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On course for a showcase

Riding around the golf course at Quail Hollow Club last week, superintendent Jeff Kent spied a flaw in the preparation for the Wells Fargo Championship.

"There's one," Kent said, pointing to a pinecone on the ground.

Among Kent's goals for tournament week is to have no pinecones on the ground. That means scouring acres of natural areas to make certain only the needles have fallen from pine trees, not the cones that can clutter up the look of a perfectly groomed golf course.

It's that kind of attention to detail that Kent and his expanded tournament week staff use to make sure Quail Hollow is at its finest when the PGA Tour rolls into town.

A few years ago, Kent wanted to make sure the course looked just right when television cameras cut to shots from the blimp that floats overhead throughout the event. He made sure every fairway was cut with a mowing pattern that ran east to west.

That way the mowing stripes would all be going in the same direction when viewed from above, rather than from tee to green as is common.

Kent may have been the only person who noticed, but it was a special touch he liked - for one year.

"Now we don't want to see any mowing lines," Kent said. "We want it all mowed in one direction. Anybody can cut checkerboards. We could mow a quail into the 18th fairway but that's not what we want."

Quail Hollow is in prime condition again this year but it didn't come without its stressful moments.

During last summer's extended heat, the greens at Quail Hollow were stricken with bacterial wilt that essentially killed them. The course was closed for a time because the deteriorating conditions of the greens was so severe.

When the 2017 PGA Championship announcement was made last summer, there was more sand than grass on the greens.

"It was like growing grass on Mars," Kent said. "It was a tough year but it wasn't just here."

Dozens of courses through the South and along the East Coast suffered similar problems, many closing for a period of time and some changing to more heat-tolerant grasses on the greens.

Kent and club officials called in agronomy specialists to help identify the problem, which was the result of both destructive bacteria and the extreme heat. Since then, the greens have been seeded with A1 bent grass to go with the G2 grass already on the greens, and the putting surfaces are in excellent condition.

The time and effort needed to save the grass on the greens meant the club was unable to make planned minor modifications to some greens, which drew the public criticism of Phil Mickelson during last year's event.

Like the Masters, where Kent works on the grounds crew during the tournament, getting everything just right is a priority at Quail Hollow. His regular staff of 36 swells to more than 125 during tournament week.

Volunteers come from many of the top clubs in the country - Augusta National, Aronimink in Pennsylvania, East Lake in Atlanta, Oakmont in California, Muirfield Village in Ohio, Somerset Hills in New Jersey, Pine Valley in New Jersey, Saucon Valley in Pennsylvania and Southern Hills in Oklahoma, among them.

Many of the same group work the majors together.

It's a small army intent on having every angle covered.

That means having 90 mowers on site during the tournament. It means double-cutting the fairways each morning before play and each afternoon when play is complete.

It means assigning six workers to monitor the front of the club to make sure everything is just right and another group to work the creeks on the property.

It means working in two shifts - 3 a.m. until 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. It means having cots for up to 30 workers to use and an on-site chef to make sure they're fed properly.

"This, in our mind, is different from a normal tournament," Kent said.

"It's up there with a U.S. Open or the Masters. We want to compare ourselves to those events and what we do is identical to what they do."