The first Ryder Cup fans to pass through the white-picket-fenced entrance to Hazeltine National Golf Club before dawn Friday will sprint toward the first tee, hoping to claim a spot with a view.
By the time 24 of the greatest golfers from the United States and Europe walk up a short staircase to the tee, an estimated 15,000 spectators, all but 2,000 of them standing, will be cheering and chanting for each side of the Atlantic Ocean.
“There’s no other place like it in all of golf,” tournament director Jeff Hintz said of the tournament’s start at 7:35 a.m. Friday in Chaska. “Everybody wants to be here for the first hole.”
With 250,000 spectators over the six-day event, the operation is the biggest in golf. There are 5 miles of white picket fencing, 10 more miles of wire fencing, a merchandise tent the size of a Best Buy, more than 80 hospitality tents, 70 PGA officials, 130 grounds-crew members on the course every day, 1,200 credentialed media, 72 hours of live broadcast coverage on NBC and the Golf Channel and an estimated economic impact to the region of $135 million.
Fans outside Minnesota purchased half the tickets, and 15 percent were sold overseas. The event will be broadcast to 500 million households throughout the world, Hintz said.
The fans come for a party, and they find it. Budweiser is self-serve and on tap. The rowdier fans wear costumes, wigs and face paint, creating an atmosphere similar to a National Football League tailgating party or a European rugby match.
Unlike annual golf tournaments, the Ryder Cup occurs only every two years, and it alternates locations, so it’s in the United States only once every four years.
Two dozen of the world’s top golfers from both continents will convene at Hazeltine. For the golfers, simply making the team is an honor. Even the casual fan will recognize some of the names. U.S. players include Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson. The Europeans have Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy.
The transcontinental trash talk among players and coaches was in full roar last week along with the speculation about strategy of possible pairings.
This year, U.S. golfers face extra pressure. The Europeans have won the cup the past three tournaments, including the last time it was in the United States at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. Golf fans know that tournament as the “Meltdown in Medinah” because of the U.S. team’s ignominious collapse after holding a strong lead.
Last week, the course was getting primed for its moment, with hospitality tents up everywhere. Portable toilets had been nattily shrouded in green scrim, with a mustard flag the only signifier of their locations. “There’s bleachers, bathrooms and beverages everywhere you look,” said Ryder Cup spokesman Kevin Smith.
Ten giant video boards have been installed along the course for fans to track the action. Carts carrying hundreds of bottles of Stella Artois were getting dropped at concession spots. Even the bunkers were upgraded. Top tour-quality white sand from Ohio replaced the usual brown-beige sand.
The Ryder Cup will be the fifth major event at Hazeltine, which opened in 1962 and was originally designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones. The most recent was the 2009 PGA Championship with 154 players.
The operation is so large that only the biggest courses can provide enough space, but Hazeltine was built for big events. The Ryder Cup commandeered space at Chaska High School, directly across Pioneer Trail from the course. The school is closed for the week.
Fans shouldn’t drive to Hazeltine unless they’ve already purchased a parking pass, which were recently reselling for $800 for the week.
Amid all the buzz of activity, Hintz said the goal is singular: “At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is grow the game of golf.”
The festivities will extend beyond the confines of the course. All play occurs during the day, so fans have their evenings free to head to downtown Minneapolis or 3 miles down the road into Chaska for “19th hole” events each afternoon and evening featuring fireworks, movies, food trucks, craft beer, wine and games centered at Firemen’s Park.
Some neighbors have rented out their homes to fans. Others will stay away to avoid traffic. Regina Foley, who lives in Chaska, isn’t planning to go and although she thinks it’s a cool event for the city, she worries about traffic for her daily routine. “You can’t leave the house any time you want,” she said. “If I didn’t have kids, I would love it.”
For those who do plan to attend, Hintz offered a game plan, “Arrive early, but arrive in style and in the spirit of the Ryder Cup. Come in the colors of your favorite team, and don’t be shy.”