Tag Archives: Paul Cushing

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Dec. Southland: Is El Nino The Perfect Storm For SoCal Golf?

Dec. Southland

In the last week of October, almost exactly three months before the start of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Paul Cushing had no trouble picking a tournament favorite: El Nino.

Cushing, the maintenance manager for the City of San Diego’s golf courses, in fact had already effectively doubled down on El Nino by buying extra pumps and other heavy duty water removal equipment in advance to handle the deluge that could come with the type of potentially extreme weather event an El Nino portends.

A historic hurricane in Mexico the previous week had only further convinced Cushing of the forecast of a wet winter for San Diego and Southern California. A warm Pacific Ocean mixed with late-summer heat and humidity had cooked up the proverbial perfect storm for a perhaps record-setting El Nino.

“At this point, I’d be much more surprised if we don’t have a significant rain event than we do,” Cushing said of tournament week (Jan. 28-31.).

Raining on the Tour’s annual parade through SoCal would put a damper on the professional season but likely be welcome news to the rest of the region’s golf course community, as long as extreme events, such as flooding and mudslides, don’t coincide.

Four years of drought have drained the reserves of the state and pushed courses to their liquid limit through water restrictions. The latest data, Cushing said, showed the state needing 75 inches of rain to recover.

“We’re not going to get that all back in one swoop,” he said, “but we could put a pretty good dent it, maybe at least get us through another year or two by restoring some of the ground reserves.”

Mike Huck, a water management consultant in San Juan Capistrano who monitors usage by the state’s courses, said California’s courses caught a break in 2015 between timely rains and late-arriving heat. Despite mandated water restrictions, courses kept their conditions up and in some cases saved more water than the mandate.

“The rain fall came with perfect timing,” Huck said. “Some courses had just started to go yellow after the cuts and it’s like they were given a breath of fresh air. Some courses you couldn’t even tell where the water had been shut off.

“I had one (Orange County) super tell me, ‘We’re as green as we’ve ever been.’”

But the superintendents are now ready for nature to really open the hose. And past experience and current conditions lead Huck to believe that relief is coming. Huck is more concerned with how the rains will come.

“How much will we capture?” he asks. “These storms can be really intense. If that’s the case, we won’t capture as much as if it was a nice, slow rain that drizzled for 10 days.”

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Like Cushing, Huck believes a best-case scenarios buys courses a couple years of supply and could even result in the lifting of water restrictions, which are due to be re-evaluated in the new year.

Or, Huck said, water boards could look at how courses got by on less in 2015 and stay conservative.

“It all depends on capture,” he said. “In the spring, they could say we’re comfortable with where we’re at, or they could press on restricting consumption.”

Huck said 2015 proved to be a huge learning year about conversation and resources for those in charge of course maintenance.

“Absolutely. It’s just like when we had the big drought in the late 70s. It really opened people’s eyes and made them take a different course and use less water. They realized you can maintain good course conditions with a lot less water.”

Huck would bet Southern California sees significant relief, but says there’s no guarantee Northern California would see the same. There can be regional differences, but Huck says the storms need to make an impact beyond the coast to really bail out California.

“What’s the snow pack is the big question,” he said, knowing the last two were the lowest in recorded California history. “Will the cold air mass come down to the Sierras or will it go to the Rockies? The experts seem split 50-50 about whether there will be a big snow event in the Sierras.”

Both ranges contribute to California’s supply and the snowmelt holds the potential for a more long-lasting impact than the storms themselves.

A worst-case scenario for courses, Huck said, is a winter that under delivers on El Nino’s potential. That downside is one Huck believes could be dire, not just drier, in 2016, meaning restrictions could increase.

“It could mean no water at all for some courses, or just water for tees and small percentage of greens,” he said.
The other downside is potential natural disaster conditions.

“Southern California could get flooding and mud slides. That could be almost as bad,” he said, noting courses that undertook turf reduction could be especially vulnerable to erosion.

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Art Miller, a 30-year Research Oceanographer in Climate Sciences at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, said unprecedented ocean climate conditions make an extreme event more likely.

