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Len Ziehm On Golf

RYDER CUP: A look behind the scenes with three months to go

There’s still a few months to go before the 39th Ryder Cup matches take over Medinah Country Club and put Chicago in the forefront of world sports.

Big events like this one don’t just happen, though. Tons of work, by literally thousands of people, is required before that first ball is struck. Much – but by no means all – of it has already been done.

There’s been a ticket drawing, a promotional tour by captains Davis Love III of the United States and Jose Maria Olazabal of Europe, a sale of corporate hospitality options and a recruitment for volunteers.

Eventually 75 corporate chalets, accounting for about 2 million square feet of flooring, will be constructed on the Medinah premises. The grounds will also include 15 video boards and 650 televisions. That’ll all have to be in place before the food and beverages are brought in. Over 250 companies have committed to some form of the corporate hospitality offerings already.

Event director Michael Belot, no stranger to massive golf events, has been based at Medinah for more than a year to tend to the myriad of details required for such a project and he has five staffers under his supervision there. In his 10th year working for the PGA of America, Belot was tournament director for the 2006 PGA Championship, the last big event staged at Medinah. The Ryder Cup, though, is a different animal.

Medinah hosted three U.S. Opens before taking on the PGA Championships of both 1999 and 2006. Those were big deals, but Belot is confident this Ryder Cup “will stand out as Medinah’s crown jewel….It’ll be the biggest golf event ever in Illinois.’’

Don Larson, Medinah’s chairman for the event, is in charge of matters on the club’s end and Curtis Tyrrell, the course superintendent, has the delicate job of getting the famed No. 3 course in peak condition for the Sept. 25-30 extravaganza. And, long before he even began putting finishing touches on the course, Tyrrell was involved prominently in a $1.5 million greens renovation project to prepare the facility specifically for the big days ahead in September.

Michael Miller, executive director of the Illinois section of the PGA of America, is overseeing the efforts of his members who will perform a variety of duties before and during the competition. Miller said his staff is 50 percent busier this season just because of Ryder Cup demands. Over 300 IPGA members are volunteering their services in one way or another.

And then there’s the PGA of America staff that is really in charge of the whole thing. It operates under the direction of executive director Joe Steranka from headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.

In addition to the kickoff events held over the last year, more promotional features have or will be coming. There’ll be a Bears vs. Packers golf match at Medinah, a Youth Skills Challenge, a Junior Ryder Cup competition, an international pep rally called Bagpipes & Blues at the Field Museum and an outdoor art exhibit dubbed Tartan Art on the Avenue. All are directly connected to this Ryder Cup.

In addition to the work of about 50 local artists the Tartan Art on the Avenue exhibit will include a classic piece of artwork by the famed LeRoy Nieman. – a five-foot golf ball that will be on display throughout the Chicago area from Sept. 13 to Oct. 10.

The art exhibit as well as Bagpipes & Blues are part of an official fund-raising campaign benefiting Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana as well as the Illinois PGA Foundation.

As you can see, the 24 players who will compete in the emotion-charged competition are but a small part of the overall event. Still, in the end, they will be the show and patriotism will abound.

The 75 corporate hospitality tents are more than organizers originally envisioned. They thought 53 would be enough, but then this is Chicago – a city that has long supported big-time sports events. The original ticket sale assured galleries of 40,000 per day at the Ryder Cup.

Helping those 40,000 get around the premises will be 4,000 volunteers, who will perform a variety of duties when the matches are in progress. Lake Park High School, located across the street from Medinah, will shut down during the competition. The parking and concessions operations will be run from the school, and it will benefit big-time from the closing.

In exchange for use of its facilities, Lake Park High School will receive enough financial compensation to complete the installation of a turf field on its West campus – a benefit for the football program, marching band and other athletic events.

The global significance of the Ryder Cup might also surprise you, and it requires the involvement of many, many more people. Television feeds from the Ryder Cup will go to 200 countries, or more than half a billion households. Some are in such remote places as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Chad, Djibouti, Mauritania, Rwanda, Tongo and Yemen.

HERE’S HOW YOU CAN STILL GET TICKETS

Individual tickets to the Ryder Cup at Medinah were gobbled up fast, making the event one of the toughest tickets in all of sports.

There is still a way to get some, though. The catch is, they won’t come cheap. Tickets to the Ryder Cup are available to supporters of Bagpipes & Blues, one of the attractions of the Magnificent Moments fundraising campaign.

Bagpipes & Blues will be held Sept. 27 at the Field Museum. Those who buy tickets to that international pep rally can get Ryder Cup tickets as part of the deal. A variety of packages are available. To find out more check out the website www.magnificentmoments.org. and then click on Ryder Cup tickets.