Oakland Hills expects huge crowds for 35th Ryder Cup Matches
BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - The loud banging of hammers and constant buzz of bulldozers are interrupting the peaceful bliss of a round of golf at the Oakland Hills Country Club this summer.
But the 1,000-plus members at one of the world's most famous country clubs don't seem to mind. They've gotten used to the noise. It's a small sacrifice to make history - hosting the 35th Ryder Cup Matches Sept. 17-19.
"When we take a vote to hold these tournaments, it is always nearly unanimous, about 98 percent," said Bob Gigliotti, general chairman of the 35th Ryder Cup Matches. "It is part of our history to host these things. The Ryder Cup is such a plum. This is the crowning tournament that we have had."
That's quite a statement considering Oakland Hills' championship resume includes six U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships, with a third on the schedule in 2008. Hosting the Ryder Cup will complete a grand slam of golf for Oakland Hills, something only one other U.S. course has achieved - hosting a Ryder Cup, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and a U.S. Amateur.
Construction to get the South course ready for one of golf's biggest tournaments - and a barrage of 40,000 fans per day - started in June and won't stop until the first tee shot at the Michigan course.
It's a large undertaking, involving hundreds of contractors, to create 250,000 square feet of corporate hospitality tents. The 59 corporate chalets and 220 individual corporate tables are more than double what Oakland Hills used for the 1996 U.S. Open.
Ryder Cup tournament director Andy Odenbach said 237 companies, 65 of them Fortune 500-type companies, are committed to being there. With all those CEOs and VIPs in town, no expense is being spared to create lavish corporate suites, like those at a football or basketball game, on the golf course.
No expense is being spared on security plans, either. With today's climate of constant terrorism alerts and the international flavor of the Ryder Cup, this tournament will no doubt be the most heavily guarded golf tournament ever.
An eight-foot fence will be constructed around the entire property for security reasons. Bloomfield Township Police Chief Jeff Werner said his department, the lead agency, will be assisted by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
Werner said a minimum of 100 officers will work the event at all times. His department, which consists of 75 officers, has been planning security measures since December 2002.
"The larger the event, the more concerns we have," he said. "The larger events present more of an attractive opportunity (for terrorists) to disrupt them. We know the attention will be on Bloomfield Township. It ups the ante on our security plans."
To help contain potential security breaches, traffic around the course will be limited. A section of Maple Road between Telegraph and Lahser will close. Only residents who live adjacent to the course will be allowed to enter. Guests will need special permits.
A Special Events Ordinance, approved by the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees in February, limits noise, signs and construction of bleachers and tents for backyard parties that will coincide with the tournament.
Only two walk-up gates, located off of Gilbert Lake and Maple Roads, will open each day. The rest of the crowd is being encouraged to park at the Pontiac Silverdome, where they will be screened for security purposes, and ride a free 25-minute shuttle to and from the event.
In fact, one fairway at the North course is being turned into a bus terminal. The PGA of America plans to rip up the concrete it has laid this summer immediately after the Matches and completely re-sod the course to prepare it for next season's play.
Although it will be tedious to get onsite, spectators will find what looks like a high-tech county fair at Oakland Hills. It will be a multi-media, interactive experience.
A Ryder-Cup record 605 TVs will be spread throughout the property, most of them located on the North course, the home of the Ryder Cup Marketplace, a collection of eateries and pubs with seating for more than 1,000 people. If you don't have access to the corporate chalets on the South course, the Marketplace is the only way for a thirsty golf fan to find a cold beer.
Since the course will be so crowded, fans will be offered use of radio headsets for $10, offering the USA Network/NBC or the BBC versions of the TV commentary.
"We tried to bring the living room to (spectators) at the course," Odenbach said.
To get a sneak peak of all the construction and get a first crack at Ryder Cup merchandise, the general public will be allowed to shop at the official Ryder Cup store at Oakland Hills for the first time ever. The 35,000-square-foot merchandise tent will be open from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 11 and 12.
Shoppers are expected to park at Bingham Office Park at the corner of Telegraph and 13-mile and shuttle to the golf shop. More gear will filter into area stores, but that will be hit-or-miss.
Amidst all the construction, the Oakland Hills maintenance staff will be working overtime to ensure the course is in sparkling condition for the tournament.
While the par-70, 6,974-yard course should play difficult for the pros - Ben Hogan nicknamed it "The Monster" after his 1951 U.S. Open championship -- fans should find it spectator-friendly. Ken Devine, chief executive officer of the Michigan section of the PGA of America, calls Oakland Hills "a great gallery golf course" because of its hilly terrain.
"There are several high spots where you can see four or five holes," he said.
Ryder Cup facts
What: The 35th Ryder Cup Matches
When: Sept. 17-19, 2004
Where: Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield, Mich.
Fast fact: The U.S. team has lost six of the last nine matches.
September 12, 2004