“The northern Pacific Ocean has (abnormally) warm ocean temperatures all the way up to Alaska,” he said. “Once it gets set up like that, it takes a long time to fade away.”

Miller said some models show it could take ocean temperatures as long as six months to normalize, which provides a longer window of opportunity for rain or severe weather beyond December to February, which is viewed as the peak window for El Nino.

Cushing has seen El Nino at its most destructive extreme. When the last one came in 2005, he was working on building Vellano Country Club in Chino Hills. The rains made the project work impossible until spring, when El Nino had subsided.

“We’d work and then get 10 inches of rain that would wash out the entire project,” he said. “We’d pick up the pieces and it would happen again. And we were a course with 600 feet of elevation change. Water was pooled everywhere.”

That El Nine brought a hefty 44 inches of rain to the region. That same soaking wouldn’t erase the drought but it’d certainly make a dramatic impact.

California’s reservoirs wouldn’t be overflowing, but its bunkers would be. That’s the scenario Cushing is already planning for.

Of his 2005 El Nino experience, Cushing said, “I think we’re in for that again.”

Southland: Balboa Park Golf Course Turns 100

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It may seem hard to be believe that a course sitting in view of San Diego’s city skyline could qualify as a hiding gem, but, alas, that’s the fate of Balboa Park.

The oldest course in San Diego, opened in 1915, is a local favorite yet may barely register regionally or to tourists due to little promotion as one of three city courses run by the city of San Diego.

If outsiders have heard of it, it’s likely in reference to Phil Mickelson playing his formative rounds there – or him still joining his kids for an occasional loop.

Another possibility is catching word of Sam Snead’s course record of 60 shot in 1943, a mark that still carries a magical aura due to the legend attached.

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Beyond that, Balboa exists as a humble home to loyal range of local golfers looking to catch a round downtown. But others who don’t experience the place are indeed missing something.

The course is narrow, a bit quirky in places, but it provides unmatched golf course views of downtown and a great walk to boot.

“It’s a cherished treasure in San Diego,” says Paul Cushing, the Assistant Deputy Director for the City of San Diego’s courses. “It has an incredible local following.”

With both an 18-hole and 9-hole course on property, Balboa is a golf venue for all ages – and at a value.

“For $14, you can get out and play nine holes,” Cushing says of the executive course for residents. “You can’t find that hardly anywhere anymore.”

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The 18-hole hosts 60,000 rounds a year, the nine-hole 50,000. That’s an impressive amount of play for a game that’s supposedly on the decline.

Cushing says rounds are actually on the rise at Balboa, partly due to recent improvements, such as a new irrigation system and new cart paths along with tweaks to a few holes.

The next steps to increase the lure of Balboa are plans to renovate and update the clubhouse, restaurant and pro shop.

There isn’t a definitive start date, but there is a definitive intent: To attract more non-golfers.

“We’re looking to attract more non-golfers through an upgraded restaurant and more attractive clubhouse experience,” Cushing says. “People in the community really like coming out to Balboa to eat and we’re looking to improve their experience.”

Maximizing the clubhouse view of downtown, which is spectacular, is part of that plan, including adding a patio space.

Expanding a limited pro shop space will similarly expand the options for golfers, many of whom, Cushing says, cherish the exec. course as much as the 18.

“It’s a great, fun golf course with a good variety of par 3s and 4s,” he says. “You can hit every club in the bag, and it’s a very easy walk with trees and rolling hills. People just love it, and it’s very affordable.”

When you play the 18-hole course, aside from the opening tee shot, which is elevated and gives you the first glimpse of downtown, you’re likely to remember the similarly scenic closing stretch. A brief tour:

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No. 16, par 5, 555 yards – The fairway bottlenecks, making for a tight tee shot, but if you avoid OB, you’ve got a great chance to score here. Regardless of birdie or bogey, the view from the green here offers the peak view of downtown.

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No. 17, par 3, 198 yards – This skyline remains in view from the tee of this elevated par 3. The last of a strong group of par 3s, club down and don’t go long here and you’ll keep par in play.

