Half a billion people will watch the Ryder Cup this fall. The famed biennial match attracts teams of top golfers from Europe and the United States to some of the most prestigious courses in the world. This year, Chaska’s Hazeltine National Golf Club has a turn hosting the big show, and they’ve been planning for it since 2009.
Chris Tritabaugh, the golf course superintendent at Hazeltine, is responsible for getting the course ready. But he downplays the drama, moody Midwestern weather and complications of keeping a course like Hazeltine up to par. “There’s a pretty good stretch of the north that has to go through winter. You have to get the course ready in fall so it comes out well in spring,” Tritabaugh says. “One of the great things about my job is getting to March when the snow melts. It’s an amazing transformation that happens. The turf just does what it’s meant to do, with as little input from us as we can have.”
Tritabaugh is no stranger to golfing in Minnesota. He started golfing as a child growing up in Albany, Minnesota, and has spent his career taming the turf on various Minnesota courses.
That said, he and his team—seasonally 50 strong but burgeoning to nearly 150 for the Ryder Cup—have been putting together their game plan for months. “As a turf grass manager, I’m trying to blend the horticulture mind with layman’s terms,” says Ryan Moy, assistant golf course superintendent. “There are a lot of people on our seasonal staff who aren’t experts. They’re teachers and professors, people who just love the game of golf.”
A few weeks before the event, the course will close for normal play so the grounds staff can put the final touches on the manicured greens and get ready for an enormous amount of media equipment, traffic and attention.
But, says Tritabaugh, “I’m working really hard to keep things as normal as possible through September. It would be really easy to let the adrenaline carry us and get to the event and be drained.”
Since Minnesota days are growing shorter by the end of September, a lot of the grounds crew’s work will happen in the dark. To be out of sight by the first tee time at 7:30 a.m., they’ll start mowing at about 5:30, using headlamps and equipment with lights mounted on it, but the work day doesn’t end until sundown or beyond.
“You feel a sense of urgency,” Moy says. “The motivation comes from within and the atmosphere that’s created. Everyone adopts a ‘do whatever it takes’ kind of attitude. This is the culmination of showcasing what we do for a living.”
In addition to the routine, daily care of the course, a lot of their work is focused on helping the course recover from play, Tritabaugh says. That means patching divots, repairing ball marks, and compensating for foot traffic on the greens.
So what’s it like seeing the course on the global stage? “It doesn’t feel like your course on TV because you know it so intimately day to day,” Moy says, recalling the PGA Championship at Hazeltine in 2009. “During the tournament, there’s a live feed, but it’s almost inconsequential. You get desensitized to it, even in HD. There’s nothing like real life. There’s a lot they don’t show on TV, and a lot that they do show is just cosmetic.”
The course will close to regular play on September 6 to prepare for the Ryder Cup.