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8 questions with Chris Tritabaugh

Chris Tritabaugh
Chris Tritabaugh, University of Minnesota graduate, is 
preparing Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska for 
the 41st Ryder Cup set for Sept. 27 to Oct. 2, 2016. 

Golf course superintendent at Hazeltine National Golf Club, home of the 2016 Ryder Cup

You are building a whole village at Hazeltine to prepare for the Ryder Cup. It looks truly epic.

It is epic. We’re expecting 250,000 people, so there’s a lot to do. I’ve been involved in these tournaments before, but this is the first time that it’s really me managing the course and grounds from start to finish. It’s coming up quick!

Environmental stewardship is a big priority for you. What does that mean on a championship course?
There’s this thought that a golf course can’t be maintained in an environmentally friendly manner. Even within the industry there can be an idea that moving away from some of the conventional products and practices will mean quality will suffer. But when I managed Northland Country Club in Duluth, I was doing things with less and still producing a good product. Here at Hazeltine, we have more to work with, but I still want to conserve resources. The Ryder Cup is an opportunity to show that a golf course can be maintained with fewer inputs and be presented at the very highest level.

How can golf courses help with the problems faced by pollinators?

There’s great pollinator habitat here by default, and golf courses need to preserve that. We keep a lot
of areas off limits to the mowers. One of the first years I was here the assistants were spraying the milkweed, and I explained how important the milkweed is for monarchs. We have a lot of natural areas with clover and many native plants, like Joe-Pye weed. It just makes sense to have it be part of the native environment.

How do you continue to learn from University of Minnesota Extension?

Brian Horgan, an Extension turfgrass specialist, and Sam Bauer, an Extension educator, have been
really valuable as we get ready for the Ryder Cup. With Extension, it’s not even just their own specific knowledge but also their connections to University experts in other areas. They are familiar with the literature on many subjects, but they also have the ability to say, “I don’t know about that, but I can get an answer.” That’s how they help us do better.

How does that build on your experience at the University of Minnesota?

Mary Meyer (professor and Extension specialist) taught a horticulture class on herbaceous identification that I think back to all the time. My message to people in school at the University now is don’t see school just as a means to an end. Enjoy the people you get to be around. Take advantage of those relationships and don’t take for granted that these are the best people in their industry. To have that contact with them is very valuable.

Can you give me an example of the collaboration between Extension and the Minnesota Golf Course Superintendents Association (MGCSA)?

The educational seminars put on by MGCSA are heavily backed by the research from Extension. There’s a great relationship between us. We’ll fire ideas to Brian and Sam about issues we face as superintendents. Then they’ll pull together trials, using the University’s Turfgrass Research and Outreach (TROE) Center, as well as using golf courses they have relationships with around the state. That’s what’s great about them. They listen to what our issues are, and then they’re willing to shape their research around our issues. That’s Extension to a tee.

Any long-term change you’d like to see with water use on Minnesota golf courses?
I’d like to see more knowledge, and this goes back to the role of Extension. There are a lot of people out there managing smaller courses. They may not have the resources to attend a seminar, or to have a good irrigation system. But people can get information from Extension to help make decisions. I think the water used in our industry could be even further reduced, but some people pulling the trigger on the water may just not have the knowledge yet.

What are you going to do when the Ryder Cup is over?

My wife and I have an anniversary the day before it starts, and she’s volunteering at the event too. When it’s over, I know we’ll take a trip. But I like it all so much—using my skills and education to make good agronomic decisions. Even if someone came to me and said we weren’t going to do the Ryder Cup, I’d still be okay because I just love the work of managing the course.

Read more about the collaboration between University of Minnesota Extension and the Minnesota Golf Course Superintendents Association. 

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