Sixteen months away, the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska is just around the corner.
Or so it seems if you’re the man in charge of the Professional Golfers Association of America’s major championships, including the biennial U.S.- Europe team competition that in spirit and sound is unlike any other golf event anywhere.
“It’s coming fast,” PGA of America Chief Championships Officer Kerry Haigh said earlier this week, “as it always does.”
Haigh has laid the brickwork for every Ryder Cup since 1989 at England’s The Belfry, where the U.S. and Europe played to a draw and the home European team retained possession of a 17-inch, 4-pound golden trophy donated by wealthy seed merchant Samuel Ryder and played for since 1927.
Haigh and on-site director Jeff Hintz spent two days ending Tuesday meeting with airport officials, NBC and Europe’s Sky Sports television employees and government officials discussing camera-tower, grandstand and concession locations and other logistics for an event expected to bring as many as 300,000 people to Chaska for three practice days and three competition days, Sept. 27 through Oct. 2, 2016.
Haigh oversaw the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships that drew sold-out galleries at Hazeltine as well, but this is different. This is the Ryder Cup, a match-play team format as well as an exercise in patriotism that will significantly reconfigure the course’s hole layout to accommodate the chanting, cheering, face-painted crowds.
Or as Haigh terms it, “It’s us against them.”
“People have seen the Ryder Cup on television and heard about it, but until you see it for yourself … .” Haigh said. “The atmosphere, the pressure, it’s almost unbelievable. Everything about it is exciting.”
Registration for a draw to buy tickets begins June 22 and continues through September’s end, the one-year mark to the 2016 Ryder Cup.
The PGA of America will build something of its own tent city — four months construction time, two months to dismantle — to bring the Ryder Cup to Minnesota for the first time.
Hazeltine previously has been home to the 1970 and 1991 U.S. Opens, the 1966 and 1977 U.S. Women’s Open, the 1983 U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Golf Association events, including the 2006 U.S. Amateur.
Haigh has visited once or twice annually since Y.E. Yang won the 2009 PGA at Hazeltine, where the greens have been rebuilt, the fairways and rough replanted with new varieties of grass and the old clubhouse torn down and remade using wood harvested from the old place.
It was a $15 million project that closed the course for nearly a year before it reopened in June 2011.
He’ll visit many more times in the coming months, ushering U.S. team captain Davis Love III and European team officials around the course and the area separately later this summer.
As home-team captain, Love will choose his side’s “team room” and locker room in the new clubhouse and have a say in advance when Haigh sets up the course.
That setup will include more grandstands than a major championship tournament such as a PGA or U.S. Open erects. Those extra grandstands allow 40,000 fans or more a better chance to see one of four groups playing morning and afternoon during the Ryder Cup’s Friday and Saturday competition days.
Hazeltine’s opening first hole — the epicenter of all kinds of hubbub for each match — will be lined by grandstands on its left side from around the tee to green. Television towers for cameras and announcing teams will be double a major championship to accommodate both European and American television. Video boards scattered across the course will keep fans abreast of matches headed toward them.
Parts of Hazeltine’s separate nines will be flopped: Holes 5, 6, 7 and 8 will become Nos. 14, 15, 16 and 17 and vice versa. That will be done to handle big crowds for each match’s finishing holes. The current 16th “signature” hole is lakeside, prohibiting galleries from gathering near the tee, around the green and along the hole’s entire right side.
Haigh said no decision has been made whether holes 9 and 18 — each of which return to the new clubhouse — will be flipped or stay as it.
Love’s opinion probably will help make that decision. He was the U.S. captain for the 2012 Ryder Cup — won by Europe after a dramatic Sunday comeback in singles play — near Chicago at Medinah Country Club, where the PGA of America’s largest event sprawled over the club’s three courses.
Haigh and his staff will push sprawling Hazeltine’s space to its limit until it bulges, too.
“We’ll be using every inch and probably run out of space as we did at Medinah,” Haigh said. “It’s a big, big event.”