Tommy Snell: MGRC a big production for Fallen Oak's triumvirate

 March 19, 2013 
 Tournament Director, Steve Nieman speaks at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic Pro-Am Pairing Party.
JAMIE MORTON/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALD March 19, 2013 Tournament Director, Steve Nieman speaks at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic Pro-Am Pairing Party.

The Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic presented by C-Spire doesn't just happen. No matter how fans shake and bake this weekend at Fallen Oak, they can't help but notice the year-long work by all the people who make a PGA Tour Champions event run smoothly.

Even before David Frost lifted the trophy in 2015, MGRC Tournament Director Steve Nieman was thinking about 2016.

"We make notes during the tournament," said Nieman. "We clearly want to enjoy the opportunities that happen during tournament week, but we then focus on the recap notes, 13 pages to be exact."

Nieman wants to "make things run more efficiently each year," and he and his partners have done just that.

"A 2011 study revealed an $11.5 million economic impact, and now we estimate it to be $15 million," the Bruno Event Team member added. "More and more of that is due to more people coming to the Coast. Our twelve consortium partners are taking their clients to dinners that our players attend, and that's good for the tournament, for Mississippi and for the Mississippi Gulf Coast."

Nieman would not boast about being the most hospitable tournament on the PGA Tour Champions, but he doesn't have to. An average of 25 of the Top 30 Money Leaders each year committing to the event speaks volumes. "Without question, our hospitality is our best attribute," said Nieman. When pressed, he did say that "other tournaments will have a hard time matching what we've done."

Matt Hughes knows Bermudagrass, and he recognizes what the best players in the world want when they compete at a PGA Tour Champions tournament. As the superintendent at Fallen Oak for the past nine years, Hughes has manicured 7487 yards of fairways and greens and groomed "more than 4,000 stately oaks, magnolias, pines and other hardwood trees" as if there is a tournament each week.

The Penn State University and Ohio University graduate loves his job, and Fallen Oak's 510 acres illustrate his passion for perfect playing surfaces. "I have 26 employees and 28 tournament volunteers this year, and we focus on the playing surfaces and the bunkers," said the 16-year member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA).

Rick Gehr knows professional golf and can identify with the best players in the world. His 1998 National PGA Assistant's Championship title and competition in the US Open the same year prove he's "got game." His meteoric rise from Craft Farms assistant to Director of Golf Operations solidifies his stature in managing world-class golf facilities.

Gehr enters his third year as head professional, and he enjoys the attention to detail and the focus on customer service. "We want to provide a tournament experience to all our guests every single day," said Gehr. "During this tournament, my main focus is providing the golf professionals with what they need while they're on property. Steve Nieman and his volunteers do the rest."

Nieman, Hughes and Gehr shine during tournament week, but after peering into their bag of talent, it's apparent that they're focused on perfection 365 days a year. Want to see the greatest show on South Mississippi Bermudagrass? Come to Fallen Oak this week. The trio's ball mark allows the MGRC to return bigger and better every year.

Tommy Snell, golf coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, writes a column for the Sun Herald.