Ryder Cup: Grandstand takes centre stage ahead of first tee party

A view from the back of the grandstand overlooking the 1st tee at Le Golf National. Picture: AP Photo/John Leicester
A view from the back of the grandstand overlooking the 1st tee at Le Golf National. Picture: AP Photo/John Leicester
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Think big. No, really big. The first tee grandstand at the 42nd Ryder Cup is absolutely humongous. The biggest the event has ever seen, in fact. It will house close to 7,000 spectators, ensuring a frenzied atmosphere when one of the most keenly-anticipated sporting showdowns for some time gets underway at Le Golf National.

As the opening blow is struck, the view will not match the one at Gleneagles four years ago, when the sun stuck its head above the Ochil Hills as thousands of people looked down the first hole on the PGA Centenary Course towards Glendevon. The noise level, though, will definitely be louder, the cacophony of sound likely to make a nerve-wracking task even more knee-rattling for some of the world’s best 
players.

“I expect everyone to feel a little bit of jelly in their legs walking down to their first tee,” admitted Henrik Stenson, who is making his fourth appearance in the event. “I think everyone is going to feel that first tee. That’s normal for the Ryder Cup. And, given the size and the set-up we have here this week, which looks absolutely phenomenal, it’s going to be something different, something special.”

Over the last decade in particular, the Ryder Cup has grown into a huge beast. Corporate hospitality units have got bigger and bigger, or so it seems. The spectator village is vast and the merchandise shop here is the size of a football pitch. It’s that giant grandstand, though, that has been one of the major talking points in the build-up.

“Might be at least another 20 years before we’ve got floating stands in the sky or something, I don’t know,” added Stenson with a smile in reply to being asked if he wondered 
what might be next in Rome in 2022.

“But it’s certainly gotten bigger and bigger, and the atmosphere on that first tee is phenomenal, so I’m really excited to see what that’s going to be like.”

As is Jon Rahm, one of five rookies in the European team. “The only time I’ve seen stands this big is in a football stadium, and the closest I guess to that is 16th at TPC Scottsdale,” said the Spaniard, referring to what has become the most infamous hole in golf due to its rowdy nature.

The first tee at a Ryder Cup is normally loud rather than rowdy and this one will be no different. Thomas Bjorn, the home captain, is hoping the sheer size of that grandstand will help inspire his players as they bid to reclaim the trophy after losing their grip on it two years ago for the first time since 2010.

“I think we thought it was big in Gleneagles,” said the Dane. “It was certainly big last time at Hazeltine. If this is the route we’re going to go, we’re going to have 60,000 sitting down the first hole at some stage in the future.

“But there’s an opportunity here, as well, because you’ve got the room. I just think it’s going to be one of the most amazing experiences in any sport of being on that first tee. Did I have any input? I’ve had conversations with the staging team and Ryder Cup Europe about how this should be.

“But I think there’s always been a feeling that this Ryder Cup was going to be pretty special. It was going to be pretty unique. It was going to be big. It’s not me that’s been standing there saying, I want it to look exactly like this and this big, because that idea was on the table before I even got there. I’ve impacted it a little bit but not in any big way.”

Jordan Spieth hit his first Ryder Cup blow on that first tee at Gleneagles and still remembers it fondly. “I loved 2014. I thought probably the most nerve-wracking tee shot I’ve ever hit was in 2014. It’s one of the coolest moments of my golf career,” he recalled earlier in the week here.

According to him, the opening shot this week might not actually be as intimidating as some people think.

“When we get on the tee box on the first hole here, you’re almost in kind of a u-shaped ditch that’s been dug into the hill and the grandstands are pretty far removed from the first tee,” observed the 
Texan.

“It will certainly be loud because of the amount of people who are going to be there but, compared to Gleneagles and Hazeltine, I think it will feel like more open space to be honest.”