Past Ten, Next Ten: Interview with Chris Tritabaugh

As we roll through the first year of this decade I've asked two standard questions to a few key players in our industry. I wanted to know their thoughts, from their unique role and perspective, on what we saw over this last ten years and what to expect in the ten to come.

I've been following golf superintendent blogs for a few years now, every once in awhile I ask a superintendent if I can "re-post" something they've wrote on their blog on to Turfhugger. After approaching Chris Tritabaugh of Northland Country Club quite a few times I said "do you want to just write for Turfhugger on an ongoing bases?", "I'd be honored" he said.

So what makes Chris stand out to Turfhugger readers? His constant efforts to improve conditions while using less. I've learned a lot from Chris through the last couple seasons, check out his most popular posts on turfhugger:

Turfhugger: To what degree has environmental issues affected your role through this past decade?

Chris Tritabaugh: I have only been a superintendent for four years so my frame of reference is a little shorter than 10 years. At this point I do not really feel we have been forced to make changes due to environmental issues. However, in my four years as a superintendent I have worked very hard to make our course less reliant on many of the products which could, in the future, be removed from our tool shed. This fall we saw that the EPA was able to circumvent the grace period and immediately take PCNB off the market.
In my mind there is no reason to think other products could not easily follow. As superintendents I feel it is our job to see into the future and prepare our courses such that, if we lose a product suddenly we are ready and able to sustain the product we are currently producing. Having a sustainable model is often talked about and I feel looking toward what may happen a few years in the future and preparing for it today is a big part of creating a sustainable model for our courses.

Turfhugger: What major changes will we see in the next Ten Years that will affect your roll most significantly?

Chris Tritabaugh: I really feel the next 10 years are going to be “Back to the Future”. By this I mean courses are going to have to work towards finding a way to maintain high level conditions with fewer inputs. There is no doubt in my mind it is possible but it will take a paradigm shift within our industry. Right now much of our industry is focused on maintaining the least common denominator. By this I mean we focus our efforts on the turf, which requires the greatest number of inputs. Sure the playing surfaces can be wonderful but at what cost? Is this a model which is sustainable for all but the biggest facilities? I know it is not for our facility. When we manage for the least common denominator it creates a vicious cycle keeping us from ever reducing inputs. If Poa annua and bentgrass are together in a stand and the focus is put on maintaining the Poa then the least common denominator is being managed and maintained. As long as this is the case reducing inputs will be all but impossible.

We have spent the past four seasons at Northland Country Club managing for the greatest common denominator and it has allowed us to greatly reduce our inputs of water, fertility and fungicides. Managing in this manner has allowed us to create a sustainable golf course now and for the future. As budgets get squeezed and products are removed from our tool shed I feel very confident we can maintain a golf course at the highest level.

This morning I read Tom Mead’s “Past 10, Next 10” interview right here on Turfhugger. He made this statement: "A transition to sustainable, values, designs, standards and practices is inevitable. As an industry we can proactively make the shift to a sustainable model – now - or we can get dragged into a sustainable model, kicking and screaming.”

As a superintendent I have made the decision to prepare Northland today for what may come tomorrow. It has not always been understood by my peers or popular with our members but now that we have moved through the transition period our golf course is very sustainable and prepared for what the next ten years may bring to this industry.


This is a great post. I am a student in a turf grass management program and I admire superintendents dedicated to sustainable practices. You provide a great model for future superintendents to follow.

Thanks for the comment Will! These types of practices are the future of the industry. As I said in the interview there may be a few of the very top clubs who can continue using current practices; they are however the smallest minority we could imagine. The rest of us much undertake these types of practices or we will be in trouble. Today, maybe not but soon. Those who are maintaining is this way today will be far ahead of the curve in a few short years.