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Nicol has Hazeltine ready for PGA Championship

James Nicol, GCSAA certified golf course superintendent at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., has polished the historic gem for another major, as the PGA Championship returns Aug. 13-16.

Nicol worked with famed golf course architect Rees Jones to add or move tees on nine holes, bringing the length of the par 72 course to 7,685 yards, the longest ever for a major. Holes 12, 13 and 15 are the longest par 4, par 3 and par 5, respectively, in the championship’s history.

“A reason for the added length is to bring the bunkers into the drive zone,” said Nicol, a 30-year member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA). “Length alone is not a big deal to these guys, it’s the green surrounds that are the course’s biggest defense.”

Nicol and Jones relocated a bunker on the left side of No. 2 that will make flying it more difficult and forcing golfers to the right, where there are two more bunkers. No. 5, a par 4 dogleg right, has been extended nearly 50 yards to 455 so that the landing area is now where the bunkers are, and the bunkers on the right have been redone and brought closer to the fairway. A new cross bunker short of the green enhances the risk-versus-reward aspect of No. 14, a short 352-yard par 4 that the PGA of America will look to push the tee forward at least one day so the players can go for the green. A new tee box on No. 15 extends the long par 5 to 642 yards, bringing bunkers back into play on both the first and second shots. A new tee has also been built on the par 5 No. 7 at a slightly different angle, adding 27 yards. Bunkers were also moved closer to the fairway, pinching the landing areas on holes No. 1, 10 and 18.

A dry spring and summer have led to the current drought conditions in the area and therefore the Kentucky bluegrass/perennial ryegrass/fine fescue rough will not be as thick, or even as tall as it was for the 2002 PGA Championship. The first cut surrounding the fairways is 3 1/2 inches high and it is 4 inches tall beyond that. Nicol has the bentgrass/Poa annua greens at championship speeds.

Nicol uses a high-tech irrigation system with moisture sensors to conserve water and present a fast, firm golf course. He also subscribes to a stringent integrated pest management program, using low rates of chemical inputs only as needed. Approximately half of the 60 acres of rough at Hazeltine are unmanaged out-of-play natural areas, providing habitat for wildlife while preserving resources and maintenance costs. Nicol’s staff also maintains several bluebird boxes throughout the property.

Former USGA President Totton Heffelfinger started Hazeltine National Golf Club, originally named Executive Golf Club of Minnesota, in 1961, next to Hazeltine Lake, southwest of Minneapolis in Chaska, Minn. He charged Robert Trent Jones to design a golf course suitable for national championships. Jones’ son, Rees, has led renovations at Hazeltine, in 1990, again in 2008, and he will work with Nicol on a greens renovation in 2010.

Hazeltine has played host to the 1970 and 1991 U.S. Open, 1966 and 1977 U.S. Women’s Open, 1983 U.S. Senior Open, 1994 U.S. Mid-Amateur, 1999 NCAA Men’s Division I Championship, 2001 U.S. Men’s State Team Championship, 2002 PGA Championship and the 2006 U.S. Amateur. The PGA of America will return to Hazeltine for the 2016 Ryder Cup.

A St. Cloud, Minn., native, Nicol is in his 13th year at Hazeltine. Prior to arriving at Hazeltine in 1996, Nicol worked 19 years at Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids, Minn., where he hosted four Senior Tour events. Before that, Nicol spent five years at Lake Geneva (Wis.) Playboy Club, first as an intern, then foreman of the Briar Patch Course, and then as assistant superintendent. He holds a turfgrass management certificate from Penn State University and is one of only approximately 1,800 active golf course superintendents worldwide to hold GCSAA certification, which recognizes the achievement of high standards of professionalism through education, testing and experience.

For more about Nicol’s preparations, read GCM Senior Associate Editor Seth Jones’ cover story in the August issue of GCSAA’s official magazine.

The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America is a leading golf organization and has as its focus golf course management. Since 1926, GCSAA has been the top professional association for the men and women who manage golf courses in the United States and worldwide. From its headquarters in Lawrence, Kan., the association provides education, information and representation to more than 20,000 members in more than 72 countries. GCSAA’s mission is to serve its members, advance their profession and enhance the enjoyment, growth and vitality of the game of golf. The association’s philanthropic organization, The Environmental Institute for Golf, works to strengthen the compatibility of golf with the natural environment through research grants, support for education programs and outreach efforts. Visit GCSAA at www.gcsaa.org.

For more information contact:
Bill Newton, GCSAA media relations manager, 800-472-7878 or bnewton@gcsaa.org; mobile: 785-550-3938 (on site Aug. 11-13)

James Nicol, CGCS, Hazeltine National Golf Club, at 952-556-5410 or jamesnicol@aol.com

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