Although it was only founded in 1990, the Solheim Cup has established itself as one of the most historic signature events on the collective golf calendar. The match play competition, which takes place every two years, has given us unforgettable heroes and unbelievable moments and is very much expected by fans, players and industry professionals across the gaming landscape.
Hosting such an event is a great honor for a club, considering that the Solheim Cup has previously hosted courses such as Gleneagles, Interlachen and Muirfield Village. But for John Zimmer, Director of Grounds at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, who is hosting this year’s competition, 17th
However, with the support of partner John Deere and a wealth of knowledge from his time at Oakmont, Zimmer rises to the challenge. He takes the fans on the ropes and explains the details of the setup before the tournament for the Solheim Cup 2021.
What championship experience have you brought with you to your position at Inverness that you have come from an institution like Oakmont?
Every time you work in a place like this it’s an honor. Oakmont is a very special place in the golf world. I got to do two US Open, one US Amateur and one US Women’s Open there, but more importantly, I got to be part of Oakmont’s history as we did the renovation – cutting down trees and expanding the golf course, redesigning the church, benches and all that stuff that came with it.
I was lucky enough to be around a lot of people during my time there. I got the chance to mentor and had great assistants. I think that’s the thing you look back on. People talk about the championships, but really working with people, having great relationships and then seeing them start their families and build their careers – these are all things I think you look back on. We’re excited because I have several assistants who used to work for me who are coming to the Solheim Cup, so it’s kind of a little reunion.
How was the preparation for the Solheim Cup? How about the preparation for other events?
Since I’ve been here in Inverness, we’ve had the US Junior Amateur in 2019 and then the Drive On Championship. We haven’t done much in terms of exterior building structure, hospitality, or grandstands for these two events so this one is different. That’s big. This is a big upgrade. That reminds me a little of the 2010 US Women’s Open.
It was a challenge because due to COVID-19 we weren’t sure if we would do this by May. With regard to the club and the Solheim Cup team and our employees, we have adjusted ourselves in such a way that we plan in such a way that it goes at full speed. When it’s full we expect 20,000 fans a day and that’s pretty exciting. That is great – that is the rise to the great mastery level of the people. It’s different because the Solheim Cup brings people closer together. The ropes are a bit tighter than the US Open and it’s really encouraged in terms of fan involvement. So it’s exciting. I’ve never seen anything like this where the noise is encouraged and you come out on the golf course to watch golf, but we still want you to have a good time.
I think it’s a wonderful thing for golf and I think it’s wonderful that Inverness said last year that we were going to start Drive On. Hopefully it will give them a little edge and I think they are excited to be here. I think they appreciate Inverness more for what we did last year and I think they are excited to be back.
Are there differences in the preparation of a place for match play and preparation for stroke play?
The golf course will be very much like our membership will play most of the time, and probably the same distance. From our point of view, everyone wants the golf course to be tough and we want it to win, whether men or women. We want it to win and it’s fine, but it’s match play so it changes things a little. It’s just fun to play golf. You want people to hit exciting golf shots and take strokes, not chop them out of the rough.
What do you do upfront to make sure Inverness is in pristine condition ahead of the Solheim Cup?
A lot of the structures are pretty much taken care of so now you see a lot of people and lights and carpets and all of that changes with people. But on the golf course, we just start doing more detailed things like making sure our divots and landing areas are netting and trying to make sure we are up to date with our applications. It’s never good enough for us. We go out, we look for all our problems and we want to solve them all. We still do. But we’ll get to a point where we are who we are. It really changes once they put the ropes up because everything else outside doesn’t mean nearly as much because the fans join in.
They are all different because [hosting events] Late August early September time slot means you need to prepare your golf course for the whole summer and it is tired. It’s not the same as preparing for a US Open where your golf course will peak in June. You always know that there will always be something going on in tournaments this season – crazy weather or something else bizarre – so just say okay, we hope for the best, and stick to the plan.
How does John Deere help with both your daily maintenance duties in Inverness and setting up championship tournaments?
I’ve had a long relationship with John Deere. In Oakmont I had a relationship with John Deere. When you change jobs, everyone wants things a little bit different using different devices so I didn’t have everything I really needed for the first 2-3 years. They jumped in right away and said what you need and how we can help. We know you are there for the long term and we will be there from day one. And that is what they did here at the Inverness Club and on the board of directors, they realized it was not the norm.
Again, it’s about relationships. I think the relationships I’ve built on here since day one really paid off so we can do our daily maintenance. They were a big part of the first day and are even bigger today. As we sit here, they have sponsored us with all of the US Junior Amateurs’ additional equipment and support for the volunteers and staff with uniforms and meals and hotels. They did it for Drive On last year, and they’re doing it again.
This season we’re really excited because we’ve launched a new equipment program with pretty much the entire John Deere fleet. I think the club is excited about that too, and it’s easy for us to say that Inverness and I have a wonderful partnership with John Deere.
How does John Deere’s commitment to excellence motivate you and your employees to do the same?
When you see people willing to take the time to come into town to make sure the devices are set up properly and are supporting you, it goes a long way as this is day to day operations and they are are always approachable.
These things only work when it’s a partnership. I believe that sometimes we keep asking and asking, but we also need to make sure we communicate with them too. I think that’s the most important thing. If you build on this, they will understand when you ask for something, and we will understand what they took the time to do for us, too.
I give John Deere a lot of credit. When you have events like Solheim these guys bring extra gear and stuff that means a lot of extra work for them. It’s just a lot more extra work and we’re really lucky because we have several of our agents and our John Deere people who not only do the job of bringing that equipment, but they come and they volunteer their time to bring it in actually working here with us this week. There’s a lot in there and everyone does a lot of extra work for such major events.
As a casual fan, what would you like to know about golf course maintenance and lawn maintenance?
If you are a fan and enjoy the game of golf I would encourage you to learn what it takes to prepare a golf course each day. Personally, I think, and I’ve been saying this all along, I think that in our profession of training the average golfer, we are doing an absolutely terrible job. We seem to educate ourselves and we send everything to ourselves, but we don’t get it to the right people. It’s not just mowing grass. It’s chemistry. It is earth. It’s a responsibility to the environment. It’s about people management and public speaking and writing and helping people with their resumes. It’s a very unique business that we are in.