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No. 18, par 4, 316 yards –
Nicknamed “Cardiac Hill,” this tight closing par 4 is dead uphill, thus the moniker for walkers. Avoid the trees on the left and a walk-off birdie in the shadow of the Balboa clubhouse could still be yours.

After being treated to a fun round and a unique view of the city, it’s hard to imagine a round on San Diego’s oldest golf course ever getting old.

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Balboa Park By the Numbers

1915 – The year Balboa opened, making it the oldest course in San Diego

1943 – The year Sam Snead carded the course record (60)

28 –
Snead’s score on the front nine of his record round

27 – Holes at Balboa (an 18 and 9-hole exec.)

110,000 – Annual rounds played at Balboa’s two courses

$14/10 – Rate to walk the executive course for residents and seniors

For more information about Balboa Park, or to book a round, go to www.sandiego.gov/golf

FIO Course Report: “The Best Farmers Course Ever”

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A year ago, a mild winter made for ideal course conditions at Torrey Pines and allowed for a U.S. Open-like set up.

This year timely rains and mild weather again made for optimal conditions and have resulted in what City of San Diego Course Superintendent Paul Cushing says is “the best Farmers course ever.”

Cushing forecasted a winning score again in the single digits. A year ago, Scott Stallings shot a 68 on Sunday to score a one-shot victory at nine-under.

“The rain really helped with our rough. We have incredible rough. We’ve had to mow it twice already,” Cushing said.
“It’s just going to be great conditions out there this week.”

A few of the pros commented that it was the toughest Torrey set up they’ve seen. Tiger Woods, in particular, noted the green speeds.

“I was shocked at the green speeds,” he said after the Wed. pro-am. “They’re usually not set up this fast.”

Should make for another week of a tight leaderboard and possibly another horse-race Sunday finish.

The Aura of ’08 Still Shines Brightly at Torrey Pines

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USGA and local officials celebrate the 2021 agreement

In a way, it’s still very much 2008 every day at Torrey Pines.

The mystique of the epic ’08 Open, site of Tiger Woods’ dramatic sudden-death victory over Rocco Mediate, now draws golfers from around the globe to tee it up on the South Course and walk what has become hallowed golf ground.

Merchandise with the ’08 Open logo still sells, stories of that week are repeatedly, and happily, retold and golfers mostly ask, “Hey, when’s that going to happen again?”

Now we know.

Torrey was granted its long awaited and much anticipated encore Tuesday when it was officially revealed “America’s Championship” would return to Torrey in 2021. City and USGA officials jointly announced and celebrated the agreement, passing out 2021 hats and having photos taken with a replica of the U.S. Open trophy.

The sentiment of recapturing the magic of ’08 was expressed by everyone, including the new mayor, using words such as “electricity,” “passion” and “excitement” in what they hoped to recreate in 2021. They’ll will be hard pressed to match the original, but we’ve now got seven years to ponder about how it could be topped.

After the announcement, I asked a few of the Torrey Pines staff members why it is that the 08 Open captured people’s imaginations in a way that few sporting events, not just in golf, rarely do. Think about it: Are people still talking about the 08 Super Bowl? The World Series? The Final Four? No.

Heck, people aren’t still talking about those things from a year ago.

Aside from the Hollywood-level drama, what’s different is part of what makes golf different.

“You can actually play the course where they played the U.S. Open,” says Torrey Pines Head Pro Joe DeBock. “Torrey Pines became very popular just for that fact. The course brings back those memories in a way that just going back to a stadium doesn’t.

“And it was one of the greatest championships ever.”

For comparison, you can try to recreate Christian Laettner’s iconic NCAA Tournament shot, but you can’t do it at the free-throw line of The Spectrum in Philadelphia.

However, you can walk to the 18th green at Torrey and recreate the 12-foot birdie putt Tiger drained to force the championship into an extra day.

And DeBock has. Many, many times now.

“I’ve recreated that putt so many times,” he says. “I originally did it for the media, but people still ask about it all the time.

“It’s a hard putt. If you get it too left, it stays left. It you get it too high, it stays high. It’s a tough putt to recreate.”

But it’s all part of the daily Open conversation at  Torrey.

