Fallen Oak crew prepares course for golf's legends in MGRC

AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALD/2015Bob Tway hits his ball out of a bunker during last year's Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic Pro-Am at Fallen Oak Golf Club.
AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALD/2015Bob Tway hits his ball out of a bunker during last year's Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic Pro-Am at Fallen Oak Golf Club. SUN HERALD

SAUCIER -- As the 7th annual Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic draws near, sometimes the time and effort to keep Fallen Oak golf course in such great shape goes unnoticed.

Matt Hughes, Director of Grounds at Fallen Oak, is in charge of making sure that Fallen Oak is in world-class condition for the annual PGA Tour Champions event.

Two pro-ams will be played Wednesday and Thursday at Fallen Oak, with championship rounds on Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the 7,088-yard course.

"It is challenging," Hughes said. "We have so many golfers out here Wednesday and Thursday. We start (work) at 4:30 in the morning and 6 o'clock at night. Once the event rolls around on Friday, we start at 6 in the morning and 3 o'clock in the afternoon. That makes life easier.

"All the preparation to get where we are today takes place during the year."

Rain issues in the past

And while the weather was pristine on Monday when a few of the pros showed up to practice on the course, sometimes the grounds crew is dealing with rain and its after-effects.

Certainly the rain in 2012 -- the year Fred Couples won the MGRC -- showed how good the grounds crew is. After a hard two days of rain, they got the course in shape for some exciting championship golf.

"We had 8 1/2 inches of rain starting Wednesday night and Thursday morning, and it canceled the Thursday pro-am,'' Hughes said. "A lot of guys finished 18 on Friday. Some only played nine. Freddy Couples played nine and came back finished 27 (holes) on Saturday. He birdied eight of the last nine holes to take the lead into Sunday."

By the time Sunday rolled around, it was hard to find evidence of the rain deluge.

"This time of year, we don't have any rough out here," Hughes said. "So you are not penalized if you miss fairways out here. Scores come from greens and green speeds.

"Greens are tricky to read out here. There is a lot of movement to them. It makes for fun golf to watch. The greens are large. I think that's why guys like to play out here. There are lots of opportunities to score well. If you hit a bad shot, obviously you are not rewarded for that."

In 2014, there was a complete bunker renovation at Fallen Oak, which enhanced drainage, eliminated some bunkers and reconfigured some bunkers.

Now comes the time of the year where Fallen Oak faces the onslaught of the golfers of the PGA Tour Champions.

News and notes

Among the news on Monday, inaugural MGRC champion David Eger will return to the field at Fallen Oak. Eger joined the field as a sponsor exemption. Brad Bryant withdrew from the tournament Monday, moving Grant Waite into the field from the alternate list. Since Waite had been previously announced as a sponsor exemption, that opened the door for Eger to get that sponsor exemption.

When Eger won the tournament in 2010, he shot a 3-day total of 205.

Eger joins former MGRC champs David Frost (2015), Jeff Maggert (2014) and Michael Allen (2013) in the field. World Golf Hall of Famers Bernhard Langer, Tom Kite, Colin Montgomerie and Larry Nelson are in the field.

An open qualifier will be held for four open spots in the field today at Diamondhead Country Club. The qualifier includes players like Guy Boros, Keith Clearwater, Joe Daley, Blaine McAllister and John Inman.