It was the cool before the storm last Wednesday at Medinah Country Club.
The sun was shining, but mid-afternoon temperatures hovered in the low 50s, once again defying this notion of spring in Chicago. Still, there were a few hearty souls willing to subject themselves to the handicap-buster that is Medinah No. 3.
A single, carrying his own bag, winced as he missed a short birdie putt on the par-4 third. He knew he wouldn’t get many more golden opportunities on the remaining 15 holes.
All in all, it was a quiet day at the club. However, it won’t be that way for long.
“Everything changes on June 5,” said Michael Belot, tournament director for the Ryder Cup.
That’s the day Medinah will close down the back nine of course No. 1, as a massive construction project for the Ryder Cup begins in earnest. Essentially, Medinah will build a small village to accommodate the 45,000-plus spectators who will fill the place during the big event Sept. 25-30. Trucks will roll in; gravel will be poured; and hospitality tents and bleachers will rise from the ground.
“That’s when it really will kick in for the members that this thing is coming,” said Don Larson, the Ryder Cup chairman for Medinah.
It has been anything but calm for Larson, Belot, director of golf Mike Scully, superintendent Curtis Tyrell and countless others who are involved in staging this Ryder Cup. As D-Day gets closer, they’ve already been in 24/7 mode for a long time.
Prior to coming over for an afternoon meeting, Belot realized he had yet to eat lunch.
“I grabbed a granola bar,” he said. “That’s the way it’s been for us.”
Looking back, Larson admits it feels a bit surreal that the big day is just around corner. It has been 15 years since Medinah first began discussions with the PGA of America in 1997 about hosting a Ryder Cup at its club.
“When it really hit me was the year-out celebration (last September) when we had (captains) Davis Love III and Jose Olazabal here,” Larson said.
For so long, the event seemed like something that was taking place in the distant future. Well, as George Allen once said, the future is now. With it comes a sense of urgency, Belot said.
Decisions and meetings can’t be put off. Time no longer is a luxury.
“We can’t say we have time to make that decision,” Belot said. “We have to make the call on it now. It’s May, and you could say we still have plenty of time. But at the same time, it’s going to be here tomorrow.”
From a conditioning standpoint, it’s a shame the Ryder Cup isn’t tomorrow. No. 3 is in excellent shape. It has made a complete recovery from last July’s weather nightmare, when seven inches of rain, followed by a heat wave, beat up the course.
The grass, planted in 2009, now is a year older and a year stronger. It looks pristine. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a mark on the greens.
“We’re in a much better place,” Tyrell said.
The members also are experiencing a break of sorts on No. 3 because of the Ryder Cup. Love, who as home captain has a say in how the course will be set up, hasn’t decided how much rough he wants around the fairways and greens. He might keep it limited to benefit his big bombers.
As a result, Tyrell is mowing the rough low until Love makes his decision.
“It’s easier to grow the grass than to cut it down,” he said.
To which, Larson says, the members say thank you.
For now, the most tangible evidence that the Ryder Cup is coming to Medinah is in the pro shop. Scully said members and their guests are purchasing everything and anything that has a Ryder Cup logo on it.
The one thing the members can’t buy is more tickets.
“The members are feeling the pressure because all their friends want tickets,” Larson said.
Larson jokes that he is the most popular man in town these days. However, his popularity lasts only an instant until he informs the person he hasn’t seen in 15 years that, sorry, he doesn’t have any tickets.
Indeed, Ryder Cup tickets have been gone since last year, and the club has sold more than 70 hospitality tents, a record. All told, there will be 40,000-45,000 fans on the grounds each day.
All of which makes Belot feel justified in saying, “It’s going to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sporting event in Chicago history.”
Now it is up to Belot, Larson, and everyone at Medinah, to fulfill that promise with thorough preparation. Details, details, details. Belot admits barely a second goes by when he isn’t thinking about the Cup.
“We have the ultimate deadline,” Belot said. “It’s Sept. 25. We have no choice but to be ready. And we will be ready.”