If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes four years’ planning, a million square feet of flooring and eight miles of chain-link fence to build a village.
At least it does if you’re talking about the Ryder Cup — pro golf’s us-against-them biennial team competition — and the tent city constructed around it that comes to Chaska’s Hazeltine National Golf Club in September for the first time.
Fourteen years after the PGA of America awarded Hazeltine both the 2009 PGA Championship and the 2016 Ryder Cup, the latter event’s first planking is being laid about a course that has held two PGA championships, two U.S. Opens, two U.S. Women’s Opens, a U.S. Senior Open and the U.S. Amateur but hosts a golf event like no other three months hence.
A 40-person crew started construction work last week. Soon many other workers and then volunteers by the thousands — as well as 24 chosen golfers from the United States and Europe ultimately — will follow.
So, too, will luxurious corporate tents, grandstands, concession stands, merchandise tents, scoreboards, bridges, fencing, restrooms and 10 large high-definition video boards that will allow 40,000 or more fans to follow match-play action across the course featuring just four playing groups during the three-day competition’s first two days.
First up: the International Pavilion, a 52,000-square-foot structure with a 48,000-square-foot fronting patio. It will look like a massive tent as it rises now, but it will get finished by a Miami firm starting in July with work that will transform it into a gathering spot that’s equal parts convention center, sports bar and nightclub.
It will look out toward the first tee and over Hazeltine’s driving range that will double as a 20,000-seat amphitheater for Thursday’s opening ceremonies.
What once seemed so, so far away back in 2002 now is fast approaching by the day. The first ball struck in Friday morning’s alternate-shot format on September’s last day is now only 109 days away.
“I haven’t looked at my calendar today,” Ryder Cup championship director Jeff Hintz said last week about the daily countdown. “I just cross off the months.”
Championship director for the 2012 and 2014 Senior PGAs, Hintz has been working diligently on site at Hazeltine since December 2014. Design plans to build a small city that will welcome 300,000 people or more for six days — three practice days, three competition days for which a lottery was needed to handle demand for public ticket sales — began two years before that.
In preparation, Hazeltine National itself — a private club formed on far-flung farmland in 1962, intent on holding golf’s most important championships — has primped for those six fleeting days since unknown Y.E. Yang won the PGA Championship there in 2009.
The old clubhouse was torn down two months later and a new one remade using wood harvested from the old place. The course itself was closed for nearly a year while greens were rebuilt and fairways and rough replanted with new varieties of grass. The clubhouse and course reopened in 2011, a 20-month, $15 million project completed.
The course’s 108 bunkers have been redone, too: Workers installed an advanced drainage system in 2014 that almost completely withstood Wednesday’s overnight storms, which dumped three inches of rain. Last fall, 26,000 tons of sand — specifically formulated with crushed white quartz rock for just the proper consistency — was transported across the Great Lakes from Ohio and trucked south from Duluth.
Alfalfa was planted in adjacent fields two springs ago because its extensive root system provided firm parking for thousands and thousands of vehicles, even if it should rain.
All of it now awaits streams of workers, 3,900 expected volunteers, big crowds and, of course, many of the world’s best golfers. Some of those golfers will arrive quietly in the coming weeks — perhaps as early as next week, after the U.S. Open ends in Pittsburgh — to play practice rounds before autumn and the Ryder Cup finally arrive, even if both teams’ rosters won’t be finalized until September.
U.S. team captain Davis Love III participated in both PGA Championships played at Hazeltine, and he played the course last summer to reacquaint himself. European captain Darren Clarke did the same when he visited last September for one-year-to-go kickoff events, and he is expected to visit with some of his team’s best players this summer as well.
Love returns for a corporate function next week, and perhaps then or soon after he is expected to bring prospective members of a U.S. team featuring a new generation with him.
Old-timers such as Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and even Dustin Johnson played one or both of Hazeltine’s two PGA Championships, and both Johnson and young Rickie Fowler played there in the 2006 U.S. Amateur. But everyone from two-time major winner Jordan Spieth to Bubba Watson, Brandt Snedeker and Patrick Reed haven’t played Hazeltine in such competition.
U.S. vice captain Tom Lehman — Minnesota’s own, of course — can provide local knowledge for a U.S. team that has lost the last three Ryder Cups and eight of the past 10.
“We just need to be prepared,” Love said in April. “We’re going to go up there as many times as they want to go. … Everybody seems anxious to get up there. They’re asking me a lot of questions about the golf course. They’re treating it like a major championship when they’ve never really seen the course before. They want to get in there and get some work done so when they get there on Monday [during Ryder Cup week], they don’t have quite so much work to do.”
‘All hands on deck’
Love has waited for the course to grow into tournament condition before he brings players in for a look around. Hazeltine greenskeeping superintendent Chris Tritabaugh said winter and spring provided “perfect” weather for the course, but he now worries most about an extended summer heat wave, such as 40 or 50 days in a row with temperatures in the 90s.
That didn’t stop him and Hintz from tweeting each other about storm damage incurred overnight Wednesday.
“We can’t control the weather,” Hintz said, mentioning concerns about morning frost delays being held a week later than usual because of August’s Olympic Games in Brazil. “But we can prepare for it.”
As the home team’s captain, Love will help shape course setup, a privilege he has said he will use entering Ryder Cup week. But he said he does not intend to tinker with PGA of America Chief Championships Officer Kerry Haigh’s plans for the three competition days.
Love already has made one thing clear: Unlike a U.S. Open or PGA Championship, there will be little or no rough grown off the fairways because he wants a week filled with birdies, eagles and excitement.
“It’ll be good,” Tritabaugh said about being denied a superintendent’s opportunity to grow gnarly, nasty rough, “because in the end we don’t have to mow it down.”
Hintz’s 12-person operations staff will quadruple next week and later this summer will add 75 staff from PGA of America headquarters. Tritabaugh’s normal 50-member staff will add nearly 100 superintendents and assistants from Minnesota, Canada, Europe and Asia — including the course manager from 2014 Ryder Cup site Gleneagles in Scotland — when September comes.
“It really is all hands on deck,” Hintz said.
Club members will hit off artificial-turf mats this summer to ensure fairways remain pristine, and Hazeltine’s membership volunteered to close the course to play after Labor Day weekend, enabling Tritabaugh’s crew nearly three weeks to apply final touches unencumbered.
“It’s every superintendent’s dream to manage a course that nobody plays,” Tritabaugh said.