Stephen J. Cox, a PGA advance rules official, uses his middle initial to distinguish himself from the other Stephen Coxes associated with the PGA, and he explained why on a recent visit to Carmel’s Crooked Stick Golf Club.
“I went to a tournament in Atlanta,” he says, “and when I checked in, I was told I had already done so—which was weird. They gave me a key, and in my room there were many really expensive gifts. I thought, ‘Wow, this is great.’ Later, at dinner, a man tapped me on the shoulder, asked my name, and said he was also Stephen Cox. I said, ‘So all those gifts in my room aren’t mine, are they?’ Stephen Cox said no, they were his, and so was the room. That was kind of funny.”
There is no mistaking this Stephen Cox when he steps on a golf course in a PGA host city such as Carmel, site of the 2012 BMW Championship on September 3-9. This tournament, in existence since 1899, will bring the likes of Phil Michelson, Tiger Woods, and Bubba Watson for their first visit to the lengthy (7,500-yard) Pete Dye course, presenting the rare opportunity to see these stars, and many more, up close in the Midwest. Cox is in charge of readying the site, from fan parking to length of the second cut. We joined him on the inspection in April to find out how that’s going.
“Crooked Stick is a classic course,” Cox says. “That’s the beauty of this place. We are very conscious of the design of the course when we meet and don’t want to change it, especially on a classic like this.”
Making a course tournament-ready is not a one-person job. Cox works hand-in-hand with, in this case, Crooked Stick’s course superintendent Jake Gargasz, who until 18 months ago was running Jack Nicklaus’s Muirfield Village Golf Course in Dublin, Ohio, home to the PGA’s Memorial Tournament. According to Cox, getting Gargasz to come to Crooked Stick is a feather in the Carmel course’s cap. “He brings so much experience from running the Memorial and being directed by Jack,” Cox says.
One of the biggest improvements to The Stick came in a new irrigation system. “That is huge,” Cox says. “That gives us flexibility of how much water goes on the course. There may be areas we don’t want to water but we’ll want to water the rough so the blades are full and it catches the club head. It is a massive advantage.”
Vince Pellegrino, another member of the delegation inspecting the course, is the vice president of tournaments for the Western Golf Association, and also serves as tournament director for BMW Championships this year. “This is a new market for us, so we are very excited,” he says. “The advance ticket sales and corporate contributions have been strong to date.”
BMW is teaming up with the WGA to bestow $100,000 to the Evans Scholars Foundation if any golfer hits a hole in one on the par-3 13th hole. It was there officials took a bit of time to decide pin placement and tee marker locations for all four days of the championship. The par-3 17th will be set up so that if a player aces the hole, he would win a new BMW automobile.
Spectators of this event will never know all the minute details that fill the conversations along the way around the course. There was a decision to cut the players through a small grove of pine trees between the 11th green and the 12th tee. This grove, it was decided, would be an excellent spot for a Port-O-Let to give the players a little privacy if nature calls. Along with players’ paths and restroom locations, placement of spectator ropes, where hole markers will be displayed, camera angles and how the background will look also come up.
But from a player’s perspective, the decisions this group makes on such visits are hugely significant—they have a direct impact on how well players score. Cox was thinking about raising the second cut of rough from two-and-a-half inches to three inches; he had already decided to pinch a fairway to make the landing area smaller and added length to holes 4, 14, 16, and 11, although he’s not sure if he wants 11 to be any longer.
Asked if he had an evil streak in him when setting up courses, Cox replies, “I wouldn’t say it’s an evil streak,” with a wink of the eye and a wry smile. “This course has its natural hazards.
“We want this tournament to be won by the best player and be exciting. We don’t want to take the excitement away,” Cox continues. “My philosophy is people pay good money to come and watch golf, so I want them to be able to see.”
Come to Crooked Stick, from September 3 to 9, to find out how well Cox and his crew did.