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Cragun's 2016

Local Golf
July 22, 2017

Ryder Cup Perfect - It's Chris Tritabaugh's Job
Chris Tritabaugh, Superintendent at Hazeltine National
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Chris Tritabaugh, Superintendent at Hazeltine National
Hazeltine National #1
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Hazeltine National #1
By R.J. Smiley

As a golfer, have you ever fantasized about playing golf on your very own golf course?

Your golf course is in "PERFECT" condition. On your golf course every single blade of grass, throughout the entire golf course, is razor trimmed to a 1/1,000th of an inch precision - each day. Your golf course has the world's best equipment and a maintenance staff of 150 of the best-trained and experienced golf course groomers in the world. On your golf course your maintenance staff army will completely manicure your entire golf course in two hours and thirty minutes. Leaving no trace that they were ever there.

No matter where a golf ball ends up, it will have exactly the same playing conditions as any other fairway, rough or putting surface on the golf course. The sand bunkers on your golf course have been completely rebuilt and all drainage issues, that plague even big name golf courses with inconsistent sand texture and dampness, have been resolved. Close your eyes and let your mind run wild. Your golf course, with no divots or no ball marks, is a perfect green carpet, with a variety of knapp length, randomly adorn with sky blue water, white sand framed by colorful flags fluttering in the gentle prairie breeze.

This golfing friends, is the golf course that members of the 2016 Ryder Cup teams will find when they arrive at Hazeltine National Golf Club. The only element left to chance during this historic event will be the whims of Mother Nature.

Hazeltine was conceived to host national golf championships. Over time the now mature golf course has proven to be the perfect national golf tournament venue. Hazeltine has reached the rarified air of a world championship golf course. Hosting the Ryder Cup, Hazeltine has become immortal.

The following is snapshot look at how the golf course became "Ryder Cup Perfect."

Totton P. Heffelfinger, the driving force behind the creation of Hazeltine National Golf Club, was a past president of the USGA. As golf was rapidly expanding in the Twin Cities and across America, Heffelfinger conceived the idea of a golf course in the urban countryside built and dedicated to hosting national golf championships. Heffelfinger and Hazeltine members endured rude comments and criticism, but never lost the vision of hosting golf championships. Heffelfinger's vision lives on through the members who unanimously share his vision.

"Hazeltine is a golfer's club. The members play golf in the fall until the snow covers the ground. Most of us walk! We are willing to share our wonderful golf course and make whatever sacrifice necessary to live up to our mission statement." For the past several weeks those members have been hitting off mats that they carry with them around the golf course to insure that there will be no divots.

Endless Improvement
Since the golf course was opened in 1962, Hazeltine has been in a continuous state of improvement. Since the 1972 U.S. Open when Dave Hill insulted the golf course, it's members and Robert Trent Jones, the designer, there has been a conscious effort to make the golf course a perfect venue for championship golf. To chronicle the list of changes would require a novel length book. There is one change (some call it an improvement, some don't) however that does require some note. The 16th (playing as the seventh for Ryder Cup) was originally designed as a par-3 playing into Hazeltine Lake. In 1978 Jones redesigned the hole as a mid-length par-4 and extended the peninsula green into the lake. The 16th remains one of the most photographed and controversial holes in golf.

Superintendent And Staff
The most important single element in creating a perfect golf course is the superintendent. And the superintendent must have a plan. In 2012 Chris Tritabaugh took over the task of making Hazeltine "perfect" for the Ryder Cup matches. Chris had worked at prestigious Northland Country Club in Duluth, St. Cloud Country Club and others. He brings youthful enthusiasm to a job that has 250 bosses, the members of Hazeltine. Chris says, "It all starts with playing surfaces and members who want championship conditions on a daily basis. If we meet the members demands, we feel that we are off to a great start."

Over the past four years, Chris has been working his plan to make Hazeltine Ryder Cup Perfect for one week in September. "The normal maintenance staff ranges from 35 to 45 on our crew on a daily basis. Each of those individuals know their jobs and do them well." However for the Ryder Cup, it is a completely different story. For about three weeks leading up to and during the Ryder Cup staff will increase to approximately 150. "The 100 or so increase will be superintendents and assistance superintendence from golf courses around the upper Midwest. Those professionals will work under managers from my staff who understand the Hazeltine way of doing things," said Tritabaugh.

Toro, the local turf maintenance company, is supplying all the equipment. "We have a wonderful relationship with Toro. It is important to have their brand associated with Ryder Cup. In addition the superintendents who serve as additional staff will have a first hand look at Toro equipment."

Knowing the playing surface is the key to having a golf course Ryder Cup Perfect. In 2010, the membership at Hazeltine took a year off and completely re-grassed their golf course. In a gesture of brotherhood, many private golf clubs from around the Twin Cities made their courses available to Hazeltine membbers. The greens were re-grassed with Penn A-1 bentgrass. "A-1 was chosen because it is tolerant to heat and allows us to push the limits for dryness," Chris adds. Firm and dry is Ryder Cup Perfect. During the Ryder Cup the greens will be cut at 90/1,000th (less than a tenth of an inch). When asked how fast the Hazeltine green will be running for the Matches, Chris answered with a pat Ryder Cup reply, "They will be running at 'Ryder Cup Speed'."

Sand Bunkers
Since 2009 the 107 sand bunkers at Hazeltine have been completely re-worked. Meaning that all the sand has been removed and a complete fish-bone drainage system has been installed in each bunker. Then the drainage pipe is covered with pea rock to allow the water to flow quickly into the drainage pipe. But Hazeltine took the process one step further. They added a polymer to the pea gravel that cements the small pea shaped pebble to gather forming a firm surface that equipment cannot destroy. But the polymer is porous, meaning that water will run through it. "Now we have 107 bunkers that can withstand huge rain storms and not be filled with silt or hold water."

As you visualize your "Perfect" golf course, who would believe that it would take over 50 years of intense fine tuning to have a golf course worthy of joining the world's elite golf courses and be called Ryder Cup Perfect.

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