Penn State turfgrass alum grooms PGA Championship course

University Park, Pa. -- It has been said that the sun never sets on Penn State-developed turfgrass varieties because they carpet so many golf courses around the world. Similarly, many of the best golf courses on the planet are under the care of Penn State-educated turfgrass professionals.

Another high-profile example was on display Aug. 13-16 when the best professional golfers descended on Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., for the PGA Championship. James Nicol, Hazeltine course superintendent, who earned a certificate in Turfgrass Management from Penn State in the early 1970s, polished the historic gem for another major tournament.

A St. Cloud, Minn., native, Nicol is in his 13th year at Hazeltine. Prior to arriving there 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.

"My turfgrass management certificate from Penn State has put me in a position to get noticed for opportunities," Nicol said. "The education that I received was based on theory but practical. We were taught to think problems through and identify the differences, because every golf course/turfgrass problem is different."

Nicol noted that he still benefits from continuing education and research done at Penn State.

"Networking with former classmates and educators as an alum keeps me abreast of current trends," he said. "Our greens were sodded with Penncross [a Penn State variety] and our tees and fairways are a combination of Penncross and Poa annua. We are renovating Hazeltine's greens and fairways in July of 2010, and Penn State turf varieties again will be used."

The family of Penn State turfgrass professionals is large, highly respected and continues to grow, Nicol said.

"Joe Maloney and Blair Hawkins, two of my key crew members, are Penn State graduates, and Cole Besser is interning this season and will graduate from the four-year turfgrass science program in the College of Agricultural Sciences this December. Our staff continues a 20-year tradition of attending the Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council's Fall Meeting at the Nittany Lion Inn.

"We always take away something that can be used and some of this information has been implemented for the 2009 PGA Championship," Nicol said. "Here at Hazeltine, we are Penn State proud!"

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Last Updated November 18, 2010