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Ryder Cup Golf Competition Underway In Wisconsin, Amid COVID Caution

Chuck Quirmbach
The first hole at Whistling Straits heads toward Lake Michigan.

Wisconsin's latest drive onto the international sports stage begins this weekend at the Ryder Cup golf competition. It'll be held at the Whistling Straits Golf Course along Lake Michigan, north of Sheboygan. More than 40,000 fans are expected for the event that was postponed from last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 remains a concern, but officials said precautions are being implemented.

For those not familiar with the Ryder Cup, it is a competition between teams from the United States and Europe – originally just Great Britain – that since 1927 takes place every two years. There have been exemptions to this two-year tradition, like during World War II, after the attacks of 9/11, and last year due to the pandemic.

COVID-19 changed preparations for this week's event, and notably, late last week, workers at Whistling Straits were still driving around construction equipment.

This summer, the Ryder Cup and its partner, the Kohler Company, which owns Whistling Straits, put out a call for 1,3000 workers to help run the tournament. Late last week, the Ryder Cup said a limited number of positions were available in food and beverage, maintenance, and parking.

A few thousand volunteers will also be on site.

Chuck Quirmbach
Thousands of fans will be sitting in grandstands at several locations around the course, including here, at the 9th (foreground) and 18th greens.

Kohler's Director of Golf Operations Mike O'Reilly said staffing is pretty good now, and golf fans should not notice any problems.

"We're excited for everyone to be here and we're hoping to put on the best Ryder Cup that we possibly can," O'Reilly told WUWM.

The fan experience will be different than other years. O'Reilly said to reduce the spreading of COVID-19, masks will be enforced inside the merchandise tent, food and beverage tents, and buildings. Masks will be recommended for fans seated at the grandstands and walking the course.

Sheboygan County Public Health Officer Starrlene Grossman issued a statement that said the county is experienced high levels of community transmission over the past few weeks, and has seen a corresponding increase in hospitalizations locally.

Grossman wrote that anytime a large group of people gather in one space, there is a cause for concern related to the transmission of COVID-19, mainly when levels of community transmission are high. Grossman said the Ryder Cup is no exception to this, though they have been very thoughtful in their event planning. She's grateful the event is primarily outdoors.

Dr. Ashok Rai.jpg
Photo provided by Prevea Health
Dr. Ashok Rai, of Prevea Health.

The county referred additional questions to the Green Bay firm Prevea Health, the Ryder Cup's health care provider. President and CEO Ashok Rai said there are "great" COVID-19 mitigation plans for fans, workers, and golfers.

"We have a pretty protective bubble around them, including testing requirements for those that are around the players, to make sure they are kept safe; including 100% masking around the players, as well," Dr. Rai told WUWM. "So, keeping that same mitigation and adding a couple of layers to it, to make sure everybody stays safe for the event."

Rai said as with many other Wisconsin sporting events, fans do not have to be vaccinated.

A walk this week through the Ryder Cup merchandise tent found dozens of people buying items with the Ryder Cup logo, and everyone was wearing a mask.

Chuck Quirmbach
Workers (wearing yellow) hand out masks aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19, as golf fans enter the Ryder Cup merchandise tent.

Staffers working outdoors handed masks to fans without one as they went into the tent.

When WUWM approached fans, they wanted to talk about golf, not the pandemic. A Milwaukee man who gave his initials D.W. said the Ryder Cup is a big deal.

"It's a big economic deal. It's just phenomenal here what's happening throughout the state of Wisconsin. First, we have the Bucks win the championship, great for Milwaukee, great for the state. Now, the Ryder Cup, probably a once in a lifetime event," D.W. said, referring to the fact that the Ryder Cup is held at different courses in the U.S. and Europe, and this is the first Ryder Cup in Wisconsin.

Chuck Quirmbach
The Ryder Cup will be presented to the winners of this week's competition at Whistling Straits.

Karen Rupar, who lives part of the year in Sheboygan, responded to the idea that some people might say –c'mon, the Ryder Cup is just golf.

"Maybe because they don't play golf. But it's not just golf. It's just a really amazing big tournament," Rupar said.

Some of the people paying attention to the Ryder Cup, indeed, do not play golf.

"I just can't see chasin' a ball around in a field," said a Sheboygan County man who gave his name as Steve as he and his wife Roxanne left the merchandise tent.

The couple said they hope the local economy sees a boost from people who stay in the area during the golf tournament. The couple added a little to county sales tax revenue by buying at the merchandise tent.

"Oh yeah, we have golfing friends," Steve said. Roxanne added, "They're getting golf balls." Steve went on: "Oh yeah, Whistling Straits golf balls."

Chuck Quirmbach
People pose for photos, in front of a large replica of the Ryder Cup, located on a plaza on the grounds of Whistling Straits.

Other people will spend much more this week on tickets for the tournament and accommodations. Fans will see 12 men from the U.S. and Europe compete for bragging rights in golf, as a break from being concerned about the ongoing pandemic and the world's problems.

The golf competition officially begins this Friday and continues through Sunday.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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