AKRON, Ohio-- With a prize of more than $1 millions on the line and millions watching from all over the world, groundskeepers at the Firestone Country Club know a lot is at stake.
Preparing the course requires them to meet standards and expectations that are set by the PGA, while battling the elements and a grass course that does not take time off to stop growing.
"You want them perfect. I mean, they expect perfection and so do we. And even our guests and members when we are not having a tournament expect that too," said Larry Napora, director of golf course operations.
Seventy-two grounds crew members started the day Wednesday before 5:30 a.m. working to stay ahead of any of the golfers who are practicing on the course ahead of the Bridgestone Invitational. Though their work will be seen by a global audience, they stay in the background.
"We are the unsung heroes, but that's OK, that's OK. Everybody on the crew, when they watch it on TV, you get goosebumps," Napora said.
The greatest challenge is maintaining the integrity of the greens.
"We are mowing it to .1 (1/10th of an inch) on the greens. That's the thickness of like two dimes. And you have to remember that plant is a living organism, you know, and we are just shaving it down to nothing," Napora said. "It doesn't realize that it's a holiday or doesn't realize it's 2 p.m. quitting time. It grows all the time."
On the fairways, the grass is cut to 3/10 of an inch. Groundskeepers mowing it in what has become known as the Firestone plaid pattern.
All 82 bunkers are raked to erase any imperfections.
"When they are all done, you don't see any rake marks and it's like a pool-table finish, which is amazing because it's a hazard," Napora said.
Paul McKinney was working to cut new holes on the greens, knowing that his work will be the focus of the most attention during the tournament.
"It's just nerve racking because you know on television that every single one of the cups that you have cut, they are going to hone in on it, if that ball goes in there and that's my job. I'm proud of it," McKinney said.
"I wish they could get more credit for it. I wish all their names could be on TV running like at the end of the movie for credits, something like that," said John Dimascio, the south course superintendent.
The one thing Dimascio said he has no control over is the weather.
"We can do all the prep in the world and get these greens where we want them speed wise, firmness. But if Mother Nature decides to put a half inch rain or an inch rain, then we are starting back at ground zero," Dimascio said.
"Weather is our life and Mother Nature. You could be just like this perfect and tomorrow, it could be a whole different game. And yeah in Northeast Ohio, we can have some pretty tough storms come through here," Napora said.
Crew members said they do not just view what they do as the work of a grounds crew; they have to see it through the eyes of a golfer.
Napora said they are like artists.
"You know, I got goosebumps talking about it. It's just the thrill of it, you know. It gives you a purpose every year," Napora said.