Bellerive hosts thousands for PGA Championship: The months of work behind all that green
Bellerive Country Club in Town and Country is the center of the golf world this week with the 100th PGA Championship set to begin Thursday. Organizers are expecting 80,000 people to come in for the event.
They will get to see a championship course in all its glory. Precisely mowed greens, protected by deep sandy bunkers and fairways stretching for hundreds of yards lined by trees reaching for the sky.
The person tasked with getting everything ready — and making it all look good — is Carlos Arraya.
Bellerive’s director of grounds and agronomy since 2016, Arraya knows this course better than anybody else.
"I'm wondering if I should position myself to be a caddy for one of these guys," he joked during a recent tour.
Being the site of a milestone tournament like the 100th PGA Championship is a big deal in the golf world and for the region. Convention and tourism officials estimate the event will pump $100 million into the local economy. It will also give St. Louis a global platform with 30 hours of television broadcast from the club.
That audience will be in the tens of millions.
"The scope is so much bigger," Arraya said.
The Bellerive grounds crew has been beefed up to make sure all goes well with the course’s 7,547 yards. Arraya has roughly 50 workers, almost triple the number he employes during a normal summer. That includes 12 students, up from six during a usual season.
Training the next generation of golf course supervisors is very important to Arraya.
“Being able to develop young people and develop staff is something I really, really enjoy," and he frequently jokes about it with his peers. "I tell them I really do a great job of growing people, and they do a great of growing grass."
Arraya is proud of the work the crew has put in under a tight deadline. He thinks it helps to show off Bellerive’s natural beauty — especially the majestic 618-yard 8th hole. Standing at the tee, the trees seem to shift in a different direction as you look down the fairway that is longer than several football fields.
“You stand back on the tee, and you say, ‘Wow!’”
Even with that pride, the little, imperfect things can dominate Arraya’s thoughts.
"When you're here every day, you're really critiquing everything," he said while zipping around in a golf cart. "The weeds there drive me nuts. The edge on the car path drives me nuts."
He compares it to visiting Disney World.
"The first time, you're in awe. But when you become an annual subscription owner, and you go out two or three times a year, you start picking out the flaws."
The Disney reference is a link to his roots in Florida. He's held similar positions at a few courses in that state. That's after earning an electrical-engineering degree. Arraya comes from a family of engineers, and his decision to make golf a career did not impress his father.
"That went over real well when I told him that I was turning down Universal Studios' $70,000-a-year job in '96 for a $7-an-hour turf-management position."
But the engineering background prepared him for paying attention to the really small details. One example is making sure the grass mowing lines, especially around bunkers, are almost invisible. If that is not correct, it could take away from the beautiful impression local organizers are trying to make.
"I'm passionate about the place I'm at. I'm passionate about the area. I'm passionate about the grass. I'm passionate about golf," Arraya said.
That passion goes under the microscope this week. After that, things around the historic course will probably die down, giving Arraya more time to swing the clubs.
"I've played 18 holes once this year, I think. Maybe twice," he said. "Hopefully after the championship that's something I can sprinkle in."
Wayne Pratt spent an afternoon touring the course with Arraya in June before the schedule surrounding the 100th PGA Championship ramped up.
Follow Wayne on Twitter: @WayneRadio.