The American Family Insurance Championship never is far from the mind of Phil Davidson.
His professional calendar revolves around this weekend at University Ridge Golf Course.
“As soon as the last one’s over, we’re thinking about the next year,” Davidson said this week. “Based off of what comments from the tour from previous years and what they look for with their grounds team and the whole PGA Tour team, we’re playing things through that. It starts right away in the spring. As soon as the snow’s gone, we’re starting to go, we’re starting to prep.”
Davidson is in his ninth year as the course’s superintendent and 16th year overall at URidge. He bases just about every decision he makes about the playing surface — from major shifts to minor tweaks — around preparing it for the AmFam, a three-round PGA Tour Champions event. Davidson and his team, about 35 people between full- and part-time workers when fully staffed in the summertime, always are working backward. They’ll time resodding, aeration and other large-scale maintenance so everything is settled and healed for the AmFam.
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More focused preparations for the tournament began in mid-May. Detailed raking of greens, approach areas and fairways are designed to ensure the grass grows straight, allowing golf balls to sit high on top of it. Ensuring bunker depths and densities are to PGA Tour standards and keeping greens as fast as possible become Davidson’s focus as the tournament nears.
“We really want it to be as hard as we can make it,” he said. “Give (the players) what they’re looking for.”
This year’s cool, damp weather and the threat of rain throughout the weekend add different challenges for Davidson and his team. Davidson and his crew were about two holes behind the final groups Friday, filling in hundreds of divots, cutting roughs and the tees not being played, and cutting and rolling greens. Softer greens early in the day allowed players to attack pins with their irons and other approach shots, but those shots put a beating on the putting surface, meaning Davidson and his crew had their hands full smoothing it out before play Saturday.
The tournament is a showcase for Madison as host Steve Stricker takes pride in bringing the Champions circuit to his city. It’s a point of pride for Davidson when players compliment the course.
“The superintendent here probably deserves a tip of the cap for how good of shape he got (the course),” said Paul Goydos, who at 4-under-par (68) is three back of leader Steve Flesch. “It drains very well. The golf course isn’t that wet.”
Davidson’s especially proud of the work his staff has done being down a trio of full-time staff members.
“The crew’s been really good,” Davidson said. “They have been just killing it.”
Multiple players told reporters the rough was difficult to shoot from, adding importance to keeping tee shots on the fairway.
Flesch’s 7-under 65 was two strokes shy of tying the tournament’s opening-round record, but players and tournament officials started the day thinking rounds of 9- and 10-under were possible after rain in the morning softened the course.
“It played a little longer than it normally does,” said Madison native Jerry Kelly, who shot 4-under 68. “But I think it’s definitely the rough that did it.”
New fan areas a hit
Organizers added more fan seating areas to the course this year, increasing the number of seats around the first and 15th tees, and the greens at Nos. 14, 17 and 18. There are 1,050 seats on the course, along with the fans who line the fairways.
Stricker joked he owed the crowd a round after he failed to make a birdie at the 17th, thus denying a discount on beers at the beer stand.
Photos: Round 1 action from the 2022 American Family Insurance Championship
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