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Snoqualmie golf tourney underway

Whoever thought all grass was the same has probably never managed a golf course.

With uncontrollable forces such as the weather butting heads against around-the-clock professional-level maintenance, preparing for a regular day at the course takes enough effort, but when the course will be viewed by millions on national television, that's a whole new challenge.

"If you try to take on Mother Nature, you'll never win," said Rick Hathaway, the TPC (Tournament Players Course) at Snoqualmie Ridge golf course's superintendent.

At this year's Boeing Greater Seattle Classic, held for the second year on Snoqualmie Ridge now through Aug. 20, participants can expect to watch professional golfers with the PGA Champions Tour (along with other affiliated events) from improved viewing opportunities.

Organizers said there will be more non-skybox and general admission locations this year than last.

This is stop 20 out of 28 on the tour, which will wrap up in Sonoma, Calif., Oct. 26-29.

Last year, about 53,000 people were in attendance. This year's event attendance is expected to exceed that, Hathaway said.

"The course is designed to host big golf events," Hathaway said about the 220-acre, 18-hole course.

For those in charge of preparing for the weeklong event, operations have gone 100 percent more smoothly than last year, Hathaway said, assuring fans ample opportunity to have an even better time this year.

"With any new event you go through growing pains, but we have it all straightened out," Hathaway said.

However, nerves are still at attention.

"This year, it's particularly gut wrenching because the greens aren't as good as last year," he said.

Unexpected issues developed earlier in the year when the course's maintenance team discovered that the wet winter had made the grass susceptible to problems, including a fungus had found its way onto parts of the course.

"It's unfortunate, but it won't be an issue," Hathaway said.

It's only a cosmetic problem, and maintenance has been working to get rid of it, but anything left over should not affect the golfers or the game, Hathaway added.

Hathaway said it's difficult to grow and maintain grass on the green because it is so short; cut to one-eighth on an inch.

It becomes especially difficult because the seed used is not indigenous (but serves as better playing turf) to the area.

"It has one foot on a death bed, one foot on a banana peel all the time," Hathaway said.

To keep the greens safe from over-use, cup cutters are used to relocate the holes on the green. PGA officials decided the hole location based on difficulty, location and visual appeal to create six easy, six average and six challenging locations for daily play during the tournament, Hathaway said.

Hathaway has been in charge of TPC for three years, but he has been in the industry for about nine years.

As a graduate of Eastern Washington University with a degree in biology, the Spokane native first worked in Montana in the late 1990s as an assistant superintendent and then was hired by the Snoqualmie Ridge course in 2003.

"Our course is unique because it is a family-oriented golf course," Hathaway said.

Justin Dickens, director of golf at TPC, added that the layout of the course has a high appeal to players, both for the tournament and for club members.

"It's just a beautiful golf course," Dickens said. "And one of the most playable, too."

It is also the only course in Washington designed by pro-golfer and course designer Jack Nicklaus.

On Monday, events kicked off with the NFL Rumble at the Ridge golf tournament that featured various NFL alumni players. Clinics were held on Tuesday, while today and Thursday offer the Wells Fargo Pro-Am charity tournament. The PGA Champion Tour tournament gets under way Friday and goes through Sunday.

Players set to appear include defending champion David Eger, as well as Tom Kit (runner-up last year), Ben Crenshaw, Peter Jacobsen and others. (About 78 players are expected to play 54 holes in total for a purse of $1.6 million, with $240,000 going to the winner.)

During the tournament, the private course is closed to members; other ammenities remain open.

This year the Champions Tour also offers "fan features," which include options such as the opportunity to be a caddie for a day or to receive behind-the-scenes tours.

The Boeing Greater Seattle Classic benefits the Heart Institute at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.

Tickets are available in advance or on the day of the event at will call or online. For more information, visit www.greaterseattlechampionsclassic.com.

The tournament will be televised live on The Golf Channel; see listings for details.

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