KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – The buildout for the 43rd Ryder Cup has begun at Whistling Straits, with no reduction in the original number of corporate chalets or the size of the grandstands.
Unless there is a drastic setback in terms of the waning coronavirus pandemic, the tiny Town of Haven, Wisconsin, is going to see one heck of a celebration of golf in September, with the full daily complement of some 40,000 fans cheering their lungs out during the biennial matches.
David Kohler, president and CEO of Kohler Co. and general chair of the Ryder Cup, said in an interview Saturday with Wisconsin.Golf that he was confident the Ryder Cup “is going to happen in its full glory.”
“We’re highly confident, just given where the state of COVID is in the country, where we are in Wisconsin and how things are opening up safely,” said Kohler, who is attending the PGA Championship with members of the Kohler Co. golf team and his father, Herbert V. Kohler Jr. “You’ve seen the Brewers’ announcement; they’re going to go fully open. I think you’re going to see the control of the virus continue to improve in the country.
“But obviously, we’re working with the state and local and county officials. We want to make sure all along the way they’re supportive of our plans. We’ll have to understand how things evolve, and that will determine it. But at this point, we feel very confident.”
His comments followed on the heels of those made earlier in the week by Seth Waugh, CEO of the PGA of America.
“Our plan is to have it be the greatest Ryder Cup in history,” Waugh said. “I think the world, as we've seen, is ready to have a party. We're hopeful that September will be one of the great events in golf and a great sort of exclamation point to the end of this thing.”
Kohler said that although a few corporate partners decided not to re-sign Ryder Cup contracts after COVID-19 caused a one-year delay in the matches, they have been replaced by other companies eager to entertain clients at the most lucrative, most hyped – and now, most anticipated – event in golf.
“Actually, we’ve even expanded the number of chalets since last year,” he said. “It’s an amazing testament to the strength of the game. I think you’ve seen the game really rebound during COVID. Certainly, we had to re-sign all the corporate contracts. And there was a small fallout of some of the corporations who decided not to renew their contract. But there has been a spike of interest from different companies that hadn’t originally been part of it.”
Similarly, some fans informed the PGA of America that they will not use their tickets after winning them in a lottery last year. The PGA announced earlier this month that a limited number of tickets were available and would be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
That doesn’t mean the Ryder Cup won’t be sold out.
“You know, it’s always sold out,” Kohler said. “That’s not an issue. But, yeah, some people turned in their tickets, and that’s fine. For whatever reason, they couldn’t travel.”
Kohler said he still marvels that the biggest event in golf is coming to the Sheboygan area.
“When you think about it, a Ryder Cup in the state of Wisconsin … let’s put this in perspective,” he said. “It was in Paris (in 2018). It’s going to Rome (in 2023). And Kohler, Wisconsin is in the middle. Just think about that. This is a big-market event. It’s not a small-market event. So, for us to have that, it’s just a treasure. It’s just such an amazing thing in our lifetimes in the state of Wisconsin. It’s huge.
“It is kind of the final, epic cornerstone event, if you will, that really cements what Herb and Pete (Dye) have done for the game of golf and for the state, in putting it on the map. I think it’s an event I really felt we needed to see happen at Whistling Straits in Herb’s lifetime. To me, it’s kind of the capstone event for what he’s achieved in the game of golf.”
The Ryder Cup also ends an incredible run of major championships hosted by Kohler Co., which included the U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in 1998 and 2012, the U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits in 2007 and the PGA Championship at the Straits in 2004, 2010 and 2015.
After the success of the 2004 PGA, which set records for attendance and economic impact, the PGA of America and Kohler Co. inked a three-tournament deal for two more PGAs and the Ryder Cup.
That contract is coming to an end. And with Erin Hills getting two more United States Golf Association championships (2022 U.S. Mid-Am, 2025 U.S. Women’s Open) and SentryWorld getting the 2023 U.S. Senior Open, it’s imperative that Kohler Co. stays in the mix for future championships.
“It’s really important,” Kohler said. “We’ve always focused on majors. We don’t want to do a lot of events. But we want really the best events. The focus on the majors has been critical. It’s been great for notoriety for our courses and our hospitality business and also just really good in terms of economic impact for the state and the community.”
So, what’s next?
“We really can’t tell you about any specific negotiations, but certainly we are having discussions about future opportunities,” he said. “I think you’ll continue to see big events in the future on our courses. We’re excited about that. But they have to be right. I think you’ll see that.”