With the end of the season there are only a few events left on the LPGA tour calendar. The first, next week, is the Pelican Women’s Championship at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida. The recently renovated course is a Donald Ross design and an LPGA Tour player is still learning. This is only the second year the event is on the LPGA Tour’s schedule, opening in 2020.
But with the newfound leadership from Terry Kennerly, Director of Golf Course and Grounds, fans and players can rest assured that the facility is in prime condition for the tournament game to begin. Kennerly’s tenure at the Concession Golf Club ended in May of this year and brings that wealth of knowledge to the Tampa Bay area. He’s taking the helm ahead of the LPGA’s penultimate tour stop, helping the club prepare to host the world’s best players this November.
Moving to a new facility with a new maintenance standard is always a challenge, but with partner John Deere’s dedication to excellence and the support of its agronomy staff, Kennerly feels better than ever in his new role. As the Pelican Women’s Championship looms, he gives fans a behind-the-scenes look and outlines the pre-tournament setup he and his team will need before the LPGA Tour arrives.
What knowledge do you bring to the Pelican Golf Club from Concession and what role has John Deere played in your work?
I think tournament experience is part of it, of course, but I try to create championship game conditions every day. That is what we strived for with Concession. And I’d say for the most part we probably made it, and that’s the goal at Pelican Golf Club too. It was a pretty easy transition. It’s still work. It’s still hard. You still need to take some weather breaks, but the ownership here is different from what I’ve ever worked for in terms of helping us and getting us what we need. I don’t care what kind of business it is. You need financial support, and that’s key, but you also need the tools and resources to get the job done. The owners here were nothing but exceptional.
We have just bought some John Deere fairway units, walking mowers and triplexes, adding to the John Deere fleet I have worked with in the past. John Deere certainly plays a pretty important role in my job.
How did your experience at Concession prepare you to come to Pelican Golf Club and immediately prepare for an LPGA Tour event?
It really is knowing what it takes to run tournament conditions on a daily basis. I had 17 years of experience there and before that another 10 years working on two US Open at the Congressional and two PGAs at the Inverness Club. I’ve been in business for quite a while and it’s one thing to see the terms and conditions, another thing to know what it takes to get them there. It’s never easy, but once you’ve been through it there are always mistakes that you can learn from and acquire some tricks of the trade, whether from colleagues in the industry or volunteers or salespeople. As crazy as it sounds, I think every tournament gets a little easier because you learn a little bit from every event. Whether I’ve been to Concession or Pelican Golf Club, you’re still taking what you’ve learned and applying it elsewhere.
How big are the differences in preparing for PGA Tour events compared to LPGA Tour events?
There are some differences in green speeds and firmness, but the preparation is still the same. You have to have good staff. You have to take a few breaks in the weather. You need support from your ownership and we look forward to it. We think we will have a really good event for the LPGA and we are very excited about it. I know the club is, me and my staff are, we are really looking forward to it.
Does the way the course is designed (i.e. a steed versus a nicklaus) change how it is looked after by an agronomic staff?
Pelican Golf Club is an old Donald Ross design that was renovated by Beau Welling about four years ago. Concession was a rough, rugged golf course that required tough, firm, dry, and fast conditions. At Pelican Golf Club we still strive for it, but this is a slightly more modern design with sharp edges that make the bunkers easier to maintain. The concession was really sturdy while it is closed Augusta bunkers with straight edges. So in terms of edging, trimming and maintenance, they are treated differently.
They are two completely different golf courses and at the end of the day it’s still the course maintenance. In Concession, trying to maintain tough, firm, dry, and fast conditions is not just turning off the water. They are still pouring, but there is a lot of hand pouring. There are two completely different designs at Concession vs Pelican, and each requires two different types of maintenance.
How did John Deere help you and your team transition and prepare for the Pelican Women’s Championship?
I’ve probably used every provider out there. I had Jacobsen. I had Toro. I had John Deere. I think everyone in the world has been affected by this pandemic in one way or another, and when I got here there was some gear that we needed. We spoke to Toro and John Deere, but John Deere delivered much faster and they had the units they needed in stock. I have friends in the industry who ordered gear six, seven, eight months ago and they are still four to five months away from getting the gear while John Deere had it for us in three to four weeks. Where they really got through were loan units and literally everything we asked for came, John Deere supplied it. And if they didn’t have it, they found it for us. As superintendents, we can be a little impatient when we want things, and sometimes the owners can be a little impatient too. I can tell you everything we asked for from support to equipment to customer service. John Deere was there for us. They have accompanied us every step of the way.
What does your partnership with John Deere mean for you and your employees and for the entire Pelican Golf Club facility?
Knowing that we will take care of it when we have a problem is invaluable. I am sure that this will be the case for tournament support in the next few weeks. Literally anything we asked for, John Deere delivered it. We know something will happen during the tournament and unfortunately we just don’t know what yet. But it’s nice to know that when it comes to the equipment we can pick up the phone and know that John Deere will deliver whatever we need.
How does John Deere’s commitment to excellence affect you and your team?
It’s one less thing to worry about. When we have a device that breaks down, John Deere gives you peace of mind. When you start hosting tournament events, try to eliminate any scenarios that could cause problems. It can be equipment related or weather related. We can’t control the weather, but all equipment related problems are solved by something as simple as the telephone receiver.
What exactly are you and your team working on in the run-up to the Pelican Women’s Championship?
We had a member pro event that is like a practice round. Whether it’s double cutting or rolling, or trying to get the guys into tournament mode, it helps us with what to expect in our previous week and the week of the event. It is a two day event that we take very seriously here, and the conditions we are striving for for this event are very close to what we would like the LPGA to be. It’s kind of a mini practice lap for the four o’clock starts and taxiing and mowing. There were 30 mph winds during the event, which is good and bad. It’s a pain, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that we could get some of this weather during the Pelican Women’s Championship. It would be good to look back during the tournament and say, ‘We had a similar situation two weeks ago and we did that to respond to it.’ Any little experience like this that employees can fall back on is always priceless.
Do you think it’s important to encourage women to get into the golf agronomy business?
I definitely think it’s important. It’s a physical job, no question about it. In today’s golf industry, especially golf course maintenance, we are no different from many other industries out there. Staffing is very difficult now and the more women involved the better, especially hosting an LPGA tour event. The two women we have to ourselves now are just as good as the men we have to ourselves.
It takes a different mentality. There aren’t many people who get up at four in the morning and work eight or ten hours a day. It takes a unique individual, man or woman, and I have no preference one way or another, but I think it’s important.
What would you like people to know about number one Pelican Golf Club, but number two about the work you and your team do on a daily basis?
The golf course maintenance side has always been behind the scenes. People outside of golf, I think, have no idea what it means to run a golf course every day, be it for a tournament or membership. Sometimes the weather isn’t exactly cooperative and sometimes the greens aren’t quite as fast as they’d like them to be. Sometimes the fairways can be a little soft or a little wet. There are a lot of things beyond our control.
Some people might see events on TV or come by in person and think, ‘It must be good fun to work outside’ and the like. It’s long hours. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and for me and my key co-workers, it’s not uncommon to say that we work 10-12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. As in any other business, if you want to be good at it, you have to be passionate about it. It’s a tough job. I don’t think people really understand what’s behind this. I mean it’s an art. There’s a science behind it. And things change daily, but for me the key to success is always staying one step ahead because it is much easier to prevent things than to try to catch up.