Chris Tritabaugh
4 min readSep 19, 2018

One of my most inspiring friends recently sent me the book Powerful by Patty McCord. The former chief talent officer at Netflix writes about creating their unique and high-performing culture.

In the early pages of the book, I was struck by her writings on discipline. When I give talks on leadership and culture, one of the most frequently asked questions is along the lines of; “with all the freedom and decision making you give your team, how does it not turn into chaos?” The answer is discipline. McCord writes of how the team at Netflix thrived when given “freedom and responsibility”, while any potential for chaos was controlled by a disciplined adherence to their values. This something you can read about here.

Here at Hazeltine we also offer our employees a great deal of freedom and responsibility. At the same time our culture and operational excellence increase day by day, because we stay disciplined to our values and guiding principles.

When it comes to creating and maintaining our culture, our team here at Hazeltine concentrate and remain disciplined to three things-1) great people, 2) in a great environment, 3) doing fun and rewarding tasks. Our experience tells us concentrating on these three things will create and maintain a great workplace culture. We hire and work with them in mind-all of the time! There’s no better example of this then when we hosted the Ryder Cup. The biggest event in golf, happening on our course, pressure and stress around every corner. Yet around each of those corners were great people in a great environment doing fun and rewarding tasks. The results were well documented.

When it comes to operational excellence-getting the job done at a high level day after day-Hazeltine turfgrass has its own set of guiding principles. Something I’ve written about in the past. Safety-Teamwork-Commitment-Initiative-Honesty-Innovation-Admiration-Have Fun-These principles are a working document, changing slightly as we recognize just what is most important to our culture. Disciplined adherence to our guiding principles allows our team to work with freedom and responsibility, improving excellence and efficiency every day, without the fear of chaos.

Following are four examples of how disciplined adherence to our guiding principles manifests itself in day to day operational excellence:

Eliminate contamination in bunkers-Grass clippings, ant mounds, acorns, etc are always kept from, or quickly removed from bunkers. All these items are contaminants that over time will lead to a desegregation of our bunker sand. Our bunker sand is white and comes from Ohio. 1) We want it to look as white as possible, for as long as possible. 2) It’s expensive to bring new sand to the course. The better we take care of it, the whiter it stays and the longer it lasts.

Changing hole locations is the last thing we do on our greens each morning-Do golfers notice the difference? Probably not, but if the hole is changed, then a mower goes over it, the roller goes over it, it won’t look as fresh. Regardless of whether anyone notices, cutting the hole as the last thing of the morning is the way we set up the course-everyday, without exception.

Managing for bentgrass-Hazeltine’s greens and fairways were re-grassed in 2010. Use of less water, fewer chemicals and better ability to handle weather extremes were the reasons for making the change. Eight years on, six of which my tenure, these surfaces are nearly pure bentgrass; this doesn’t happen by accident. Every greenkeeping decision made considers bentgrass over Poa annua. This doesn’t mean that on occasion we may not do something more beneficial to the Poa, but on a whole, our practices and processes favor bentgrass. The positive results of this are there for everyone to see.

The final example is a little different from the others. It’s not something we do, but something we use. We paint the lips of our cups every day. One of the tools we use for this tasks is called a Cup Saver. The Cup Saver was invented in the Twin Cities, and during my first season at Hazeltine, we purchased three of the early iterations direct from the inventor, Rob Grant. Five-plus years since they were purchased, we are still using the same three Cup Savers to protect our cups from paint. Each day following morning set up, the cup cutting buckets are put back in their proper place, never allowed to bounce around in the back of a cart. The Cup Savers and other tools necessary for the process are cared for in the same manner. The care and discipline shown by our staff have led these items to hold up far longer than one would expect.

Discipline means many things to many different people. In our operation, it means we adhere to creating and maintaining our culture, and doing our work in the very best way possible, every single time.



Chris Tritabaugh

Husband, dad and Golf Course Supt | 👀 to help & be inspired by others, while also inspiring & learning from them | I ply my trade and hone my craft @Hazeltine