Fans by the thousands are headed to Wisconsin next week for the delayed but much anticipated Ryder Cup showdown at Whistling Straits, but they’re not coming just to watch golf.
A lot of them are coming to play, as well, especially on Wisconsin’s best-known and most-heralded courses, and they’re not letting jacked-up green fees get in the way. Such is demand that at least one traditionally private course has opened the door to the public for one week only to welcome deep-pocketed players from across the country and beyond.
If the Ryder Cup is the tide that lifts all boats, perhaps no course is riding higher than The Bull at Pinehurst Farms in Sheboygan Falls, which raised its usual $135 green fee by $150 to a lofty $285 per round and almost completely sold out for Ryder Cup week. Members were given the week off so the course could accommodate more out-of-state players at the only Jack Nicklaus signature design in the state and callers didn’t even hesitate at the price, said The Bull’s Steve Pantel.
In fact, it was just the opposite. Head pro Scott Evans said, “If anything, we had people telling us that’s a heck of a deal. (Out-of-staters) don’t feel the same sticker shock as we would.”
The high demand was anticipated, given The Bull’s pedigree and its location just minutes from the site of the Ryder Cup. When Whistling Straits last hosted a PGA Championship, in 2015, “it was chaotic that week and we expected it (again),” Evans said.
“It’s just incredible,” Pantel said of the demand. “I just took a call from a guy 10 minutes ago from Britain. He’s got eight guys and wants to play.
“It’ll be fun. I can’t wait. It’ll be fun to meet all these guys we're getting from all over the country.”
Other big name courses are also benefitting from the spillover. Erin Hills, which is well-known as the host of a U.S. Open, is sold out for the week and essentially has been for a long time, given that the Ryder Cup was to have been played in 2020 but was pushed back a year because of the global pandemic.
“Technically more than a year ago,” said Rick Needles, who handles reservations at Erin Hills among other duties. “Everything was scheduled for last year and most of them just moved forward.”
The Bog in Saukville, an Arnold Palmer design, is also booking more golf than usual and at higher green fees. The demand was anticipated because of an increase in play during past major tournaments in the state, said The Bog’s Colin Guenther, so fees were bumped up to $140 per round for peak days.
“All next week we have a whole lot of public (play) coming in,” Guenther said. “Friday and Saturday is our higher rates of $140 for golf and I don’t see any open spots on the tee sheet.” The entire week should be “pretty close to full I would anticipate,” he said.
It’s the same at other courses. At Thornberry Creek at Oneida, which has hosted an LPGA event in the past, Aaron Staszak said despite a $20 boost in green fees the course looks to be pretty busy next week. And at Quit Qui Oc Golf Club in Elkhart Lake, LPGA pro Rachel Montaba said, “It does look like our tee sheet is filling up” at fees $10 higher than usual. Montaba said it was not surprising that so many fans want to do more than just watch golf.
“I think if you take the entire week off, or are here for a full week, you’re going to want to do other things, and most people who are coming for the Ryder Cup are avid golfers.”
Brown Deer Park Golf Course, the jewel of Milwaukee County’s public courses, created a Ryder Cup special package, which included golf, merchandise credit, food credit and advanced tee times for $149. Brown Deer’s Dean Ledzian said it was anticipated that Brown Deer would get a bump in play because it was the former site of the Greater Milwaukee Open and known in golf circles as the course where Tiger Woods launched his professional career.
“Yes, we are getting many people from out of town coming in,” Ledzian said. “That week we are pretty full.”
Some courses have been so busy that it is hard to measure whether play will be up next week. But Andrew Kosloske, first assistant professional at Washington County Golf Course, said next week will produce not necessarily more rounds but play by different people coming from long distances.
“Just a lot less residents and more out of town people. Yeah, much more 12 to 16 to 20 (player) events. A lot of them are playing two days in a row.” Washington County considered raising rates but in the end left them alone.
At Wild Rock Golf Club in Wisconsin Dells, next week is shaping up as a sell-out, said Derek Lehman, speculating that many of the first-time players might have tried unsuccessfully to get on the courses at Sand Valley and chose Wild Rock as an alternative. Sand Valley, also the recipient of numerous awards for its three courses, was booked solid for the week.
It’s had to know for sure because it has been a busy summer but “if it’s the Ryder Cup, we are definitely feeling that increase,” Lehman said.
At the two courses at The Golf Courses of Lawsonia in Green Lake, the week will be busy but not unusually so, said head pro Josh Carroll, thanks to a lot of favorable attention the resort, and especially its Links Course, has received in national publications lately.
“We are indeed busy for the Ryder Cup weekend but due to the positive attention we have received recently play has amped up for us every day of the week, so it won’t feel much different.
“Hopefully we get some play from Europeans,” Carroll said. “It would be great to get some feedback on the Links course from people who likely have played true links golf.”
One highly regarded private county club is taking advantage of the demand from well-heeled and avid golf fans. West Bend Country Club, normally a no-tee-time course open to member play only, elected to require tee times during Ryder Cup week and offered “a select number” to the public at green fees of $225.
Having to abide by tee times might confuse members for the week, said head pro James Kelly, but the course, by the noted designers Langford and Moreau, has an excellent reputation in golf circles and strong interest in trying it was expected. It was the same when the U.S. Open was held at Erin Hills, Kelly said, so the structure was in place to temporarily require tee times and allow public play.
“I’ve got people calling from Europe, calling from California,” Kelly said. "It’s definitely pricey but it’s worth it.”
And what does price have anything to do with it anyway? As an assistant pro at another course put it, “If you’re flying in to see the Ryder Cup you’re not going to (blink) at spending $300 to play The Bull.”