By BOB SUTTON
With all the rave reviews associated with Sedgefield Country Club since it became the home to the Wyndham Championship, there’s something else growing on the tournament grounds.
New grass for the greens.
The switch to a more heat-resistant strain of bermudagrass for the greens complexes is one of the major storylines – other than newly crowned U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson defending his Greensboro title – for this summer’s mid-August tournament.
Simpson has endorsed the new greens, even though the level of difficulty is bound to rise even for the professional golfers.
“It was difficult before and now it’s going to be even more challenging,” Simpson said. “It’s going to be a good thing for the tournament.”
The greens complexes were reworked with a more heat-resistant strain of grass, pulling away from the bent grass greens of the past.
Other more subtle changes have been in the works the past couple of months as well, but the greens will be the most relevant upgrades for golfers.
“They’re going to see a whole new golf course,” Wyndham Championship tournament director Mark Brazil said. “They’ve loved the course, but I think that’s what they’ve wanted.”
The course closed in mid-May and it was scheduled to reopen for the Wyndham Championship. No decision has been made as to when the course will open prior to the tournament.
Keith Wood, the course superintendent, said the greens were planted May 28.
Even with the sometimes-oppressive heat, Wood said there’s no reason to sweat about the greens.
“I can say with a big smile on my face (that) for the first time in my career I have not been afraid of a heat wave,” Wood said.
McConnell Golf purchased the country club in 2011. Chief executive officer John McConnell said the strain of Bermuda grass installed is better suited for this region.
Architect Kris Spence of Summerfield oversaw the $400,000 greens project. He headed the 2007 course remodeling, so he was familiar with the details involved in the latest endeavor.
There were a few other tweaks as well. The second green was made larger in the back to offer more pin placements, while the front of the 17th green was modified.
Bunkers were added to Nos. 5 and 15, both par-5s. The bailout area on No. 15 will feature heavy rough rather than a closely mown area.
McConnell said the changes are for the long-term benefit of Sedgefield Country Club’s facility. He said that was the major consideration without influence from how it would impact the annual PGA Tour stop.
“Certainly the tournament and the PGA Tour players will prefer to play Bermuda greens in August’s heat and it will be interesting to see what the winning scores will be in the future with the new greens,” McConnell said.
Stress on greens created major concerns prior to and during the 2010 Wyndham Championship.
“Changing the Sedgefield greens to bermudagrass is great news for the members at Sedgefield, but it’s also great for the Wyndham,” Davis Love III said. “The new greens will allow the course to be played the way (architect) Donald Ross intended most of the year.”
Simpson had an up-close look at the greens renovation project when he stopped by the course in late June.
“I’m tickled see a ball roll across a green,” Wood said of another reassuring moment after Simpson took a few putts on the ninth green as part of a photo opportunity.
With the bermudagrass, course officials said they expect to have an easier time maintaining the greens, especially during the hottest days of the year. Wood said it’s like a transition from always playing defense with the greens to moving to an offensive position.
Wood said the changes with the greens should guarantee golfers have the best putting surface even with scorching summer heat in North Carolina. He said he’s optimistic that the greens will be in perfect condition for the 2012 tournament.
For Brazil, it’s all part of what he refers to as “the beautification process that has been going on” with the Sedgefield Country Club facility.
Brazil said past concerns about the greens in North Carolina’s summer heat could have given some golfers reason to reconsider playing in the tournament.
This year’s tournament will be the fifth since the return to the course in 2008. Carl Pettersson won at 21 under that first year, Ryan Moore was 16 under in 2009, Arjun Atwal posted 20 under in 2010 and Simpson shot 18-under 262 last year.
“Even in the heat of August, the greens will be hard and fast, and that means the course will play much tougher,” Simpson said. “I think it’s safe to say that the days of 20-under par are over.”