- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

He’s out of breath, and his phone is ringing.

John Coolbaugh is in the middle of another 20-hour day at Congressional Country Club. There’s an incessant beeping noise coming from a truck, which is probably holding portable toilets or scoreboards or merchandise for this week’s AT&T National.

He doesn’t have time to talk now - not with only a week before the tournament starts, not with so much left to do.

Coolbaugh, operations manager for the AT&T National, oversees everything from construction of the pavilions and television towers to the roping and staking of the course to the placement of bathrooms and concession stands. He and his staff started preparing Congressional for the tournament in May, but it wasn’t until last week that seemingly every inch of the course’s 380 acres began bustling with activity.

But Coolbaugh and his operations staff are only one cog in the machine that preps Bethesda’s historic country club for the PGA Tour event that begins Thursday.

There’s also Mike Giuffre, the club’s director of golf maintenance who primed Congressional’s pristine grounds for Tiger Woods and the rest of the 120 PGA Tour golfers arriving this week. And there’s Steve Rintoul, the PGA Tour’s tournament official who set up the course from a competition standpoint and assured the players that everything from their meals in the clubhouse to their walk toward the first tee would be seamless.

“This is a bad thing to say, but I like to say that you’ve got to keep your eyes on the circus before the clowns get to town,” Rintoul says. “When the players arrive on-site, they’re so used to everything being ready. It’s just click, click, click - from transportation to the locker room [to] the player dining.”

The grandstands and corporate skyboxes began going up in May.

Click.

On June 22, a truckload of portable bathrooms from Don’s Johns arrived and were placed adjacent to the fifth green.

Click.

In the days that followed, TV towers, concession stands and scoreboards went up while mowers, trimmers and rollers hummed in the background.

Click.

“I don’t feel the pressure,” Coolbaugh says. “For me, it’s more excitement… especially in the month or two leading up to the tournament.”

Sculpting the course

Congressional Country Club is, by all accounts, immaculate. Rintoul calls it a work of art.

The club’s Blue Course stretches 7,255 yards from the tips. Walking each hole, all the way from the bentgrass tees to the poana and bentgrass greens, it becomes apparent that the course’s upkeep is impressive.

“The golf course is certainly the most important part,” Coolbaugh says. “That’s why the players like being here and why Tiger likes being here.”

Giuffre knows that as well, and that’s why when he and his 60-person staff aren’t preparing for the AT&T National, they make it a point to maintain Congressional at a high level.

“As we get closer [to the tournament], the golf course gets tweaked,” Giuffre says. “It’s not something [where] we go out and make big changes to everything.”

Giuffre and Rintoul grow the rough out and shave the greens for the tournament. The rough usually stands around 2 1/2 inches, with the greens running between 10 and 11 on the Stimpmeter. With the tournament in town, Rintoul estimates the rough is about four inches tall, and the greens run between 12 and 13 on the Stimpmeter, which he called a “fast pace.”

This is all part of a process that began early last week when Giuffre slowly started to increase how often he mowed and rolled the greens. (Rolling the greens makes them firmer.) On a normal week, the greens will be rolled three times. This week, Congressional will roll each green once a day and cut them twice.

“It takes a good, solid week to kind of dial everything into the expectations for the tournament,” Giuffre says.

To keep up with the intensified workload, Giuffre will bring in 80 volunteers from local golf courses. Congressional also will get loaner equipment from its dealers to speed up the process.

“For tournament week, we have three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening to get most of our work done,” Giuffre says. “So we’ll come in as early as 3:30 in the morning and start our mowing with lights on the equipment. [We have to] try to dial everything in so we peak [now]. … The challenge more than anything else is to peak for the [tournament] - not peak too early, not peak too late.”

Final touches

As Rintoul makes one of several daily trips around Congressional, he notices an out-of-place scoreboard in the left rough of the 18th hole. A scoreboard was supposed to be on the hole - Rintoul remembers that from years past. But it wasn’t supposed to be there, the 300-yard mark of the fairway - prime position to cause problems after an errant tee shot.

Rintoul gets the scoreboard moved and averts the problem, using knowledge that came from having the event at the club the past two years.

“When you come back to a site, you understand where things should be and where things should go and how things flow,” Rintoul says. “If you’re on top of your game, you don’t have a lot of changes [to the course]. The operations staff here, they’re very much on top of their game, and they’re first-class.”

On Thursday, 30,000 people will make their way through the ticket gates along the fifth hole. They will walk across the manicured grass and see the intimidating clubhouse in the distance. They will pass by the scoreboards and make their way to the merchandise tent. They will see the lush fairways and undulating greens.

Finally, everything will be finished.

“Knowing this group - the Tiger Woods Foundation - and how good they are to work with and also Congressional Country Club, I know we’re ready,” Rintoul says.

Click. Click. Click.

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