Ready to RollMay 01, 2023 ● By Stephen Hunt
by Stephen Hunt
Staging major golf tournaments such as the 2023 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, which is slated to take place May 24-28 at the Fields Ranch East course at the PGA of America complex in Frisco, is a huge undertaking — the culmination of months and years of preparation by countless personnel.
The upcoming championship will be the first of six to be held in Frisco over the next 12 years.
Jason Mengel, championship director for PGA of America, who has overseen marquee events such as the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship, is excited. “Every major championship I’ve been involved with always has things that are unique. Certainly, with this being the first event here, we’re creating things from scratch,” he said.
“We don’t have a track record to go on. Certainly, with the run of championships we’ll have here … we get a chance to build that. That’s really what I’m excited about — the chance to help write the next chapter in the PGA of America’s major championship story in our new home.”
PGA Tour Champions was founded in 1980 as the Senior PGA Tour, an avenue for golfers age 50 and older to continue playing. The Senior PGA Championship was founded in 1937 and remains the oldest championship event in men’s senior golf.
Later this month, thousands of spectators will stream into the PGA of America complex and see the Fields Ranch East course for the first time along with the various amenities that surround it.
Spectators will pass through the Monument Realty PGA District, an area between the Omni PGA Frisco Resort (which was scheduled to open early this month) and the PGA of America headquarters. The space features The Dance Floor, a lighted two-acre putting course, The Swing, a lighted 10-hole par-3 course, the PGA Coaching Center, children’s play areas, and shopping and dining opportunities.
The PGA District “really offers us a unique experience. When people arrive through the main entrance, I envision it being like someone arriving at Disney World on Main Street, U.S.A. with the various retail, food and beverage offerings there,” Mengel said. “Then, you’re a short walk from the ninth and 18th greens. So it should be a great spectator experience. I’m really excited to share that with golf fans in the area.”
Adjacent to the 16th fairway and 17th green is Club PGA, an elevated hospitality experience where a ticket includes all food and beverages, an open bar, private restrooms and VIP parking among other amenities. Luxury skyboxes, which afford patrons a great view of play on the course in a climate-controlled setting, are also available.
Another area expected to be very popular with tournament attendees is KitchenAid’s Fairway Club.
“KitchenAid brings something else to the championship. They bring a little bit of foodie culture,” Mengel said. “That’ll house cooking demonstrations throughout the week, including some celebrity chefs.” Fans of the Food Network or Cooking Channel, may recognize “some familiar faces (there).”
Besides the amenities, what else can spectators expect from the Fields Ranch East course?
One thing that may surprise them is the fact that it was designed by renowned golf architect Gil Hanse (architect of the course used at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics).
Roger Meier, senior director of golf course management and operations for PGA of America, says, “I think they are going to understand that it was designed with the future of championships in mind. It’s a difficult golf course and I think fans will notice the unique design that Gil Hanse has provided us.”
The site, Meier says, is “really interesting. The other thing people will notice is there’s some cool undulation here. There’s a little bit of movement in the property. We have about 75 feet of elevation change through the property. You experience that on the East Course right out of the gate. Once you get to hole number two, you start playing up a hill. That’s not our tallest point on the property, but you definitely get a sense of some elevation changes.”
According to Meier, one trademark of Hanse-designed courses is that he and his team don’t typically like to move a lot of dirt around and aren’t big fans of fabricating or forcing things on their projects.
The end result is a course with a more natural feel to it, which spectators and golfers alike appreciate. “For the most part, it’s the raw land and the course sits in the topography that was pretty natural here,” Meier said. “That was pretty cool and unique.”
Meier led the agronomy team, which oversaw the science of crop production and soil protection for both the East and West courses. A big part of the science behind course management is selecting the right types of grasses — choices that often boil down to climate conditions.
“There’s a science behind what we did,” Meier said. “We’ve got some (of the) latest and greatest grass varieties, new technology.”
For fairways and roughs, Meier and his team selected NorthBridge Bermudagrass, which greens up in the early spring — just in time to be lush for the May tournament. It will hold its color into the fall.
Meanwhile, TifEagle, a fine-textured Bermudagrass uniquely adaptable to intensely managed greens in the southern hemisphere, was chosen for putting surfaces. The variety “is a very common Bermudagrass (that) we’ve been very happy with. We’ve been able to condition it to our championship quality,” Meier said.
All of the long days of preparation leading up to the tournament will be well worth it when event organizers see smiles on the faces of the spectators at the event.
“This is a major championship. The 83rd KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship is the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf,” Mengel said. “If you’re a golfer, these are the moments that define your career and your legacy.”
Stephen Hunt is a Frisco-based freelance writer.