Let’s talk about cutting cups.
During The Players’ Championship, I discovered even more how much I love and hate Twitter. A tweet from the PGA Tour showed a close up of the edges of a freshly cut cup being scissor trimmed. And a discussion erupted. I was honestly shocked. Because somehow, the notion of a perfectly prepared cup edge was lumped into the idea of tournament golf taking things too far in the way of conditioning. It was compared to all kinds of things that aren’t usually done on the daily.
I was astounded. Actually. And, because I am me, I spoke up. I couldn’t hold back. Call it addiction or lack of self-control or the need to be right, I don’t care. I really don’t.
I had to look back to the 80’s when I first learned to cut a cup. Like everyone who has ever dropped a cutter and hovered over it, I wasn’t good at first. And I took a huge amount of heat from the entire crew for a few poorly selected spots and a few leaning flags. And I learned to get it right, quickly. And then I learned to obsess over it. Because it was clear to me that the golf course could be absolutely perfect, but if the cup was wrong, if that pin was in the wrong place, if that flag stick was less than perfect, it was a huge black mark. Huge.
When I volunteered at my first legit event, The Colorado Open at Hiwan CC in Evergreen, CO, Super Gary Russell asked me if I wanted to be on the setup detail. The answer was yes, but wisely, Gary grabbed a cup cutter and some tools and we went to a nursery spot to see what my skills were like. Gary immediately coached me on stepping up my game. I learned how to use a stand-board. I was taught how to assure a perfect depth. A certain way to pull the cutter. A set of steps for replacing, repairing and watering the old cup were given. I was taught how to paint the edge and scissor cut the edge. He said I was good, but needed to be way better. And so it was. That system was it. There was no negotiation or deviation. Gospel. The Book of Gary. And I memorized every chapter and verse.
From that point on, hole locations on my watch were done with the extreme care of that technique, combined with my obsession for Greenkeeping. It meant that some employees, despite trying hard, just couldn’t get it. And when it was event or tourney time at my places, no big deal. We already did that level. Didn’t matter if it was 9-hole Ladies Tuesday or US Open Qualifying, our cups and pin positions were immaculate. From my low budget muni first Super job to the climb up to the Private world, all done the same with huge expectations. In 2003, noted Agronomist and Friend Jon Scott gave a group of staff and volunteers a lesson in cup cutting at a Champion’s Tour event I was helping with. And even then, I learned something. And at the same time, I recognized the careful perfection and artistry that had been his lesson to all involved. He was quick to say the The Tour expected it, but that EVERY GOLFER DESERVED IT.
As a consultant, often Supers and I were out early with the setup guys and when I saw it going wrong, I always made a point to talk about the importance of perfection. Or at least striving to get it as good as possible, with no low cups replaced, etc.
Ryan Moy and Jake Ryan at The Ryder Cup, Hazeltine National GC
If you have read my stuff at all, you know that I like to live in the real world and that I know what we see on TV on the weekends is not that. I also like competition. I like the spectacle of setting up for any competition. So it creates duality in me. Isn’t The Golf a daily competition? Sure, the cameras are here, the circus tents are up, pull out the stops. And when there is no show in town, do your best to be at a raised bar for the day’s partaking of a sporting event. Look, I get that things like walk mowing fairways and push rotary mowing roughs and stuff like that happens. I get it. I get that the army of volunteers (read: Free Labor) makes it possible to do this stuff for an event situation. I also get that when you have a limited staff and limited resources, these things not only look inaccessible, they border on the absurd.
However, for me, and this is for me…. No matter how tough it was. No matter how much labor trouble we were in, we still had perfectly cut cups. And yes, that included scissor trimming and usually painting. I did the math and the extra time to get it right and to make it special was minimal dollars and max return on investment. So, while I understand my colleagues and friends giving their opinions on that little video, I couldn’t get with the idea that perfection on a cut cup wasn’t a good thing.
One day, when I’m just a little older. (and that day isn’t far away), my hope is that some young Super will allow me the honor of setting up his golf course a few days a week. And when I’m 70, I guarantee you, I will have those scissors in my hands, finishing that hole to the best of my ability of my shaking hands and worn out knees because every golfer deserves to know what a sacred cup means to their game.