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Getting Waialae playable takes a lot of teamwork

By Dave Reardon

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:46 a.m. HST, Jan 14, 2011



At 3 p.m. yesterday the sun was at full force and only a slight breeze whispered at Waialae Country Club.

Makes you wonder what could have been. Actually you already know in general terms -- plenty of scores in the 60s. You wonder who and how low.

Waialae's only real defense against the annual PGA Tour invasion is when and if the winds whip up. That is, discounting a hellacious pre-emptive strike of rain.

The overnight drenching delayed the start of the Sony Open in Hawaii until this morning, at the earliest.

A few foursomes attacked the layout anyway. The one I caught up with consisted of Gary Shimabukuro, George Wela, Bob Okano and Alfred Neves.

Neves is the best golfer among them, a 6-handicap. They play Waialae once a week, free of charge.

"Perks," Wela says with a big grin.

Except this week. The only perks for these guys the past couple of days came from their coffee pots at 2 a.m.

They're among the grounds crew of 27 full-timers who are over-timers this week, all putting in 14 hours Wednesday and again yesterday to prevent Waialae from becoming Hawaii's version of The Everglades. Don't laugh -- while their relentless efforts made the course look playable by late yesterday afternoon, another dousing today and they might as well turn in their John Deere tractors for hydroplanes.

Yesterday morning, standing water reached 2 1/2 feet in some of the roughs, and it was even worse in the bunkers, with some becoming muddy bogs and some mini ponds.

The groundskeepers have seen it before; they've restored the course under these conditions before. Neves shrugs. "Pump the water out. Fix the bunkers, throw sand back up (on the faces)," says the 22-year veteran. "There's a lot of teamwork involved and everybody gets along. Everybody's all tired, but we're kind of used to it."

ACCORDING TO the forecast, it comes down to a coinflip. It said there's a 50-50 chance of more rain today, and even a little bit could force the PGA into a tough decision or two. Because the place is so marshy, it's like a sponge that looks dry but is really full of moisture.

"We do a lot of praying," says Shimabukuro, a groundskeeping lifer who did 10 years at Honolulu International Country Club before the past 20 at Waialae. "And we really need the trades."

Yes, that same lack of wind that would have helped the afternoon players yesterday could contribute to another day off, or at least an abbreviated one today. Then you run into the possibility of an additional cut, after the first round, since the course can't accommodate two rounds by the entire field in one day.

WAIALAE WAS a ghost town yesterday.

So empty, a lone car occupied the public parking area ... someone who didn't know they were letting folks park in the clubhouse lot, which usually requires permission from God, plus a co-signer.

So empty, I left my cell phone on as I walked the course, dodging puddles and viewing the on-course big-screen, high-def scoreboards that had everyone tied at "E" and showed last year's champ, Ryan Palmer, striding up 18.

So empty, there were no pros on the driving range or working on their putting. Conditions are so dire the practice facility has been closed the past two days. TV commentator and former pro Mark Rolfing says that is "extremely rare."

"You really shouldn't go a couple of days in a row without hitting a shot this early in the year," Rolfing says.

He says Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Ernie Els remain strong contenders on a wet course, partly because their swings are unlikely to leave mud on the ball.

And maybe Big Island pro "Uncle" Kevin Hayashi -- who joins the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame tonight -- makes the cut again after finally doing so last year.

"This should be an advantage for him," Rolfing says. "It always rains in Hilo."

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.






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