Walla Walla's Jeff Blanc heading to Pebble for groundskeeping

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Walla Walla Country Club golf course head superintendent Jeff Blanc, with dog Gracie on the course, is at the U.S. Open this week as one of 100 people selected to provide maintenance on the Pebble Beach greens.

WALLA WALLA - Not every story is told at Pebble Beach.

Chances are, no one will hear about Jeff Blanc and the contributions he and many others will make to one of golf's most beautiful and memorable courses during the 110th U.S. Open this week.

"Pebble Beach is probably one of the most famous golf courses," said Blanc, golf course head superintendent of the Walla Walla Country Club. "If you ask anybody or any person that doesn't even play golf and you say ‘Pebble Beach,' they'd immediately know it's a golf course."

In light of Thursday's opening round, the annals of golfing history will recall the dramatic memories from the previous four U.S. Opens hosted at the Pebble Beach fairways.

Jack Nicklaus in 1972 overcame 35-mile-per-hour winds with an iron off the tee which hit a flag on the 17th hole for a tap-in birdie. The shot helped guarantee Nicklaus's Open win and a tie for first place with Bobbie Jones on the career major wins list at 13.

Ten years later, Tom Watson pulled off an improbable shot in his legendary dual with Nicklaus for the 1982 win.

Current No. 1, Tiger Woods, gave the world one of the most dominating performances in the history of the game when he won the 2000 U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes.

While these memories and many others have etched Pebble Beach into golfing lore, there are those behind the scenes who make sure the course retains its famous beauty and sometimes infamous difficulty after the herd of golfers and spectators have passed through.

They are the golf course groundskeepers.

Through the help of a friend and former employee, Blanc will be at this week's U.S. Open as one of these crewmembers.

Out of the 6,000 volunteers at the Open, only about 100 volunteers will do the actual maintenance work on the golf greens themselves. Blanc will be one of the selected 100, which consist mostly of course superintendents.

"To have the opportunity to go down there and be part of this tradition, I'm ecstatic," said Blanc "A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

For Blanc, his duties mean rising with the sun and ending with the sunset.

This week, Blanc will be up at 4 a.m. to prep the course by hand-raking the bunkers on the front nine until 9 a.m. His second shift entails him working from 4 p.m. to late evening, when he will be repairing the divots made from the players.

Work like this is nothing new for the 46-year-old. He grew up on a farm in Burbank and graduated from Washington State with a Bachelor's degree in Agronomy. During his junior year in college, he became interested in golf course supervision and began interning.

Upon graduation, Blanc found himself working at the Walla Walla Country Club in 1987 before moving two years later to Scottsdale, Ariz. A year passed before he moved back to the Pacific Northwest in western Washington, which was followed with a move to Pasco.

Not long afterwards, he returned to his career starting line.

"Never really thought I would get back to Walla Walla, but things happened and an opening came here and I was able to get back here in 1996," Blanc said.

Through those years, Blanc's enjoyment of his job as a course superintendent only increased and it reminded him of another occupation he knew as a child.

"I envision the golf course of being basically a farm," Blanc said. "We raise a crop of grass and we cut it every day. We deal with the same problems most farmers deal with like raining, no rain, too much rain, disease problems, insect problems and weed problems. So it's very similar except you get to throw a golfer in my way."

During his tenor, the Walla Walla Country Club reputation has increased and has even played host to the Pac-10 championship for women's golf in 2002 and the men's golf in 2005.

He gives praise to an outstanding membership and crew at the country club, which has supported him in his trip.

"I am very fortunate that I have a very good crew and a great full-time staff. They are very excited for me," Blanc said.

Country club general manager Jeffrey Thomas said that, to his knowledge, Blanc is the club's first employee to ever be selected to work at a PGA major. He sees Blanc benefiting greatly from the experience.

"Besides the sheer size of this event, it's the personal knowledge Jeff will gain from seeing first-hand the exacting requirements of the United States Golf Association," Thomas said.

Blanc, who has never been to a PGA major, also sees it as a chance to gain helpful knowledge for his home course.

"Finding out what their green speeds are," he said about putting speed. "What they consider fast. I know Pebble (Beach) has very small greens that are very similar to ours in size. I'm curious to see what their green speeds are in relation to ours."

When not working or pursuing knowledge, Blanc will join the thousands of spectators in watching the historic golf tournament. And he does admire one particular golfer.

"The classiest one I think of is Phil (Mickelson)," he said. "Watching him win the Master's was unbelievable. Hopefully, he will do well."

Whatever is the final result, the champion is guaranteed the limelight and the adoration of fans who also seek fleeting attention on live television through screaming, "Get in the hole" and "There it is!"

Maintenance volunteers like Blanc will rarely have the light shine in their direction.

They, however, find simple satisfaction in knowing the course greens which teeter precariously close to the cliffs' edge of the rocky California coastline will be in tournament conditions every day. Praise through the years from Woods, Nicklaus and Watson only reaffirm their endeavors.

For Blanc, this is enough - except for one other aspect.

"I'm hoping to find a couple of good stories because if you know me, I like to talk," he said.

In a tournament known for its dramatic taste, Blanc's chances may just be in his favor.

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