After Hazeltine National recovered from the hangover of the most successful Ryder Cup in history, the club’s Board of Governors made a major decision. They decided to hire a General Manager.
For many years, the General Manager’s office at Hazeltine had remained unoccupied. Management duties at the historic club were divided among a variety of committees who reported to the Board. Each committee had a chairman who was, in effect, the unpaid CEO of a small company. Each of the various committees had a cadre of volunteers who did the legwork.
The job of General Manager at any private golf club is a full-time job with a variety of responsibilities. At a handful of prestigious golf clubs around the country, the job description of the GM includes “hosting Major Championships” in the list of duties. Hazeltine is one of those few clubs. Coordinating Major Championships at Hazeltine would be in addition to day-to-day duties of the new GM.
With the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship coming to Hazeltine in June of 2019, and the USGA Junior Amateur Championship arriving in July of 2020, the selection committee knew that the new general manager would jump onto an already fast-moving train. On the distant horizon was the granddaddy of all golf competition, the Ryder Cup. The PGA of America had already awarded the 2028 Ryder Cup to Hazeltine. With three Major Golf Championships at Hazeltine National in the next 10 years, there would be no room for a learning curve. The search began for a GM from a club with Major Championship experience who could join Hazeltine already running.
For Eric Rule, the new General Manager at Hazeltine National, there was no need for a honeymoon; he had learned to juggle the day-to-day duties of a country club GM with coordinating Major Golf Championships. During his 27-year tenure as General Manager of Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY, Rule guided the club through five Major Championships: the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, Ryder Cup, U.S. Amateur and a Senior Open. Under his leadership, the prestigious club was voted the #1 country club in the U.S. in 2010. No surprises for the veteran Eric Rule.
From day one on Feb. 26, 2018, Eric has been working on the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. He has worked almost daily with Renee DeLosh, 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship Director who has an office at Hazeltine. When asked how Hazeltine would treat the Women’s Championship, Rule commented, “There is no Men’s or Women’s Championships at Hazeltine. Only Championships! Hazeltine is a golf course, practice facility and clubhouse built to host golf Championships. We will have the same amenities, the same locker room and the same feeling whether the event is men’s or women’s.”
The current golf course does not resemble the course that the women played during the 1966 and 1977 Women’s U.S. Open. One of the biggest questions that is continually asked of DeLosh and Rule is, “How will Hazeltine National’s course be tweaked for a Women’s Major Championship?” Rule assured Tee Times that the golf course would not be drastically changed for the Women’s Championship. “I have worked with the PGA of America through the PGA Championship and a 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill. They have had basically the same staff since 1995. They know exactly how to run a Championship, men’s or women’s. Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s Chief Championships Officer, is the very best. He understands exactly what needs to be done to set up the golf course for the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Working closely with Chris Tritabaugh, Hazeltine Golf Course Superintendent, they will have the golf course in perfect championship condition. The set up will favor the best player.”
Rule used the word “enhanced” to describe what Tritabaugh, and his experienced team would do to the golf course for the women. Rule is confident that the LPGA players can handle the challenge of Hazeltine, “These women are great players who are very capable of playing a course like Hazeltine. They don’t have the opportunity to face a test like Hazeltine every week, but they will rise to the challenge. If the wind blows, par could be the winning score.”
Rule encourages spectators to plan a full week at Hazeltine during the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. “The crowds will be smaller than they were during the Ryder Cup, but this is a good thing for fans. For $100, the price of two dozen golf balls, fans can purchase a weekly pass for the Championship. Members of the gallery can get much closer to the players than during any women’s tournament. I would also encourage the fans to plan on spending a day or two early in the week during the practice days. Just watching these wonderful players go through their practice routine is something special. Prior to the Ryder Cup, the practice area was greatly improved and expanded. Fans will see golfers hit every shot that they will see in the Championship.”
DeLosh echoed Rule’s opinion, “By far the best value for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is the Weekly Grounds Ticket Package. Golf fans will have access to the grounds of historic Hazeltine for all six days. We feel that fans will quickly develop a sense of admiration for women’s golf as they watch these tremendous athletes hone their skills on the practice range and compete during the Championship.” DeLosh feels that members of the gallery will develop some new “favorite player” selections while watching the pros in person.
The Tuesday or Wednesday Grounds tickets may be purchased for $20/ticket. Tuesday is the Pro-Am and Wednesday is the practice round.
Flex Grounds tickets are available for $40. These provide the holder with access to the grounds of Hazeltine National Golf Club for any one (1) day of the Championship (Tuesday-Sunday), giving flexibility to the ticket holder on which day to attend. DeLosh says, “Flex Tickets are a great Christmas or birthday present.”
Eric Rule wanted to mention that KIDS ATTEND FREE. Any adult ticket for the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship allows the ticketholder to bring up to four kids under age 17 onto the grounds. Veterans and active duty members of the Military (and one guest) enter the Championship complimentary with a valid military ID.
The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship seems to be in good hands with the experience of Eric Rule, the enthusiasm of Renee DeLosh and the Championship venue of Hazeltine National. Just a few snowy months separate Minnesota golf fans from another Championship at Hazeltine.
All photos courtesy 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.