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'Not just cutting grass' for local firm at Quail Hollow

A few hundred yards behind the ninth and 10th fairways at Quail Hollow Country Club, and seemingly worlds away from where Rory McIlroy will defend his Wells Fargo Championship title starting Thursday, sits the club's nondescript maintenance shed.

This week, it doubles as the frenetic Command Central for Jacobsen, a Textron company, the big Charlotte-based maker of turf-grass mowers.

Jacobsen has been making mowers for 90 years, but let's face it: A lifetime of experience can't possibly ease the pressure of catering to some of the pickiest, richest athletes on the planet; the sort who'll spend minutes agonizing over a patch of grass in the rough, the slope on the green, the angle of a ball sitting in a fairway divot.

In other words, grandpa's garden-variety Toro just won't cut it on tour.

The 350-employee Jacobsen proudly caters to decidedly fastidious and well-heeled landscapers who'll plunk down $10,000 on the low end for a "walking green mower," or $90,000 for a "rough mower." Famous courses like Pebble Beach in California and Bethpage Black on Long Island, for example, are cut with a Jacobsen. There's a photo hanging in the company's headquarters proving that the White House lawn is, too. Golf legend Arnold Palmer serves as a company spokesman.

Yet despite its impressive pedigree, not to mention having worked the Quail Hollow tourney since its inception nine years ago, Jacobsen can hardly afford to take things for granted - not with the looming possibility of Phil Mickelson publicly criticizing the course's condition.

"This is not just cutting grass," said Sharon DeWolfe, the company's manager of events and communications. "It's goes so much deeper than that for us. Our people are putting their blood, sweat and tears into this. There's no room for error."

Earlier this week, in preparation for the televised event, the company's troops were in full swing: Jeff Kent, head of Quail Hollow's green and grounds department, was issuing orders into his two-way radio about "blade changes," "reel speeds," and "collars"; scrawled on a white board were a gazillion staff assignments to "mow greens," "spot ball marks," and "fluff rough."

For Jacobsen, a division of Rhode Island based-Textron's $2.5 billion industrial segment, the value of working the tournament is admittedly long-term. Because it's nationally televised (CBS Sports, Golf Channel) and high-stakes (this year's purse: $6.5 million), the event is a rare opportunity for Jacobsen to showcase its wares to legions of golf course superintendents attending the event.

Throughout the tournament, Jacobsen doubles Quail Hollow's on-site fleet of commercial mowers and adds nearly a dozen technicians and support staff. For the past couple of weeks, Jacobsen employees and dealer reps have worked virtually around the clock. It's not unusual for workers to sleep in their cars rather than go home.

Says Jerry Blackwelder, Quail Hollow's lead technician for maintaining Jacobsen's mowers: "There's no comparison to anything that happens here." He brought a mobile home onto the property to live in during the tournament. "Thousands of people are going to look at this place, so we try to make it perfect," he says.

In the end, of course, perfection is always in the eye of the beholder. Just ask superintendent Kent, whose team has been working hard to cut the greens so they'll play firm and fast. Amateurs, beware.

"We want the greens to play like the floor at Lowe's," he says. "If you normally shoot an 85, by Thursday if you came out here and played, you're going to shoot 125."