Students work with golf course crew at Ryder Cup tournament

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Nineteen students from the Golf Course Turfgrass Management program in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences recently had a rare opportunity to get hands-on experience at the highest level of golf when they helped prepare and maintain the links for the Ryder Cup tournament in Chicago.

Last month, the students were among volunteers who worked with the grounds crew at Medinah Country Club, raking bunkers, mowing grass, filling divots and helping with course setup before and during the biennial, three-day Professional Golfers' Association event, which pits a team from the United States against the best from Europe.

Graduates of the two-year Penn State program oversee groundskeeping at many of the most prestigious golf courses in the world, according to program Director John Kaminski, associate professor of turfgrass management.

"Our program paid for a small portion of the trip," he said. "However, I worked with Curtis Tyrrell, the director of golf course operations at Medinah -- an alumnus of our Golf Course Turfgrass Management Program -- for the last three years to set up this opportunity for the students.

"We came up with the idea to send the students to volunteer at the 2012 Ryder Cup in 2009, and Curtis was able to arrange for sponsors to cover the majority of the costs for the students' five-day experience."

Kaminski noted that the goal of most students in the program, which is widely regarded as one of the best, is to get jobs managing golf courses. Penn State has been offering the certificate program since 1957.

"It is an 18-month, intensive, professional-certificate program in which students learn about agronomy, business and communication -- the kinds of things that will help them become golf course superintendents," he said.

"In addition to Medinah Country Club, we have graduates from the program managing some of the best courses in the world, including Congressional Country Club, which last year hosted the U.S. Open; Merion Golf Club, which has the U.S. Open next year; and the internationally famous Augusta National Golf Club."

Students enrolled in the program attend classes during two, eight-week terms per year at Penn State's University Park campus. Between years, students complete six months of on-the-job training at one of the top golf courses in the world.

Chris Konow, a second-year student in the program and one of the recent volunteers at Medinah Country Club, was impressed by the Ryder Cup event and preparations.

"I have never seen so many people on a golf course full of such energy and passion for their country," said the Franklin, Conn., native. "Then, hearing the crowds roar from our position in the maintenance facility sent chills through my body.

"Being a part of the Ryder Cup and the maintenance team at Medinah was an incredible experience. It solidifies my conviction that the career I am pursuing is something that I am passionate about and determined to succeed in."

Konow worked on a maintenance crew at a golf course in Connecticut from the age of 16 and continued through college. After graduating from the University of Connecticut in 2006 with a degree in political science, he was offered and accepted a second assistant job at the course.

In 2011 -- at the age of 28 -- he enrolled in Penn State's Golf Course Turfgrass Management Program, and the experience has opened his eyes.

"It has been a great learning process for me," he said. "Coming into the program, I had lots of hands-on experience on a golf course, but I didn't know the science behind it."

Now, Konow explained, with the help of the professors and staff at Penn State, he is developing a firm grasp of how to run a golf course, not only agronomically but also from a networking, budgeting and communication standpoint.
 

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Last Updated October 09, 2012