“I talk about the U.S. Open in every lesson I give, and every tournament we have causes people to reminisce about it. It’s always a hot topic around here and will be even more so now.”

Possibly the only thing DeBock gets asked about more than the 08 Open is when there’d be another one at Torrey. DeBock said he’d been harboring a hunch for a while that it’d be back in 2021.

“When they announced Winged Foot (in New York) for 2020, I started to feel good about us getting it back in 2021,” he said. “When you look at the East/West geography balance, it made real good sense. And enough time had gone by.”

For those that don’t know, by the way, the 2019 Open is at Pebble Beach.

They opened the press event on Tuesday with a video montage of the 2008 Open and seconds later, Tiger was emphatically fist-pumping all over again.

“I still get chills watching that,” confided USGA Vice President Dan Burton. “And I know Rocco does, too.”

In a way the legacy and stature of 2008 has only grown since Tiger’s last putt fell, largely because that’s where his major march toward Jack’s record came to a historical hault.

For what will be six years now when Tiger tees it up at The Masters, Torrey has been the point of reference for his last major title in what still ranks as the most compelling storyline in sports.

Tiger will be 45 when June 2021 rolls around. Where his major odometer will be by then is anybody’s guess, but if he’s still in need of another to break the record, you’ve got to believe this will be coming too late in the game.

But that type of speculation led to a fun thought from Paul Cushing, the City of San Diego’s maintenance manager for golf operations.

“Who knows where the 2021 U.S. Open champion is right now?” he said. “He could be in high school. He could be in another country.

“It’s fun to think about it.”

It is. And we’ve got seven more years to do it. Let the game begin.

ImageFor $36, pin flags from the 2008 U.S. Open still sell

FIO Day Two: Capturing Torrey’s Transformation

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This is my final follow-up post to the preview piece I did for the January issue of Southland Golf where I documented the maintenance practices at Torrey Pines and how they prepare the course to peak for the Farmers Insurance Open.

As a complement to that piece, I wanted to go back during the tournament and document the transformation, so, working again with Torrey’s head maintenance supervisor Paul Cushing, we ventured onto the South Course at about 3 p.m. Thursday. Because of the 30-minute fog delay to start the day, groups were still on the course, so Cushing and his crew had to wait a bit so as to not disturb play.

After spending about 45 minutes watching Cushing and his crew work, I decided it might be best to just analyze the process over one hole, so here’s a look at the work on No. 4 on the South, which is where the grounds crew started and then worked toward the clubhouse.

The following is a little photo essay about the process, which utilizes City of San Diego workers and volunteers each day to return the course to championship condition in about four hours at the end of each round. Cushing also shared that during Farmers week superintendents from across the country will fly in to work the tournament to get experience.

It was interesting to watch them work as a team and restore the shine to Torrey Pines.

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This is the maintenance crew and machinery staged near the 4th hole, awaiting the go-ahead from Cushing. The orange machine is worth noting. That’s a roller. It follows the mowers to help tighten the fairways. It’s a process Torrey added after Cushing worked the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club.

“It really makes a difference,” Cushing says. “It really tightens the turf and gives shots that extra little bounce.”

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     This captures quite a bit of the process in a snapshot. You can see the three mowers working in tandem in the fairway. They make one pass up and one pass back to keep turning to an absolute minimum. You can also see the hand-mowing on the approach and on the fringe. Then hand-watering takes place green-side and in the bunkers, but not on the green itself. To maintain green speeds, the greens to unwatered, spritzed at most, during the tournament.

One each hole, you’ve got about seven pieces of equipment and at least 12 workers working in unison.

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After the round, the bunkers are graded smooth in preparation for them to be hand-raked the next morning. Seemingly little things like bunker contours matter to players. The bunkers are raked to have the grain going toward the hole, which making it more conducive for an approach shot.

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     This shows the fairways making their return pass and, in the distance, you can see the roller working behind them.

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       This is the half-and-half look the mowers achieve. As you can see, the effect is created by simply mowing in two different directions. While pleasing in person, the look is largely done for TV, Cushing says.

“We never forget that the blimp is watching us,” he says. “That’s also why our lines have to be perfectly straight.”

