Will the U.S. meltdown at Medinah carry over to Hazeltine?

CHASKA, Minnesota – The last Ryder Cup played on American soil came four years ago at Medinah. The next one is here this week at Hazeltine National. Though Medinah and Hazeltine aren’t rivals, there’s bound to be comparisons on and off the course as the 41st Ryder Cup unfolds.

In a meltdown of epic proportions the U.S. blew a 10-6 lead on the last day of singles matches at Medinah and lost to the Europeans – something that’s happened eight times in the last 10 meetings.

The Medinah Ryder Cup also represented a breakthrough in terms of magnitude. Never had the event been such a bonanza in terms of corporate involvement.

Whether the U.S. team – with the same captain, Davis Love III, returning – learned from the meltdown at Medinah won’t be determined until the matches begin on Friday. On the preparation side, however, the lessons from Medinah have been utilized already. Hazeltine has sold even more corporate chalets than Medinah did and has the biggest merchandise tent..

“On the big picture side, the best thing Medinah did for us was setting a high bar,’’ said Patrick Hunt, Hazeltine’s Ryder Cup chairman. “We’re competitive. We always want to beat previous records, and they set all the records at Medinah.’’

Hazeltine set its own goals and that turned the Medinah success into healthy motivation. Hunt and his Hazeltine crew had one challenge that Medinah didn’t have. Golf was added to the Summer Olympics program for the first time since 1904, and that meant a 72-hole tournament for top players in Brazil a month before the Ryder Cup came to Hazeltine. One of Europe’s stars, Justin Rose, won the gold medal and another, Henrik Stenson, took the silver in Brazil.

That might not bode well for the U.S. chances in this week’s matches but the Olympics but weren’t a problem in Hazeltine’s preparatory effort.

“I never thought the Olympics would be a distraction or a negative,’’ said Hunt. “It created a more compacted schedule, but at the end of the day the competition was a good thing.’’

Crowds will be about the same as Medinah, with 250,000 expected for the week.
“We learned from (previous host clubs) Valhalla, Medinah and Oakland Hills, but Hazeltine is an ideal venue to host a Ryder Cup because of the resources available,’’ said Jeff Hinz, in his first stint as a Ryder Cup tournament director at Hazeltine. “The club had experience hosting events and, with the land that they have and the vision of the club to host championships, that was critical.’’

The Hazeltine Ryder Cup will be the first to have on-site signage for its main corporate partners. It also conducted a national trophy tour and will have the largest merchandise tent in golf history. New twists in marketing were also evident, most notably the use of the 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning hockey team as ambassadors

Hazeltine is even better qualified historically to host this Ryder Cup than Medinah was four years ago. Hazeltine didn’t even open until 1962, roughly 40 years after Medinah, but it has already hosted two U.S. Opens (1970, 1991), two U.S. Women’s Opens (1966, 1977), two PGA Championships (2002, 2009), the U.S. Senior Open (1983) and the U.S. Amateur (2006).

The Ryder Cup is all that’s missing from the club’s resume, and that will soon be corrected. Only one club has hosted all those big events plus the Ryder Cup. That would be North Carolina’s Pinehurst No. 2, which opened in 1907 – 55 years before Hazeltine.

Hazeltine looks much different than Hazeltine. Medinah has the bigger clubhouse but Hazeltine has the newer one. It was built in 2010.

Medinah has three courses on its premises. It also offers a variety of other activities for its members – like tennis, swimming and skeet and trap shooting. Hazeltine is all about golf. Though it has only one, very respected, course there is plenty of open space around the club and that makes it a most desirable tournament venue.

Robert Trent Jones designed the Hazeltine course, but it won’t play as he envisioned it for the Ryder Cup. The hole rotation has been altered since the 2009 PGA was played there to accommodate the construction of chalets for corporate hospitality. The last four holes of each nine were switched to make for a better spectator experience.

At Medinah overall course conditioning was a major problem leading right up to the start of play, but all went well in the end. At Hazeltine there wasn’t as much tension. What there was came in the installation of a new bunker system. Work on that was completed in the dead of winter, two months before the course even opened for play.

Bunkers are a key part of the Hazeltine playing experience, and the course has 108 of them. They account for the same square footage as the putting surfaces – about three acres each. That’s an eye-catching statistic, because bunkers typically are about one-third the size of the putting surfaces.