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The Coach K of Medinah


The maintenance facility at Medinah Country Club is so filled with messages of motivation and inspiration that it is not immediately obvious whether it is the hub of one of the country's most prestigious golf facilities, or if a wrong turn led to a Tony Robbins self-help seminar.

 

The high expectations we place on ourselves are driven by a philosophy of continuous improvement." ... "Our goal is to be the best, without question." ... "Each one of us will take pride in our work and be held accountable to the highest degree."

 

Motivation, inspiration and teaching all represent a big part of the job for Curtis Tyrrell, CGCS, who manages three golf courses and 90 employees at the nearly 100-year-old club just west of Chicago.
 
"Being a motivator is a key and integral part of our day-to-day operation," Tyrrell said. "I have all these talented superintendents and young managers, and I'm coaching and developing them. I teach them agronomy, teach them club politics, teach them organization and planning skills. And that all gets overwhelming when you have to deliver three championship golf courses at the same time you're trying to do all that."
 
Medinah's signature No. 3 course has been the site of six major championships, including the U.S. Open in 1949, 1975 and 1990, the PGA Championship in 1999 and 2006 and the 2012 Ryder Cup Matches.
 
During Tyrrell's nearly decade-long tenure at Medinah, all three courses have been rebuilt with a cumulative cost of about $15 million.
 
"I love being out here. They're all my babies. I've rebuilt all of them, and I'm really proud of them," Tyrrell said. "This is an amazing property, and for the members to invest that kind of money and have that kind of confidence in me to lead that, that motivates me. That is a huge responsibility to deliver on."
 
Tyrrell, who is in his ninth year at Medinah, thrives in an atmosphere of controlled chaos that comes with running this three-course behemoth.
 
"I love the action," he said.
 
He learned multi-course management as a course superintendent from 1997-2000 at Desert Mountain under director of agronomy Shawn Emerson, who oversees the massive six-course operation in Scottsdale. 
 
"Shawn used a lot of sports analogies. He talked about a team environment and coaching philosophy with everything he did," Tyrrell said. "He always called himself the 'Bobby Knight of golf course superintendents.' I loved that. Like Bobby Knight, Shawn might yell at you from time to time, but you learn a lot and appreciate him. I always told him 'if you're Bobby Knight, then I'm going to be Coach K (Mike Kryzewski). Coach K went on to win more games.' "
 
Emerson recognized Tyrrell's talent as a manager when the two first met in the 1990s. That was when Tyrrell, a 1996 graduate of Penn State's two-year turfgrass management program, was working at PGA West in La Quinta, California, then home to the PGA Tour's Bob Hope Classic.
 
"I knew then he was special," Emerson said. "The Nicklaus private course in between superintendents, and he ran a PGA Club pro championship like he was a veteran."
 
He made enough of an impact that Emerson hired him as a superintendent.
 
"He was always a hard charger who wanted to have an impact," Emerson said.
 
Just like Emerson, Tyrrell now is in the role of teacher, coach and motivator. And he goes to such lengths in an effort to help his team be the best it can be, as well.
 
"They are my No. 1 motivation. I feel obligated and have a responsibility to be the best I can be for them, because they're here to learn from me and learn from Medinah. And I have to deliver on that," he said. "Absolutely, I have to be as good as I can be and make the best decisions for the club and for my team. They're here because they want to get that information and build their own careers."
 
It's not just talk coming from the Tony Robbins-esque maintenance shop. Tyrrell's team buys what he is selling. Interns who started their careers at Medinah often come back for more. Two of three course superintendents interned there as did three of the club's four assistant superintendents.
 

The excitement to me is to coordinate and manage and organize all of this and manage three courses at championship quality. I'm never bored."

 

A second-generation superintendent, Dane Wilson knows a thing or two about successful greenkeepers. His father, Mark Wilson, was the host superintendent for the PGA Championship in 1996 and 2000 as well as the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.
 
"With the amount of people working here, more than anything this job is about communication," said Dane Wilson, a former Medinah intern in 2009 and superintendent of the No. 2 course since 2014. 
 
"I didn't come back just to Medinah just because it was Medinah. I came back to work for Curtis."
 
Three courses, a 90-person crew and the demand to produce championship conditions daily makes for an excellent teaching and learning environment.
 
Each week, Tyrrell produces a laminated calendar for his managers that details everything that will take place on all three courses. Several pages in length, the calendar includes mowing heights for every part of each course, mowing frequency, topdressing schedules, spray programs, details and schedules for all ongoing projects and more.
 
There isn't room for anything other than being the best at a place with nearly 1,000 members and a long tradition of championship golf and championship conditions. 
 
"The excitement to me is to coordinate and manage and organize all of this and manage three courses at championship quality," he said. "I'm never bored."





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