The PGA of America announced on Jan. 24, 2005, that it would take the 43rd Ryder Cup to Whistling Straits, which means Wisconsin golf fans have been waiting for the international match-play competition for 15½ years.
Now, they’ll have to wait one more.
The PGA made official Wednesday morning what had been expected in golf circles for weeks: the 2020 Ryder Cup, scheduled for Sept. 25-27 at the Kohler Co.-owned links course just north of Sheboygan, will be postponed until 2021 largely because fans would have been unable to attend the event.
The biennial matches between 12-man teams from the United States and Europe will be held at the Straits from Sept. 21-26, 2021, with the competition the final three days. The PGA Tour’s Presidents Cup, which had been scheduled for Sept. 30-Oct. 3, 2021 at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., will now be played Sept. 19-25, 2022. The Ryder Cup will be held in odd years thereafter, with the Presidents Cup held in even years.
In a corresponding decision, the Junior Ryder Cup at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in Wauwatosa, featuring the top junior golfers in the U.S. and Europe, was rescheduled for Sept. 20-21, 2021. It was originally scheduled for Sept. 21-22, 2020.
The PGA of America tried to wait out COVID-19, hoping for signs that the global pandemic would abate by September. The organization hired an infectious disease expert in an advisory role and even consulted with Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy about how the Packers plan to handle games at Lambeau Field.
But with the coronavirus surging in numerous states, positive tests popping up on the PGA Tour and in professional sports leagues despite strict safety protocols, quarantines in place for international travel and top players calling for postponement, the PGA ran out of time and options.
The organization considered several less-than-ideal scenarios, including staging the event without spectators – something even prospective team members opposed – before deciding that pushing the event back one year made the most sense.
“Look, this has been a very long, very arduous process, but I think we also need to put it in perspective, right?" said Seth Waugh, CEO of the PGA of America. "This pandemic has caused so much pain across the world, and this is a paper cut relative to what so many others are going through.
"We're going to live to fight another day, and hopefully we're going to have the kind of Ryder Cup that we have dreamed about, that the fans, the players, the captains, the Kohlers, the state of Wisconsin and the world and the game deserve."
Waugh said that after consulting for months with medical experts and public authorities in Wisconsin, they "could not give us certainty that conducting an event responsibly with thousands of spectators in September would be possible. Given that uncertainty, we knew rescheduling was the right call."
Steve Stricker of Madison, named U.S. Ryder Cup team captain in February 2019, will remain in that capacity, as will his counterpart, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington.
"While it is disappointing that the Ryder Cup won't be played this year, the decision to reschedule is the right thing to do under the circumstances," Stricker said in a news release. "At the end of the day, we want to stage a Ryder Cup that will rival all other Ryder Cups in my home state of Wisconsin, and now we have the opportunity to showcase the event as it was meant to be seen."
A message from our Captains 🗣️ pic.twitter.com/gpNjvN983K— Ryder Cup (@rydercup) July 8, 2020
Said Harrington: “Rescheduling the Ryder Cup was never going to be an easy decision given the many factors to take into consideration. But I believe it is the right assessment given the unprecedented circumstances we are facing at this time.
“When you think of the Ryder Cup you think of the distinctive atmosphere generated by the spectators, such as around the first tee at Le Golf National two years ago. If that cannot be responsibly recreated at Whistling Straits in September, then it is correct that we all wait until it can be.
“I know, right now, that September 2021 feels like a long time away. But it will come around quickly and I guarantee that the European players and I will be ready when it does.”
Tickets purchased for the 2020 Ryder Cup via rydercup.com will be automatically valid for the corresponding day or days in 2021. The PGA of America will contact those who secured tickets via rydercup.com to facilitate refunds for those unable to attend in 2021. Further details regarding this process are available on the Ryder Cup website.
Fans who purchased tickets and hospitality packages on the secondary market must contact that specific site directly. The PGA of America will be unable to process refunds for those purchases.
"The worldwide demand for this is enormous," Waugh said. "The excess demand for Whistling Straits was extraordinary. ... And so we are presuming that most people will want to roll (their tickets into 2021). ... But they will be offered a chance to roll and a chance to refund."
Deferral of the biennial competition had been a foregone conclusion for some time, but the ramifications of postponing the event made it far from an easy decision and necessitated negotiations among the PGA of America, the European Tour, the PGA Tour and the Kohler Co.
The complexities included multimillion-dollar hits to annual budgets, lucrative corporate sponsorships, contracts with vendors and hotels, television rights fees, and how and where to fit the Ryder Cup into a 2021 schedule that includes a postponed Summer Olympic Games.
