10/08/2016

I attended last weekend’s Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

I remember when I heard the announcement that the world’s premier exhibition golf tournament was coming to my home state of Minnesota. I was in college playing golf at the time, and despite living on a shoe string budget, I vowed I would find a way to Hazeltine for 2016. I would experience this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.

Turns out, the PGA didn’t care much about the experience of the fan.

Now let me explain myself. I had a wonderful time—unforgettable—at what has become the most intense event in golf. In many ways, the complaints I am going to bring to attention here, play into some of the memories made. But I digress.

The point here is that the PGA sold far, far too many tickets for this event. In respect to logistical planning, the event was not laid out in a way that would allow the masses to enjoy golf. The masses enjoyed the crowd, the people watching. They enjoyed the environment. They enjoyed the focus of the golf world’s eye. But few enjoyed true golf.

Along the fairways, around the greens, and surrounding the tee boxes, were tens of thousands of people. Many times, audiences stood 20-30 people deep, no more than a handful with a realistic vantage point to see golf. It was a zoo.

Unlike a normal PGA Tour event where 156-players are on the course Tuesday thru Friday—with another 60-70 over the weekend—the Ryder Cup offers perhaps the most exclusive event in golf. Twenty-four men take the course, with eight of them sitting at any given time during Friday and Saturday sessions. This leaves 16 players, four groups of four, on the golf course competing.

Is this enough golf for paying patrons to enjoy?

For those of you at home, the stories of fans at the gates before dawn, sprinting to their spots on holes 13, 14, 16, and 17, were plenty. A few of those early morning sprinters were my friends. They would arrive to their spot on the course, then sit for hours (sometimes 6 to 7 hours) before they would ever see a shot hit. If a few matches happened to get to their stretch of holes, they’d see their snippet of action. Then it was done. Off to deal with hours worth of lines and their commute home.

The fans throughout the weekend were desperate for action. I said it often. This demand for golf played into the behavior of the publicized unruly spectators. Many of the perpetrators were already the sideline golf fans, fringe fans there for the beer and chance to be the funny guy. When they had the chance to see their glimpse of major-less Sergio Garcia for 120-seconds, the alcohol had accumulated and their patience had waned. They were ready to start yelling. Some made bad choices.

Not only was the golf limited, but the intensity was high. It was a bad combination.

Now why didn’t the PGA limit tickets or think to have more action on the golf course? Why not consider expanding the event to where all players are used in all segments? This way, the fans could see more golf.

Well, the reason is because the PGA had nothing to lose.

Unlike the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, where hundreds of thousands attend the event annually, the Ryder Cup doesn’t need to be cautious of fan experience. At the Waste Management, if fans have a crummy experience, they’ll simply stop coming. At the Ryder Cup, a city will host one Ryder Cup. When it comes around again in four years, they’ll hit a new venue.

The fans at the Ryder Cup had zero leverage.

After seeing the ticket prices for the event, along with the price tags on the (sold-out) inventory in the massive Ryder Cup store on-site, I’d like an announcement from the PGA regarding proceeds. My estimations for the week equate to tens of millions of dollars brought in for revenue. Aside from paying for the infrastructure of the event (which was incredible), I’d like to know how these dollars will be allocated.

Will money be donated to children’s golf programs? Will dollars be given to “grow the game” initiatives?

After all, the more people who love golf as a result, the better. The PGA clearly has that mindset with their approach to fan control at the 2016 Ryder Cup.

*****

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