesday 7 a.m., practice round; 7:30 a.m., gates open to public Thursday 9 a.m., gates open to public; 11:30 a.m., first round begins Friday 9 a.m., gates open to public; 11:30 a.m., second round begins Saturday 7:30 a.m., gates open to public; 8 a.m., third round begins Sunday 7:30 a.m., gates open to public; 8 a.m., final round begins.