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Benson's Kjos has Trump course ready for LPGA final

During a hometown visit in August, Andy Kjos stopped by the Benson Golf Club where a summer job kindled an interest in groundskeeping. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton1 / 2
The 215-yard 17th hole is considered the signature hole at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. Photos courtesy of Trump International by Brian Morgan2 / 2

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- This is a big week for Benson native Andy Kjos.

He's expecting flocks of visitors in his yard -- by the thousands; millions more on TV.

The grass is cut, the hedges trimmed, the ponds blue and the waterfalls glistening in the Florida sun.

Kjos is in charge of the visually-stunning tropical landscape at Trump International Golf Club. This Thursday through Sunday, 32 of the LPGA's best golfers are playing for the $1 million first-place check at the ADT Championship.

"The weather has been good," said Kjos last week. "We should be ready."

Kjos, whose spring sport at Benson High School was tennis, has been Trump International's Certified Golf Superintendent since 2002. It's an exacting position. He must please members who pay up to $15,000 annual dues after a $400,000 initiation fee.

His boss is billionaire developer Donald J. Trump, who doesn't just dabble in golf. He's passionate about it.

Trump International, opened in 1999, is the first of seven courses he's built with an eighth in the development stage in Scotland.

The tycoon's winter residence is across the causeway in Palm Beach. When he's in New York, Trump calls the course super about once a month.

"He asks very specific questions," said Kjos. "He's very businesslike, but he's got a good sense of humor."

In addition, he's a solid golfer, Kjos says, with a handicap in the single digits.

But Kjos has faced greater challenges than a demanding boss -- three hurricanes that mowed down scores of trees (since replanted), drought with state-imposed water restrictions (since lifted), plus weeds and disease have kept Kjos and his crew of 39 full-time employees hopping.

"We have weeds you would never see (in Minnesota) and the weather is humid all the time, so disease is a constant concern," said Kjos during a home visit in August with his wife Julie, a Florida native, and children, Noah, 3, and Mark, 1.

"I picked weeds, mowed greens, installed irrigation heads and moved sprinklers all night," he said. "It's definitely what inspired my interest."

Though tennis was his best sport, golf was also a big part of family life in the Jack and Jane Kjos household. After graduating in 1991, Andy earned a degree in communications from Concordia College.

Far from a decoration in his chosen profession, he believes that his undergraduate education has been one key to his advancement. The ability to communicate clearly and concisely in speech and the written word help get things done, he indicates.

"In this business, people skills are almost a given," he said. "You've got to be gregarious. People skills, as much as technical knowledge, will determine how successful you are."

After getting his B.A., Kjos went on to work at the Minneapolis Golf Club and later The Quarry at La Quinta in California and Minisceongo Golf Club in New York.

He took formal training at Penn State University's Center for Turfgrass Science and soon joined the Golf Course Superintendent's Association of America. In 1999, he served an internship at Augusta National.

Working at the home of the Masters taught him there are no shortcuts to sound agronomics. It's a principle he carried to Trump International in 2002.

This is the eighth straight year the course has hosted the late-season Tour event, which is now the culmination of the LPGA Playoffs. For Kjos and his crew, it's more like the beginning of the golf season than the end.

Much of the membership comes from the northeast, specifically the Boston area starting in December. The course is shut down in the summer months because of south Florida's extreme heat and humidity.

Kjos and his crew labor with the love of a Master Gardener and the care of an environmentalist.

"I see my role as a steward of the environment," said the Minnesota native. "We want a great golf course without using harmful chemicals."

Trump International might use one million gallons of water overnight from rechargeable ponds to irrigate the 18-hole main course, plus a two-year-old nine-hole layout.

Kjos points out that all that water lands on the golf course and goes right back into the water table.

Trump calls his home course "one of the most ambitious golf course projects ever undertaken" and he's left a young man from the Minnesota prairie in charge of its upkeep. Perhaps, that's how he got rich; making good decisions.

NOTE: A hole-by-hole slideshow of the course can be found at