Undoubtedly, the PGA of America had to negotiate with – and likely pay – the PGA Tour for its Presidents Cup dates. The Presidents Cup, a biennial international competition modeled after the Ryder Cup and featuring teams from the U.S. and non-European countries, sends tens of millions of dollars to the Tour’s bottom line. Discussions also would have included the financially stressed European Tour, which now must wait until 2022 to host the Ryder Cup in Rome.
Waugh called it "the most complicated deal of my career."
"As Seth described it, we now face an array of logistical challenges with our colleagues at the PGA of America and the PGA Tour, with Whistling Straits, with future venues on both sides of the Atlantic, with our commercial and broadcast partners and with our various event suppliers," said Guy Kinnings, the PGA European Tour's deputy CEO and Ryder Cup director. "We are so grateful for the understanding and cooperation of everyone involved in the process."
For Wisconsin golf fans, news of the postponement was disappointing but not unexpected. Construction on infrastructure for the Ryder Cup, including grandstands, corporate tents and a television compound, was to start in June but was delayed while the PGA weighed its options. Golfers who played Whistling Straits in recent weeks could see that the buildout had not started.
The Ryder Cup has become one of the toughest tickets in sports, and the 2020 event sold out in a random lottery in about an hour earlier this year. Approximately 200,000 fans were expected to fill the grandstands and line the gallery ropes at the Straits, including practice rounds and the three days of match-play competition. The event was expected to produce an economic impact of $135 million.
The hope is that a vaccine for the virus is developed before the 2021 event and that it can go on with a full contingent of spectators and corporate support.
“Wisconsin has been fired up about this for what, 15 years?” said Joe Stadler, executive director of the Wisconsin PGA Section, whose members volunteer to oversee the practice facility and shuttle players out to the course and back to the clubhouse. “While it’s disappointing, I’m actually excited about it because with everything else going on, we’ve done zero prep work on it since February, almost thinking it’s probably not going to happen. Hopefully, everything is back to as normal as possible next year and it will be an exciting week.”
The PGA Tour schedule resumed in June after a three-month break, but without spectators at events. In April, Waugh said in a radio interview that his organization was looking into the possibility of staging the Ryder Cup without spectators at Whistling Straits.
If Waugh was sending up a trial balloon, it was quickly popped. Fans have become an integral part of the Ryder Cup with their cheering, jeering and singing – even if it occasionally crosses the line – and partisan galleries give the home team a distinct advantage on both sides of the Atlantic.
Rory McIlroy, Europe’s best player, was adamant that the Ryder Cup needed fans. Brooks Koepka said he would consider boycotting the event if it were held without spectators. Webb Simpson said, “Unlike any other event, fans make the Ryder Cup.” Even Stricker admitted a Ryder Cup without fans would be “a yawner of an event.”
“I mean, this event is made by the fans,” Stricker said on “The Golf Affect Radio Show” in Madison last month. “The passion, I don’t know if it would be there. The fans create all that unbelievable atmosphere that we play in front of. And without the fans, I don’t know … it would still be a nice event, but I think the fans make it everything. And to cheat out the Wisconsin fans, I think, would be a crime.”
The financial implications of staging a Ryder Cup without fans would have been considerable.
Paul McGinley, a member of the European Tour’s board and a former Ryder Cup captain, told RTE Sport: “There’s a huge commercial aspect as well, you’ve got to remember. With no corporate hospitality, a potential impact on what the sponsors would pay, with tickets up to $500 each, you can imagine the economic impact of playing it without spectators for the PGA of America.”
At least one major championship, the PGA Championship, will be staged without galleries this year – a huge financial hit to the organization made up of nearly 29,000 club and teaching professionals. The PGA originally was scheduled for May 14-17, but was pushed back to Aug. 6-9 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
The United States Golf Association moved the U.S. Open from June 18-21 to Sept. 17-20 and the Augusta National Golf Club moved the Masters Tournament from April 9-12 to Nov. 12-15. Still to be determined is whether spectators will be allowed at those major championships.
The British Open was canceled for 2020 and will not be played again until 2021.
After decades of dominance by the U.S., Europe has won four of the last five Ryder Cups, seven of the last nine and nine of the last 12. The Americans’ record since 1995, even with superstars such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson leading the way, is 5-11-1. In 2018, Europe cruised to a 17½ to 10½ victory in Paris.
Players qualify for the respective teams via a points system. Because three months’ worth of tournaments on the PGA Tour were canceled or postponed by the coronavirus, the PGA recently announced that six players would qualify automatically and that Stricker would get six at-large picks to complete the U.S. team. That was a change from the previous system in which eight would qualify on points and Stricker would get four captain’s picks.
The selection processes for the 2021 teams will be revisited soon.