Golf,  Sports

Ryder Cup 2014: A Non-Golfer’s Perspective

It’s a fair distance from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to the Scottish Highlands, but the allure of watching some of the best players fighting it out at the Home of Golf proved incentive enough to swap the tropical breeze of Bukit Tunku in KL for the chilly winds of Gleneagles in Scotland during Ryder Cup week in late September 2014.

The Ryder Cup is the third biggest sporting event in the world (after the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics) and after watching the passion on the small screen, I took a chance and submitted my entry for the ballot. Lo and behold, with typical non-golfer’s luck, I secured the full six-day ticket while my brother, an avid golfer of 20+ years who had always dreamt of attending, wasn’t picked and instead had to shell out for a package that only covered the final Practice Day and the three Match Days! The Golfing Gods have a wicked sense of humour indeed…

Lucky Me! A much coveted Ryder Cup ticket pack

USA vs Europe: 12 players from each side compete for a 17-inch trophy made of solid gold. Multi-millionaire sportsmen, playing their hearts out not for themselves or any monetary reward, but for team, country, continent and glory. With Team USA captained by Tom Watson, five-time Open Champion and a living legend of the game against World No 1 and back-to-back Major winner Rory McIlroy as Team Europe’s star performer, the stage was set for a memorable contest.

Enough has been written about the golf on display that week by sports journalists, but being there in person to witness Martin Kaymer’s chip-in for eagle at the 16th hole to win his singles match, Rory McIroy’s 45-foot putt on the 17th to save his foursomes partnership with Sergio Garcia, and possibly “the greatest match in Ryder Cup history” in which Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson defeated Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar in a fourball match that had 21 birdies between them in 16 holes – 12 for the European pair and nine for the Americans, with 10 successive birdies by the Europeans – made me appreciate that the Ryder Cup really does bring the best out of the best players in the world. Combined with the atmosphere, it’s a unique competition that The New York Times described as a “rare event that usually lives up to the hype.” My brother was simply in awe at the quality of play – “much better than at a Major,” he quipped.

Team Europe in practice

For me, the real winner was Scotland. The organisers ensured an experience that showcased food, hospitality and a well-oiled engine. Some 45,000 spectators each day ate delicious food whose ingredients were sourced from all over the country – catered by Jamie Oliver’s Fabulous Feasts, no less! The food was indeed fabulous – far better than the food at the Edinburgh hotel where I stayed.  While waiting to be served, another spectator asked me where I was from – “Malaysia,” I replied. “I’m from Greenland!” he said, and then another person chipped in: “Colombia!” None of our respective countries had players competing, demonstrating the worldwide appeal of the event. It was televised to an audience of 500 million people in 185 nations.

Kelpies!

Organisation was spectacular. For £10, one could buy an on-course radio with ear phones (that doubles as a radio off-course, so it is a functional souvenir). With that device, one could listen to live broadcasts of what was happening in matches going on around the course. Can’t see over the crowds? Everyone shorter than 5’ 8” was given golfing periscopes to see over the throng – and if that wasn’t enough, 16 big screens (and I mean BIG!) and scoreboards were strategically placed around the course, Spectator Village (the hub) and Car Park – flip a switch on your radio and you are immediately tuned into Sky Sports commentary to accompany the images playing on screen. Just brilliant.

Invaluable low-tech spectator asset

Fancy getting more memorabilia? Once you’ve spent far more than you intended (yes, everyone does – the shop SOLD OUT of Ryder Cup Team shirts that were only released on the DAY the team wears them!), you exit the Official Merchandise Shop to a friendly Fedex representative – “Live Overseas, Ma’am? Let us send that home for you!” If you say yes, they pack everything you bought in a nice box AND submit a pre-prepared VAT form (it’s an extension of the Merchandise Shop Invoice) on your behalf so you can get your goodies TAX-FREE. Shopping and shipping my loot home has never been easier!

To top it all off, even the weather co-operated – for the whole week! Anyone who has visited Scotland knows how easily a storm can appear to turn everything very cold, very wet and very grey (perhaps that’s why Scotland has so many fine whiskeys – there’s not much else to do when you have to stay indoors and cheer yourself up!) but on a fine day, one understands where the term “Bonnie Scotland” comes from – the scenery is truly stunning. The Welsh were grinding their teeth in envy, because when they hosted the Ryder Cup in 2010, the venue was more appropriate for the sport of mud wrestling due to the rain.

Would I attend another Ryder Cup? Can’t say. But I wanted to experience golf’s ultimate team competition at the place the sport was born – I was happy I went with keen golfers who knew their way around a golfing tournament and had played Gleneagles previously to navigate me to the best vantage points. Would I go back to Scotland? Absolutely.