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Championship Sand for a Championship Course:  How BESTSAND Has Helped Valhalla Prepare for the PGA

Championship Sand for a Championship Course: How BESTSAND Has Helped Valhalla Prepare for the PGA

The Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, is gearing up to host the prestigious PGA Championship from May 16 to 19, 2024. The club’s world-class course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, will be hosting the PGA Championship for the fourth time.

At the last PGA Championship hosted at Valhalla in 2014, Rory McIlroy edged out Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in high drama, making par on the last hole as darkness fell on the event. Most people don’t think of the grounds at such a moment — the sand and turf — and that’s exactly the point. The course itself should enable fairytale golf classics without becoming part of the story. Achieving such an environment, however, requires years of planning and meticulous attention to detail.

Preparations for the 2024 tournament started in 2021 with an extensive renovation project. As part of this ambitious project, Valhalla partnered with BESTSAND to restore their bunkers to championship standards. For this blog, we spoke with Valhalla’s golf course superintendent, John Ballard, about how he and his team have prepared for the PGA Championship and how BESTSAND has been a key partner in the effort.


Prepping for the PGA Championship

Preparing for a major championship tournament requires strict scheduling to allow time for completing major changes and seeing to the fine details. In 2021, the team at Valhalla began its renovations. In addition to a bunker rehab, the grass on the course was transitioned from cool-season bentgrass to warm-season Zoysia grass, allowing for easier maintenance and reduced water use.

Bunker Restoration

All 69 bunkers were excavated and reinforced with bunker liners. A critical aspect of the project was selecting the best bunker sand for the venue. Working with BESTSAND Sales Manager Terry Gwinn, Ballard selected BESTSAND Signature bunker sand to meet Valhalla’s rigorous specifications for particle size, distribution and firmness.

“Having worked with Terry and BESTSAND previously, I was familiar with their products and knew the quality, which is really the key, more than anything,” he said. “We wanted our bunker sand to perform at a high level in terms of how it drains, plays and packs. The product quality made it a fairly easy decision.”

Starting in the fall of 2021, more than 2,000 tons of new sand from BESTSAND were used to rebuild the course’s bunkers over the course of five months. Over the last several months before the PGA Championship, Ballard and his team spent 30 to 45 days assessing each bunker, turning the sand, checking the bunker depth and slope and adding sand as needed. This process typically involves adding about 75 to 100 tons of sand to the bunkers to ensure they are correctly positioned and packed for the tournament.

Fine-Tuning the Greens

In addition to the bunker project, Ballard’s team was tasked with firming up the greens at Valhalla before the PGA Championship. They worked with Brian Powers, a specialist at BESTSAND’s partner and distributor, Arms Turf Products, and chose a topdressing mix to improve the firmness of the greens and enhance playability. The selection process included determining the ideal particle size and distribution, among other characteristics, to find the best blend for the course. “As the event approaches, we will use light applications until we achieve the desired results in terms of grass being very upright and producing a firm surface. We’ll use different measuring devices to make sure we’re hitting our targets,” Ballard explained.

Ballard noted that the firmness of the greens had improved steadily since the team started using the BESTSAND topdressing mix. “We’re absolutely seeing positive results over the last year, moving in the right direction to prepare us for the tournament,” he said.

Building Out

Recent changes at Valhalla extend beyond the golf course. Ballard is especially excited that his team is now working out of a new agronomy center. The center encompasses three buildings. The new administrative building has an area large enough for indoor team meetings, which were not previously possible. The environmental building for washing equipment has an innovative recyclable water system that traps grass and debris so they don’t enter local streams. It also houses dry storage and a chemistry mixing area. The new equipment building has finished and unfinished sections for equipment maintenance and is large enough to store all the crew’s equipment indoors. The center is a significant upgrade from the facility the team had been using, which dated to the club’s founding in 1986.


The Final Push and Fine Details

As the PGA Championship has drawn nearer, Valhalla’s grounds crew expands and shifts its focus to minute details. “Most of the work is in the preparation. Ironically, the week of the tournament is the easiest. We’ll have lots of help, and all the heavy lifting will be completed,” Ballard said.

Ballard is very proud of his team and remarked on how much he can trust them to handle the myriad tasks involved in preparing for the tournament. “I lean on those guys quite a bit. I can’t be everywhere at all times, and I’ve got faith and confidence that these guys will make the right decision and put us in a good spot to succeed.”

Strength in Numbers

During tournament week, Ballard’s usual team of 40 people will be joined by 110 volunteers. They will work from about 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. each day to ensure every aspect of the course is tournament-ready. They’ll see to the fine details, from filling divots to removing debris and making sure all grass and sand surfaces are looking their best.

As Ballard explained, “When we have that many people, we can be very detail-oriented, much more than we would normally be. For example, we may have a team of people with backpack blowers that are simply fluffing the rough up around the greens complex. Or if a mower comes onto the green or makes a turn in the rough where it might lay that grass over, we'll have people go stand that grass back up. Those aren’t things that we would normally do. For this level, we examine every detail possible, which takes a lot of time. With the added help, we can get it done a lot faster.”

Among the extras at the PGA Championship is a team from BESTSAND. According to Ballard, “BESTSAND has stepped up as a true partner for this event, contributing financial and logistical support so that we can provide housing, meals and uniforms for our hard-working volunteers. They saw a need and said, ‘We’d like to help.’ That support means a lot.”


Elevating the Game

As Valhalla Golf Club prepares to host the 2024 PGA Championship, BESTSAND is proud to have contributed to the years-long preparations that will deliver a world-class experience for players, spectators and members alike.

Contact the experts at BESTSAND to learn more about our golf sand solutions.

John Ballard, Golf Course Superintendent at Valhalla Golf Club, contributed his valuable time and expertise to this blog. Thanks, John! 

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