The final phase of the transformation, which I neglected to get a photo of, is the volunteer crew that follows the machinery. They’re repairing the divots, which seemingly dot the fairway every two feet or less where approach shots are commonly taken.

If there’s an imperfect divot, the loose turf has to be removed and the divot filled with a seed/sand mixture. It won’t heal overnight, but it at least re-starts the process, Cushing says.

Image    And then the crew moves to the next hole and the process starts all over again until both courses – the North and South – are completed.

The one time-saver, at least on Thursday and Friday, is that hole locations don’t have to be re-cut. The pins and cups simply have to be removed and then replaced. Golfers who played the North Thursday play the South Friday and vice versa.

“They want the golfers to get the exact same golf course the other players had,” Cushing says. “It doesn’t save us a ton of time, but it is one less thing.”

I just wanted to say thanks again to Paul for sharing his time and his photos. I hope readers enjoyed this inside look at the process and gained a little appreciation for what it takes to make a championship golf course really sparkle.

Pro-Spective: No. 7 on the North Course

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Excuse the golfer on the right, who walked into my shot. This is the uphill, dog-leg right No. 7 on the North Course. It follows the dramatic downhill par-3 and is the last of the ocean holes on the North Course.

      While the pros largely can be much more aggressive on the North than the South – look at Thursday’s scoring split – Scott Bentley, our resident pro, says this is one hole the pros still have to respect.

       “It’s the tightest driving hole on the North. You’ll see a lot of 3-woods here,” he says. “You don’t want to get overaggressive here and bring in the trees on the right.”

      Playing at over 400 yards, a 3-wood off the tee still leaves a 7- or 8-iron approach, and Bentley says pros can’t afford to miss long.

     “You definitely don’t want to be over this green, because it will be sloping away from you.”

     It’ll be interesting to see today how many strokes the players who started on the South can make up on the North, including on No. 7.

FIO Course Conditions: Shades of the ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey?

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Editor’s Note: This is a follow up to the Southland Golf Magazine piece I did in January about the months of maintenance and preparation that go into preparing Torrey Pines to host the Farmers Insurance Open

A warm San Diego winter nearly devoid of rain has helped give Torrey Pines a golf course for the Farmers Insurance Open that is reminiscent of the PGA Tour’s major held there in 2008, says Paul Cushing, Torrey’s lead maintenance supervisor.

Cushing, the City San Diego’s Maintenance Manager for Golf Operations, described the course players were practicing on Tuesday, with thick rough and slick greens, as “U.S. Open-type conditions.”

“This is most definitely the closest the course has played to the 2008 U.S. Open for the Farmers,” Cushing says. “From a greens, rough and fairways standpoint, it’s very close.”

Cushing says course-friendly weather and diligent maintenance programs have resulted in a best-case scenario for course conditions.

“We have the ability to shape the golf course exactly like how we’d like it to play,” he says. “It’s going to be fast, firm and dry. It’s all the things you love to have to be able to present a tournament of this magnitude.”

Cushing says the ankle-deep rough has drawn compliments.

“Going around during practice rounds, everybody was talking about the rough. We’ve never had this quality of rough for the Farmers, especially on the South. It’s the best overseed we’ve ever had.”

Without a drop of rain in the forecast and high temperatures continuing throughout the tournament, Cushing says the Farmers is primed for one of its best years.

Besides the lush grass beneath their feet, Cushing hopes visitors will also notice the attention given to improving the look of Torrey on the horizon.

“We have really spent a lot of time the last two years cleaning up the canyon areas on the North and South to improve the viewing corridors. Some of the areas had really become overgrown,” he says.

“We wanted to improve the vistas and the views of the ocean, and I think people will really notice that.”

Cushing has graciously agreed to provide a daily course maintenance picture or two for socalgolfblog.com to give followers a unique look at the course and what goes into producing the Torrey Pines the world sees on TV. So you can you look forward to that.

JANUARY 2014 SOUTHLAND GOLF

Update: Arrowood recorded its first hole-in-one on Just One on Jan. 6, earning the winner $2,000.