By JOHN REITMAN
Austin Riggs’ bucket list is not quite as long as it used to be.
One of six assistant golf course superintendents at the recently renovated Glen Oaks Club on Long Island in Old Westbury, New York, Riggs is busy preparing for the PGA Tour’s nomadic event now known as The Northern Trust.
The run-up to the tournament and the event itself will help Riggs, 27, a native of Findlay and a 2008 graduate of Arcadia High School, cross a few items off his to-do list that include working a major PGA Tour event, gaining valuable construction and renovation experience and doing it all in a major TV market like New York.
Being so close to the bright lights of New York City, there is little doubt all eyes in the golf world will be on 27-hole Glen Oaks later this month when the Tour comes to town.
Scheduled for Aug. 24-27, The Northern Trust is the first of four events in the PGA Tour’s season-ending FedEx Cup playoff series that culminates with the Tour Championship in September at East Lake in Atlanta.
“I kind of checked off a career goal moving out here to New York,” Riggs said. “We did a 27-hole renovation, and now we’re hosting a tournament.
“Being out here is a completely different animal compared to where I grew up.”
He hopes that experience will help in his quest to become a head golf course superintendent.
“I eventually want to get back to the Midwest and be a superintendent at a high-end private club,” Riggs said.
A 2012 graduate of Ohio State’s turf management program, Riggs is in his sixth season at Glen Oaks. He has worked on golf courses since his high school days at Arcadia, beginning at Red Hawk Run, where he worked under former superintendent Don Lawrence.
“Don is who really turned me onto this as a profession. He had so much passion for what he did and making the golf course better,” Riggs said.
“He wanted to make you better and teach you and steer you in the right direction.”
Lawrence, now with Legacy Turf & Ornamental, part of the Legacy Farmers Cooperative, remembers Riggs as an eager student.
“His energy level is non-stop,” Lawrence said. “I don’t think he has an off switch. He wanted to learn.”
It was while at Ohio State that Riggs first was exposed to golf at a high level. As a student, he worked at nearby Scioto Country Club in Upper Arlington and spent two summers at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Regarded as one of the best classic-era facilities in the country, Scioto is a 1916 Donald Ross design that is ranked No. 51 on Golfweek’s list of top 100 courses built prior to 1960. The great Bobby Jones won the U.S. Open there in 1926. Scioto also was where Walter Hagen captained a victorious U.S. team to the 1931 Ryder Cup win with a team that also included Gene Sarazen, Craig Wood, Denny Shute and Horton Smith.
“Scioto really opened my eyes to high-end golf,” he said. “We did a lot of projects, and we did a lot of the work ourselves. By doing projects in-house, you save a lot of money that you can spend on the course elsewhere.”
North Carolina’s Quail Hollow is the host course of the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship. That tournament was moved across the state this year to Wilmington to make room for this week’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.
Originally the Westchester Classic, The Northern Trust began in 1967 and was played exclusively at Westchester Country Club through 2007. Since 1976, the event has undergone a series of sponsors and name changes, and beginning in 2007 has been rotating through a handful of courses in the New York metropolitan area, including Bethpage State Park’s Black Course. This year is the first time the event will be played at Glen Oaks.
Configuring an 18-hole layout from a 27-hole facility has been a unique if not confusing exercise. The front nine will alternate back and forth between Glen Oaks’ White and Red courses, with the Blue Course comprising the tournament’s back nine. All three layouts are pretty tightly configured, so navigating between them should be easy for players and undetectable for TV viewers, Riggs said.
Although Glen Oaks doesn’t have the history of Scioto or Quail Hollow, it has gained quite a reputation around the New York metro area, mostly because of superintendent Craig Currier, who prepared Bethpage Black, also on Long Island, for the U.S. Open in 2002 and 2009. Glen Oaks underwent the knife in 2015 in a renovation by golf course architect Joel Weiman. The PGA Tour came calling when officials there saw the renovation coupled with Currier’s handiwork.
“Craig has taught me a ton about construction and renovation,” Riggs said. “That man knows how to operate a machine, that’s for sure. He isn’t afraid of anything.
“It’s been cool to experience the renovation, see what the course was, what we’ve done to change it and how much better it is now. It was old and outdated. We opened things up, expanded the fairways. It’s just cleaner. We don’t have many flower beds. A lot of white sand and green grass.”
Golf courses in the New York metropolitan area are notorious for providing nearly flawless playing conditions, and Glen Oaks is no exception.
“When someone here asks where you work and you tell them Glen Oaks, they are blown away,” Riggs said. “Everyone in the (New York) met area knows this place, and everyone knows Craig’s track record.”
Riggs hopes this wide breadth of experience and his time in the New York market help pave the way to becoming a superintendent himself.
“I’ve done everything from bulldozing to excavating to tree removal,” he said. “I think that’s helpful that I can do things myself with a couple guys rather than pay to contract things out. I think it also helps being out here in the met environment where the standards are so high. People want the best conditions and that’s what you have to deliver every day.”
John Reitman is director of news and education for TurfNet, an Orlando, Florida-based news and information source for the golf industry. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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