Caves Valley is setting up to be the 'crown jewel' of courses used for the Constellation Senior Players Championship

Steve Glossinger spent the first two decades of his career working at a handful of prestigous golf clubs in his native Michigan, moving up the ladder from being the greenskeeper at a nine-hole course after graduating college to the superintendent at Oakland Hills for the 1996 U.S. Open.

When he took the same position at a six-year old venue outside Baltimore, Glossinger knew little about Caves Valley Golf Club. In the two decades he has worked at the Owings Mills club, it has become something meaningful to the now 62-year-old Glossinger and his family.

It is now a place he considers home.

“I’ve had a couple of offers along the way, but once you get your family growing, you don’t want to move,” said Glossinger, who has two daughters.

The spotlight on a golf course superintendent is always a little brighter during a major championship, and this week will be no exception. The PGA Tour Champions is returning to Baltimore for the first time since 2009, when the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship finished a three-year run at Baltimore Country Club — Five Farms.

This year’s Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship, which will be played Thursday through Sunday, also marks the return of the PGA Tour Champions to Caves Valley for the first time since the 2002 U.S. Senior Open. That year, journeyman Don Pooley defeated one of the game’s biggest stars, Tom Watson, in a five-hole sudden-death playoff.

As with any major championship venue, Caves Valley has undergone significant changes in the past 15 years.

The first course to play a senior event over 7,000 yards at the time, Caves Valley will stretch to more than 7,100 yards this year. Along the par-4 first hole, which will be used as the 10th hole this week, being 60 yards longer (now 453 yards), the 550-yard 11th hole — now No. 2 — has also been lengthened from a “really hard” par-4 to a par-5, thus making it a par-72 course rather than the par-71 to which it was played in 2002.

Yet the biggest change came two years ago, when the entire course was reseeded with a new, more up-to-date bent grass that made the fairway lies tighter and gave putts a better and truer roll on the greens. “Like any business, you try to get better every year,” Glossinger said recently. “It’s made a world of difference. The new grass, the new varieties, are better. I tell everyone we went from a ’57 Chevy to a modern-day Corvette. We’ve improved the golf course to keep up with the change and we think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

The reviews from the PGA Tour Champions have been nothing less than spectacular.

“I think it’s a great golf course,” 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize said Monday on the practice tee. “The change at No. 10 was good, No. 2 as well. … I think everybody’s going to love it. It’s in phenomenal shape.”

Tom Kite, who won the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, has played more rounds at Caves Valley than anyone else in the field because of his long friendship with Dennis Satyshur, the club’s director of golf. He said the distance between many of the greens and tee boxes could play a factor if the forecast for hot weather is accurate.

“It’s a big golf course in between the holes. You’ve got to be in shape,” said Kite, the oldest player in the field at age 67. “If you’re not in shape and you’re not used to the heat, this will be a tough week for you. … It’s not a hard work, but it just adds distance. Then you get on the front nine, which we play as the back nine, and it’s just up and down.”

Former British Open champion Tom Lehman said he played the course “about 20 years ago” and didn’t remember a single hole when he walked it Monday. What stood out to Lehman was how rigorous it was just walking Caves Valley without hitting a single shot.

What also left an impression was the condition of the course itself.

“It’s unusual for anybody to play on a course this nice,” Lehman said. “This is like the top of the top.”

Joe Rotellini, the tournament’s executive director, said on Media Day last month that the Tom Fazio-designed course could be the “crown jewel” of the venues that have been used in recent years for the Constellation Energy Seniors Players Championship, including the Fox Chapel Golf Club in Pittsburgh (2012-2014).

“We’ve been fortunate to play some great golf courses the past few years and the players have loved them all,” Rotellini said Monday. “This one, the conditioning is just spectacular. The layout is very appealing. Our players will enjoy playing it. I think they’ll have some fun. It’ll be a test, but I think they’ll enjoy it. Just the setting and the views and everything, it’s just a different golf course — it’s a cut above.”

It will be Glossinger’s job to make Caves Valley glisten from tee to green, but he concedes that the day-to-day operation of the club is a team effort. Satyshur and general manager Nancy Palmer have been together since the club opened in 1991.

“The thing I like about this place is that the the three of us run it with the chairman,” Glossinger said. “There’s no committees, all those layers — it’s pretty unique. We’re not a local club at all. We may have 70 or 80 local members, and we have 500 members overall.”

A few years ago, a prominent New York businessman contacted Glossinger about running his new golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

Glossinger turned down the offer from Trump National Golf Club.

“Probably the smartest thing I ever did,” Glossinger said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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