Chandler Withington, PGA, sees it as soon as he walks in the door. The mission statement is a daily reminder of his purpose each day he arrives to work as the Head Golf Professional at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
The mission of the founders of Hazeltine was to build and maintain a golf course suitable for the conduct of national championships. An important part of the mission was to develop a membership that supported this concept – a membership that felt a responsibility to the game of golf and its rules and traditions. Similarly, it requires the highest standards of conduct by all members and guests as they play the game.
That was the mission laid about by the club at its founding in Chaska, Minnesota in 1962. For the staff and members who join the club, they quite literally know what they’re signing up for when becoming a part of the fabric of Hazeltine National. And while the idea of a club having such a bold, clear cut mission is unique to golf, it is no doubt one of the biggest reasons the PGA of America chose the venue to host to the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships and 2016 and 2028 Ryder Cups. And in June 2019, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
“What’s really cool about having the event here is just a few years ago we had the men here at Chaska and Hazeltine,” said KPMG Women’s PGA Championship Director Renee DeLosh. “Not even three years later to have the greatest women on the same golf course, it will be fun for fans to see.”
For the first time in nearly 40 years, the team at Hazeltine National is turning its focus to the women’s game as they prepare to host a women’s major championship. While Hazeltine National is the latest on a growing list of elite venues to host the major - Sahalee Country Club, Olympia Fields Country Club and Kemper Lakes Golf Club hosted the last three editions – it is perhaps the most unique.
“There’s a lot of momentum as far as where women’s events are going,” said Withington. “It’s a win for the women.”
Withington isn’t just the head golf professional at Hazeltine National but an ambassador who lives out the mission of the club. Providing the best possible experience to the top players in the women’s game has become personal to him with three young daughters at home. He’s excited at the growth he’s seen in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, especially through the addition of the women’s summit, and intends to bring his 7-year-old daughter out to watch the tournament.
“We’ve heard a lot about how women don’t feel as appreciated when they go to tour stops as the men do,” Withington acknowledged. “The mindset here has been, ‘how do we blow away how the players have felt?’”
That begins with getting to know them.
Withington was on-site when Hazeltine National hosted the 2016 Ryder Cup. The team juggled creating an exceptional fan experience with also helping members of Teams U.S.A. and Europe feel right at home. That began with researching each of the 24 individuals competing. While getting to know the 150-player field at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship means a bit more homework for the staff, in April, months ahead of the event, the team was already well immersed in the LPGA’s Player Guide. And Withington intends to be one of the first to greet players and caddies upon their arrival at the club.
“How would a player feel when we recognize them by name when they arrive?” Withington said. “That’s the part we’re trying to get right and making them feel like this is their home as well.”
While the women can expect to get the same treatment as the men who have competed at Hazeltine National, the on-course test will be much different. Chris Tritabaugh, the Course Superintendent, is overseeing the set up along with the Kerry Haigh, the Chief Championships Officer at the PGA of America. Given the course location in Minnesota, how the course will play in mid-June remains largely dependent on the weather. On April 10, the course was blanketed in nearly a foot of snow. And while it pushed back the course opening for the year, Tritabaugh remains confidence the course will be championship ready.
“For us, this is normal,” Tritabaugh said about the late snow fall, which has become a more regular occurrence. The course received 16 inches in April 2018.
Thankfully for Tritabaugh and his team, the changes being made to Hazeltine for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship are minimal in comparison to the Ryder Cup, in which the routing was changed, and length added. Tritabaugh says the set up made the course less relatable to its members, who will enjoy seeing the top players in the women’s game tested by the same challenges they face on a weekly basis. During the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Hazeltine National will play to its original routing and at a length of 6,800 yards with a par of 72.
“For us, anytime we can manage the course in a way that’s familiar to us, it offers us the opportunity to make it that much better,” Tritabaugh said. “There’s a really cool familiarity with the whole event.”
With few changes and minimal build out required, Hazeltine National is essentially turn-key ready to host the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. That is its mission after all. And that statement will be one of the first things players see as they arrive at the clubhouse, just after being welcomed by name to Hazeltine National Golf Club.