Rain dampens play, but not spirits, at Kingsmill

Contact Reporterkholtzman@vagazette.com

JAMES CITY – Early Tuesday afternoon, freelance audio engineer Clem Tiggs was one of the few people milling about the northwest side of the Kingsmill's River Course, atop the steep cart path between the 17th and 18th holes.

Rain dropping steadily on his royal blue poncho, the Indianapolis resident was prepping the course for Golf Channel coverage of the annual Kingsmill Championship, which will kick off Thursday following Wednesday's Pro-Am. The 17th will be one of nine holes wired for sound that isn't picked up by cameras with wireless mics.

“We run out these lines and put mics on the ends of them,” Tiggs said. “That way you're able to hear things that are going on the golf course. Without those, you can't hear exactly what's happening.”

There wasn't a lot happening around the course Tuesday, the designated practice day for the players, who usually arrive by Monday. The pairings party for Wednesday's Pro-Am was scheduled for Tuesday night.

Tournament director Matthew Schulze said it didn't rain Tuesday quite as much as expected. “We thought we were going to get about a half-inch to three-quarters,” he said, “and it actually broke up a little more than they anticipated. So I don't think by Thursday we will have a whole lot of issues with the golf course playing real different than we thought it would (Monday) before we got all the rain.”

Saturday could be a different story, with around an inch forecast.

The rough is already healthy and thick. Add some wetness and that may make for a difficult course.

Rain may also affect attendance, which topped 60,000 last year.

Schulze said that isn't a major concern as it relates to the tournament continuing to seek a title sponsor — Kingsmill's contract with the LPGA is set to expire after the 2017 tourney.

“We still have 46 of the top 50 players in the world and nine of the top 10 in the world that come here,” he said. “Our field is still one of the strongest on tour. That's just a credit to everything that happens here. The tour likes coming here and I know they will do everything in their power to keep coming here.”

There wasn't much for the groundskeepers to do Tuesday except let the place dry out. Schulze said he pretty much sends everybody home on a pre-tourney washout day like that.

There was some mid-afternoon activity near the driving range, though, as players got some swings in before the early-morning Pro-Am tee times.

Kingsmill's Ron Scheil normally oversees bag drop, but was filling in as ball collector Tuesday with his assistant, Nick Kurz, a rising Old Dominion University senior about to work his first LPGA tourney.

With the standing water on the range, the pair couldn't drive their picker out to retrieve.

“That's the big problem we have right now,” Scheil said. “We're hoping it starts to drain. We're hoping it will let up a little bit before it gets too dark and we can pick the range.”

Scheil, who has lived in Kingsmill for 23 years, and Kurz empty their findings into a barrel before washing them and placing them in baskets to be handed off to the USO volunteers set up near the tee boxes on the range.

Tom White, who volunteers with the USO, oversees this operation.

His crew of military servicemen keep the range clear and will put nameplates out so spectators know which LPGA star is hitting.

“Of course, that requires us asking the caddy the player's name because we don't have face recognition of everybody,” White said. “And that gets pretty hectic. Wednesday is probably more intense than that with the Pro-Am.”

They have another important job: Once the pickers make their drop-off, the USO guys sort the balls into baskets separately by manufacturer. Aside from personal taste, if a player is sponsored by a certain manufacturer, they darn well better be hitting that manufacturer's golf balls. It could be risky for them not to.

This is also one of the best spots for star-gazing.

“All the pros walk right by the tent,” White said.

“You can watch them hit and see how good they are. I said from the outset we male golfers can learn much more watching the LPGA players because of their rhythm and timing and everything. They don't look like they try to muscle the ball. They're fluid and skilled in what they do.”

Using the right equipment helps. LPGA veteran technician Paul Boehmer knows that as well as anyone.

Everybody knows Paul.

“The players probably know me before I know them,” Boehmer said. “I guess they hear about me before they see me.”

Boehmer works in the club repair trailer, which manufacturer representatives also share.

The easygoing jokester, who calls Dallas home, does what he can to help players get those few extra yards on their hits. Or whatever else he can to help.

He started as a temporary replacement in the late 1990s and never left; he follows the LPGA Tour to most every stop.

His favorite tour personalities include sisters Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand, Americans Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel, and Aussie legend Karrie Webb.

“Karrie Webb turned into a very good friend over the years,” he said. “In their own way, every one of them is a star as far as I'm concerned. They're fun to work with. The questions they come up with, the stuff they want to try to do. It keeps you active and wanting to come to work every day.”

Ask anyone involved with the LPGA about Kingsmill and the answer is usually the same.

Boehmer, who took in Colonial Williamsburg Monday evening, said it's one of his favorite stops, too.

“Everybody takes care of us,” he said. “If you can't keep a smile on your face in this place, then you're just not smiling. It's one of the best that we come to.”

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette