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Hazeltine Natonal back in action after 'textbook' winter slumber

Winters in the upper Midwest are unpredictable at best, so officials at Hazeltine National Golf Club crossed their fingers back in the fall and hoped for the best. And that's exactly what they got.

With the worst of the weather behind him, Hazeltine National Course Superintendent Chris Tritabaugh said things couldn't have gone any better, as this was a "textbook" winter, as far as Minnesota winters go.

"We had an extended fall, and it was a long time before we got any cold or snow, so we were able to get a lot of work done and the course fared really well," Tritabaugh said. "Then the winter was mild and short. We had some snow but not a lot. We had two cold snaps that were below zero but it was never extended. We had no ice, or no real warming and refreeze -- any of those types of things that can be bad for a golf course.

"When we came out of the winter, things were pretty much perfect. We're open and things are starting to grow now. It looks great."

HAZELTINE NATIONAL GOLF CLUB: Course tour

The course opened for play on April 15, and for the next three months, it'll be perhaps the busiest season in the history of the course, Tritabaugh said.

"We have three months where we expect to have a tee sheet that's packed almost every single day," he said. "Lot of guests will be playing, lots of people wanting to come out and experience the course that's going to host the Ryder Cup in the fall. So what we really need to do is continue to provide the type of product on the golf course that we've become known for."

At the same time, Tritabaugh and his staff, along with the on-site coordinator from the PGA of America, will be handling a number of behind-the-scenes projects. First, they need to finish up projects started last year. Then on June 1, the big infrastructure projects -- including running irrigation and power to various parts of the course -- will take place.

But the key factor is to do the work without making it look like there's work being done, Tritabaugh said.

"The one thing we don't want is for the course to look like it's under construction the entire year," Tritabaugh said. "That's going to be the case with some of the infrastructure, but we don't want the membership and the guests feeling like they're getting the experience here that they'd typically get. So getting all of that stuff cleaned up and done, buttoned up before we get into the meat of the golf season is the first thing."

Tritabaugh wanted to reiterate that the membership at Hazeltine National has been solidly backing all of the sweeping changes taking place before the course hosts the Ryder Cup during the last week of September.

"Since I've been here, I feel like we've done a great job and the membership's loved the results," he said. "And we've seen that reflected in the numbers of play. So we have to be very aware of that this year. We have a big event that we're getting ready for but we can't forget about our members at the same time."

One of the more unusual aspects of the upcoming season is that five of the holes that normally are played as part of the traditional front nine will be played as the back nine for 2016. There are several reasons for the switch, including ease of spectator access and playability factor.

Tritabaugh is amused by all the attention the swap has gotten, but he doesn't really think it's that big a deal.

"To me, it's a simple changing of numbers," Tritabaugh said. "It really doesn't change the course at all. Once you swap and you're playing the last five holes on each nine holes, you're not drastically changing the order. You're still playing them in order. You're just playing them earlier or later in the round."

But Hazeltine National will stick with the Ryder Cup routing all season, for a couple of reasons, first and foremost because it's less trouble.

"What we found was it was just going to be too much of a headache to try to switch back and forth," Tritabaugh said. "There's going to be situations and times when we need to play the Ryder Cup routing this year -- a player comes in or a Captain comes in, we get a request from the PGA for a group they want to get out -- and all of a sudden, we've got to determine in the morning whether we're playing this way or that way."

Another reason is to keep everyone on the same page when trying to communicate, especially with so many outside people involved in the day-to-day operations between now and the fall.

"It seems like that wouldn't be that big of a deal, but when you start talking about 15, 16 and 17, and people from the PGA are talking one set of holes and people from Hazeltine are talking about another set of holes, there just needs to be a continuity in how everybody talks about it," Tritabaugh said.

"From my standpoint, I've never been through an event like this. I've been to them, but when you're there the week of, everything is basically done and you're not seeing the effort that went into it before that point. But my staff has all been here for at least one of the major championships, so I've relied on them to tune me into what might be happening or what's coming. And also working with the PGA is great. Their operations people have been great. Kevin Wright, who's in charge of the operations on-site, and people at PGA Headquarters do this every year. So from my standpoint, I try not to get too wrapped up in trying to dictate the things I don't know about. I try to let the people who know and have been through it bring me the awareness that I need to have."