Jack Sammons leaned back in his chair and the General Chairman of the FedEx St. Jude Championship thought carefully about the question.
Who has the hardest job this week at the Memphis area PGA Tour event?
He took it another direction.
Who has the worst job?
“It’s certainly not Jack Sammons,” he said laughing. “My entire responsibility this week is to thank the people that make this happen, most importantly my 1,576 volunteers.”
It’s not anyone in town from the PGA Tour, he quickly decided. It could be the doctors and medical personnel who offer up their services for free. It might be what the tournament calls its “ecology crew” – the people who pick up all the trash around the course.
Or maybe it’s the chefs inside the TPC Southwind clubhouse who cook for the PGA Tour’s stars this week because “you’ve got 70 large personalities that have varied diets and eating habits and trying to provide an array that satisfies everyone so they don’t file a complaint with Tour headquarters, that’d be a little stressful,” Sammons said.
Still, it’s not them. Not this week. Not when the weather went from thunderstorms that dumped more than two inches of rain to a heat index of 109 degrees in a matter of about 48 hours.
It’s got to be Nick Basanz, he finally concluded, the TPC Southwind course superintendent who’s usually accompanied by his 10-year-old border collie, Millie.
“I took him to dinner the other night and I told him, ‘You could make grass grow on a bottle of Roundup,’ Sammons said. “He’s an extraordinarily talented guy. But I get nervous because I think I forgot somebody. Who did I forget to acknowledge? He’s got to get nervous just looking at the radar.”
So off we went to the hidden maintenance area just behind the fencing along the fairway of TPC Southwind’s ninth hole, where Basanz and his crew congregate. I alerted him to what Sammons said. But he didn’t quite agree. Instead, he pointed across the small office area to Eddie Chittom and Grady Nabors, his two most senior assistant course superintendents.
“When I go out there and I see something that’s wrong,” Basanz said, “they’re the ones that I call and that makes the job pretty tough.”
This year might be the toughest in a long time, Chittum explained.
The course got 14.5 inches of rain dumped on it in the month of July that forced a ton of pre-tournament work on the bunkers. Limbs and debris had to be cleared. The grass couldn’t be mowed nearly as much as they would have liked.
After this week’s thunderstorms on Tuesday night, they had to literally use pumps to get water off the fairways. Chittum said, in 16 years working here, that had only happened once before during the tournament.
The fairways, however, were still too wet to be mowed between Tuesday morning and Friday afternoon. The cart path areas are torn up by vendors. There’s mud everywhere from foot traffic, be it in the gallery or out on the course.
Ordinarily, Chittum would use large Buffalo Turbine blowers to help accelerate the drying process. But the grass has been too wet to bring equipment of that size on the course. It means there are 10 people walking with backpack blowers in the late afternoon and early morning, when golfers aren’t playing.
Still, Chittum and Nabors weren’t quite sure if they’ve got the hardest job.
There are 60 people working on the maintenance team this week, many of them volunteers. Workers from Chickasaw and Wyndyke Country Clubs are helping out, as well as people from the Ole Miss golf course and nearby parks and recreation departments, to ensure the city’s golf tournament looks as good as it can during its yearly appearance on national TV.
So it could be the greens rollers because they’ve got to be precise. Or maybe the mechanics because the blades on the 16 mowers used this week have to be sharpened every day and there’s so many more than on a usual week. It might just be the people who have to rake the bunkers. That, apparently, is the most tedious job.
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“You can’t just throw the JV squad in bunkers because if the rules officials call about something, it’s probably going to be the bunkers,” Nabors said.
“We’re like the offensive line,” added Basanz. “We get all of the blame, but none of the credit.”
“Everything’s got to be perfect,” Chittum chimed in. ”How deep down the rabbit hole do you want to go? There’s a lot of science involved.”
Then, he pulled out his phone.
In it was a picture of a man waist deep in water attempting to clear pine straw and debris from the drains during last month’s storms. It wasn’t quite as bad this week, but it had to be done again Wednesday morning.
That job, Chittum decided, has to be the worst.
But imagine this golf tournament in Memphis without it.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: PGA Tour Memphis: Worst job at TPC Southwind for FedEx Cup? We asked.