HAVEN, WIS. – Y.E. Yang was walking by the Whistling Straits clubhouse, followed by Rich Beem, when someone from a VIP table called out “Hazeltine!”
Beem smiled and waved. The fan might have been paying homage to Hazeltine National’s past, or looking toward the 2016 Ryder Cup, or merely reading, because Beem’s caddie was carrying a red-and-blue Ryder Cup bag featuring Hazeltine National’s name and logo.
Yang won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. Beem won the 2002 PGA at Hazeltine. Because the PGA often demonstrates a sense of humor or drama, they played together in the first two rounds of the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits this week, just two of the many cues here that Hazeltine will soon again become the center of the golf world.
“I’m very fired up about being a part of it,” Beem said. “I’m over the moon.”
Beem is an honorary member at Hazeltine, and now so is Davis Love III, who will captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team. The 1997 PGA Championship winner spent three days at the course in July and has told Patrick Hunt, the general chairman of the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, that the Hazeltine clubhouse will provide the best team space he has ever seen for a Ryder Cup.
Love said Friday that the seventh, eighth and ninth holes will play as the 16th, 17th and 18th during the Cup. “That makes sense,” he said. “You don’t want everybody stuck down by the lake when a match is being decided.”
Tuesday, Love said: “The membership has been great. They made me an honorary member a few weeks ago, so not only can I go play, I can charge food. I’m excited about that.”
“We gave him the membership, and two hours later he was walking around the clubhouse by himself like he’s been there forever,” Hunt said.
Europe captain Darren Clarke played in the past two majors at Hazeltine. “It’s a wonderful golf course, a very fair golf course,” Clarke said. “I’m sure Davis is going to set it up where there is going to be some risk and reward.”
Hunt and Jeff Hintz, the Ryder Cup championship director, led a group of Hazeltine and Ryder Cup officials on a tour of Whistling Straits this week. The group examined everything from corporate tent placement to technological advancements, noting that the PGA allows drones and phones on the course and provides free WiFi.
Hintz said Hazeltine has broken the record for people who have registered to purchase tickets, at more than 200,000 and counting. “The number is unbelievable,” he said. “It will be the hottest ticket in town.”
The official run-up to the Ryder Cup will begin on Sept. 28 and 29, when Hazeltine and the Golf Channel will play host to “Countdown to the Ryder Cup: An Evening with the Captains,” featuring Love and Clarke.
Golf Channel personality David Feherty will emcee the program on Sept. 28, which will be broadcast the next day on the network. Nate Ruess of the band fun. also will perform.
“It’s really impressive to see how hungry the community is to consume the Ryder Cup, whether as a ticketholder, or a volunteer, or as part of the corporate community,” Hintz said.
Hintz and Hunt brought about 18 committee leaders from Hazeltine to Whistling Straits to meet with their counterparts who are running this week’s PGA. Running a major championship or a Ryder Cup is an overwhelming undertaking, requiring construction, technology, concessions, course setup and crowd control for an event that will officially last only three or four days.
The Ryder Cup is 13 months away, but Hintz and Hunt hardly seemed worried.
“That’s one reason we had a large crew here,” Hintz said. “We have a lot of committees who do similar work at PGAs and the Ryder Cup.”
Hunt and Beem have become close friends. Before the ’09 PGA, Beem made himself available to help Hazeltine management, and he wants to be involved in the Ryder Cup.
“We were playing a couple of months ago, and he saw my Hazeltine bag, and said he wanted one,” Hunt said. “So he got a Hazeltine bag. He wanted to represent.”
There was a lot of that going around at Whistling Straits, as Hazeltine prepares to play host to golf’s most dramatic competition.