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…
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.
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
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.
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
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.