The Ryder Cup: Euros prep for the kill, but I’m not going to let that spoil my fun

The Ryder Cup: Euros prep for the kill, but I’m not going to let that spoil my fun

Given the choice between watching golf and playing it, I’ll always opt for the latter. Well, almost always. Tuesday proved to be the exception to the rule as I met up with friends (three Americans and a Scot) at Gleneagles to take in the opening Ryder Cup practice session.

The short answer? It was a blast!

But I would be remiss if I left it at that. So here’s the long answer:

Maximum volume—By that I mean the folks putting on this edition of the biennial USA-Europe competition are prepared to handle a thundering herd. From the security checks at the parking shuttles, to the spectator village, to the food vendors, to the grandstands, and to the all-important port-a-potties, the facilities at Gleneagles have been designed for optimal flow. That’s critical given that thousands of people will be jostling to catch a glimpse of just 24 players on a practice day and only 16 per session when the competition begins on Friday. Well done you (whoever you are)!

Watchful Eye -- USA Captain Tom Watson (in blazer on the left) observes the play of (left to right) of Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan. 

Watchful Eye -- USA Captain Tom Watson (in blazer on the left) observes the play of (left to right) of Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan. 

Spare no expense—Everything about this venue screams deep pockets. I’ve been to a few golf tournaments in my time, including a particularly memorable trip to Augusta National for the 1997 Masters. But I’ve never seen infrastructure like this before. Grandstands behind most greens. Giant video walls everywhere so you can follow the action even if you can’t see the players. And hospitality areas that aren’t simply tents but sprawling multi-level mansions. Regarding the latter, the Scot in our group drives a BMW 5-Series sedan. So he flashed his key fob and all five of us gained entry into the German carmaker’s luxury suite. Before long, we were ensconced in a cocoon of quiet and calm, sipping lattes and feeling sorry for all of the little people. Or not.

“Rory! Rory! Rory!”—The Northern Irishman is definitely the “it” golfer these days, especially if you’re female and under the age of 18. Whenever McIlroy made his way from green to next tee, his adoring fans—on cue—chanted his name. To his credit, Rory graciously posed for photos and autographed virtually every surface that was thrust in his face. Not sure if another recent former No. 1 player would have been so accommodating.

Team Work -- Sergio Garcia (left) and Rory McIlroy converse on the 12th green. Right before, the Spaniard was showing the Irishman his claw putting grip.

Team Work -- Sergio Garcia (left) and Rory McIlroy converse on the 12th green. Right before, the Spaniard was showing the Irishman his claw putting grip.

A fait acommpli?—The general consensus is that the Euros are going to crush the Americans. The only question is to what degree. Frankly, we didn’t see anything from Tuesday’s action to suggest otherwise. Given the high expectations, you’d think the EU boys would be tight and the Yankees loose. My highly subjective take? It was just the opposite. But perhaps that will change when the gun goes off on Friday.

Sponsorship Opportunity? -- Jimmy Walker unleashes a drive. Later I noticed that Johnny Walker is a major Ryder Cup sponsor. Perhaps the two should talk. 

Sponsorship Opportunity? -- Jimmy Walker unleashes a drive. Later I noticed that Johnny Walker is a major Ryder Cup sponsor. Perhaps the two should talk. 

Maximum mark-up—This will hardly be a surprise, but if you want to wear the duds the players are wearing, it’s going to cost you. That being said, the massive merchandise pavilion also offers a wide range of alternatives, many of which are more reasonably priced. Make no mistake though: the Ryder Cup logo is gold. Pure gold.

This ain’t no links golf—You’d think the Europeans would press their advantage by choosing authentic links venues when it’s their turn to host this competition. But the Ryder Cup is driven more by money than strategy, so resorts like Gleneagles invariably secure the bid. As such, this immaculately groomed parkland course is very similar to what the Americans see week in and week out on the PGA Tour. So they’ll be in their comfort zone, at least on that front.

Steeped in history—One section of the spectator village is set aside for an exhibit of Ryder Cup memorabilia. Definitely one of the highlights of my day. Among the artifacts are score sheets and banquet menus from the first meeting (back then between the U.S. and Great Britain) at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts in 1927. All-time greats Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen led the triumphant American team, 9 ½-2 ½. The Brits returned the favor at Moortown Golf Club in Leeds, 7-5. Perhaps multi-day crossings of the Atlantic on an ocean liner had something to do with both outcomes.

Aflutter for Floyd -- Vice-Captain Raymond Floyd greets grateful galleryites.  Even at 72, the man still exudes charisma.

Aflutter for Floyd -- Vice-Captain Raymond Floyd greets grateful galleryites.  Even at 72, the man still exudes charisma.

Parking shuttle shenanigans—I thoroughly enjoyed my Ryder Cup experience. But I must confess that it ended in a wee bit of a panic. To handle the hordes, most of the spectators arrive at Gleneagles via shuttle bus from one of several satellite parking locations. I chose the east lot, a field in the middle of seemingly nowhere. Fortunately, the organizers weren’t stingy with their signposting so I had no trouble finding my way. And once aboard the bus, all that remained was a 20-minute ride to the resort. Brilliant! The return, however, took nearly an hour…leading me to believe that I’d boarded the wrong bus. If so, that would have meant riding it all the way back to the resort (another hour?) and then getting on the bus that would deposit me, at long last, at my car. But it turned out my fears were unfounded. I had chosen wisely. It was the routing, not me, that was out of whack.

Firing Line -- Three of the Euros' top stars (left to right: Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer) take aim at the 12th green.

Firing Line -- Three of the Euros' top stars (left to right: Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer) take aim at the 12th green.

Would I do it again if the opportunity presented itself? Absolutely! But truth be told, I’m now chomping at the bit to get back on the course myself. That’s where the game’s real gold lies.

So stay tuned. Much more to come!

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