|RYDER CUP 2016 - A Chat With The President|
|Payne Stewart Memorial Bridge at Hazeltine National|
RJ SmileyFor most golf fans the anticipation of the 2016 Ryder Cup has already started. Over coffee or cocktails we all seem to have discovered an acquaintance, even though remote, who secured tickets to this nearly impossible to attend venue. We might even know one of the army of 4,000 volunteers who will take a week's vacation to become the lifeblood of the Ryder Cup. Somehow knowing this person, who will actually be there, makes each of us feel like we are part of the biggest golf event in the world. Ryder Cup merchandise has been jumping off the shelves for over a year.
In a recent interview with Jim Andersen, President of Hazeltine National Golf, Tee Times, as they say, got inside the ropes for an up close and personal look at why and how Hazeltine secured the 2016 Ryder Cup, the knowledge and experience gained from attending the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, and the membership's attitude toward hosting the event.
Andersen calmly stated, "Hazeltine signed the 2016 Ryder Cup contract with the PGA of America in August of 2002. About the same time as Rich Beem was beating Tiger Woods for the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. The contract for the 2009 PGA Championship was also signed about that time. But the work began long before that."
Golf historians will recall that the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine was one of the most successful golf events ever. That year Payne Stewart, wearing Viking colored knickers, beat Scott Simpson in an 18-hole playoff on Monday. The crowds were huge, while the television coverage was record setting. To add even more drama to the five-day event, during the first round, a spectator who had taken shelter under a tree during a thunderstorm, was killed by lightning. This writer remembers the chaos as several ambulances raced across the manicured turf to tend to the six who survived the lightning strike. After the record setting 1991 Open, the PGA of America and Hazeltine began serious discussions about hosting the 2002 PGA Championship. The State of Minnesota had proven to the golf gods that the states rabid golf fans would support a big time golf event. But more importantly, Hazeltine National Golf Club had proven that they had the desire, membership loyalty and the organizational skills to host big time golf events.
To put this timeline into perspective, think what you were doing in August of 2002; less than one year after the 9-11 tragedy. Did you have a cell phone in 2002? Or a flat screen TV. Look at pictures of your kids in 2002. Since that historic day in August of 2002 members of Hazeltine National Golf Club have been laser beam focused on those 'three special days' in the fall of 2016. Jim Andersen: "THE RYDER CUP IS A ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE."
"During every step of the fourteen year process, we have followed the mission statement of Hazeltine founders. 'To build and maintain a golf course suitable for the conduct of national championships.' In September Hazeltine will host an International Championship," said Anderson.
"We [meaning Andersen, General Chairman, Patrick Hunt and various chairmen of the 55 committees] attended the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medina and the 2014 Ryder Cup held at Gleneagles. We have seen a Ryder Cup on U.S. soil and a Ryder Cup on foreign soil. We have learned much from the experience on both sides of the Atlantic. These trips have given our committee chairmen the opportunity to discuss and observe the actions of similar committees at these events. Those committee chairmen were very helpful."
When asked about the routing changes made for the 2016 Ryder Cup, Andersen opined, "I feel that the changes are wonderful for two reasons. First, if you will recall, many Ryder Cup matches never reach the final few holes. In each of those matches, Hazeltine's signature hole, the 16th, (the peninsula green that is surrounded on three sides by Lake Hazeltine), would never be seen by the world. It is important to our golf club that golf fans throughout the world experience the Payne Stewart Memorial Bridge. (The Stewart Bridge is Hazeltine's version of the Swilken Bridge at The Old Course in Scotland.) In addition there is not much room for bleaches in that particular area of the golf course. Utilizing numbers 7, 8, and 9 as finishing holes allows us to have room for huge bleachers and corporate tents."
When Andersen was asked how the Hazeltine members felt about the sacrifice they have had to make over the past few years, i.e.: replacing the clubhouse, the loss of an entire golf season while their golf course was closed during the re-grassing of the golf course and being forced to use mats as turf for the final few weeks prior to the Ryder Cup. This was his answer: "An important part of the mission was to develop a membership that supported the concept - a membership that felt a responsibility to the game of golf. Many of our membership have embraced the Ryder Cup, as committee chairmen and as volunteers. Their support has been great!" He went on to add that the support of all the other private clubs in the Twin Cities area has been overwhelming. "Not only have they allowed our members playing privileges at their golf courses when our course was closed, many of their members play key rolls as volunteers for the Ryder Cup."
We discussed the logistical problems of getting 50,000 golf fans per day to and from Hazeltine. "We have created our own mass transit system. It will be used for less than a week. The well-coordinated system will utilize buses to transport spectators from the main parking lot at Canterbury Park to Hazeltine. And back! The group from Hazeltine that attended the two previous Ryder Cups were bused to and from their hotel and golf course. At Gleneagles the trip took over 50 minutes, but the buses were on time and very efficient. With the experience gained while attending the previous Ryder Cup events, our transportation committee feels that ferrying of spectators will not be a problem. One of the primary reasons that Hazeltine National was chosen to host the Ryder Cup was the club's ability to handle a very large crowd."
Andersen went on to talk about the impact of the Ryder Cup. "As a golf club, we are happy and proud to share our golf course with the world. Those of us who have been at Hazeltine for years understand that golf championships are our niche. The Ryder Cup is the summit, the ultimate in championship golf. The world-wide media coverage, especially TV, will not only showcase Hazeltine it will allow viewers to learn about the Twin Cities and the beauty and diversity of the State of Minnesota."
This fall as the maple leaves turn to red and gold and golf fans from across the globe caravan to Minnesota and ice down a bottle of good champagne. When that final putt drops on the 2016 Ryder Cup drink a toast to the Hazeltine members who have spent 14 years in 'labor' for a three day 'birth' this fall.
Raise your champagne flute - "Well done lads!"
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