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Ryder Cup to be played at Oakland Hills
By Jack Berry

Remember those "Plan Ahead" signs where the "Ahead" portion was squeezed together in ever-smaller type because someone hadn't planned ahead and the space was too short?

That's not Oakland Hills Country Club. Michigan's historic, best-known club is and has been planning ahead for what many regard as golf's fifth major, the Ryder Cup.

Twelve top Americans won't tee off against Europe's 12 best at the suburban Detroit club until September, 2003, but Oakland Hills members already have been preparing for several years and have been so proficient that all 54 on-course chalets, which range from $175,000 to $350,000, and the private dining rooms in the clubhouse have been sold. It was the fastest sale in Ryder Cup history.

"We're dumbfounded, absolutely delighted," said Bob Gigliotti, General Chairman for the 2003 Ryder Cup. "We might've had nine or 10 hospitality tents for the 1991 Senior Open (which featured Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino) and 36 for the 1996 Open."

Rick Baylis, general manager of Oakland Hills, said the 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., popped the eyes of both the PGA of America and Oakland Hills officials.

"I think 1999 was when the PGA and the partnering club felt the full impact of the popularity of the Ryder Cup," Baylis said. That Ryder Cup was like the golf equivalent of Woodstock. It seemed every possible inch of the grounds was occupied and when the Americans, after having lost the two previous Ryder Cups, at Rochester, N.Y., in 1995 and Valderrama, Spain, in 1997, staged the greatest rally in Ryder Cup history on Sunday to pull out a victory, the cheers were deafening and the excitement was palpable.

Europe's victories in five of the last eight Ryder Cups (well, one was a tie but since Europe held the Cup at the time, it was able to retain it), some bad feelings, some hurt feelings and some huge doses of nationalism have turned it into something resembling The Greatest Show on Earth.

Certainly it has become the place to be every other year, bringing golf more attention than ever from folks who had been casual followers at best.

Add Tiger Woods to the mix and it becomes the hottest ticket in town. And Woods, the world's No. 1 player, is a cinch for the American squad as far as the eye can see.

"I've been to every big sporting event there is and nothing compares to the Ryder Cup," said Joe Colucci, an Oakland Hills member for 21 years. Colucci was involved in the club's marketing of two United States Senior Opens and the 1985 U.S. Open. And Colucci was with the Oakland Hills contingent that went to Brookline to observe the 1999 Ryder Cup.

Nevertheless, the speed with which the chalets and dining areas were snapped up for 2003 shocked Chairman Gigliotti who was Vice Chairman for Finance for the 1996 Open won by Steve Jones, and worked the 1991 Senior Open staged by the Bloomfield Township club.

Oakland Hills convinced the PGA to start selling earlier than ever. In the past, the club and PGA just started promotion and sales on the two-year cycle following the conclusion of the last match.

"We were adamant with the PGA that Detroit was different," Gigliotti said. "We don't have a lot of world and national headquarters (with big budgets). We have a lot of tool and die companies and the ability to pay (for corporate hospitality) over 3-4 years would be a big advantage."

The PGA listened and in two and a half months the chalets and dining rooms were booked and, without even marketing them, sales were brisk on tables of 10 (for $60,000) in the two Champions Club tents which will each have 100 tables.

What do the buyers get? The 100-person chalet package includes an air conditioned (heating if necessary) tent with Astroturf carpeting, lounge area with sofa, chairs and cocktail table, up to 10 tables with 10 chairs at each table, a 16-foot buffet table, an 8-foot bar, three 27 inch television monitors, one computer scoring terminal, two telephones with local service, carpeted, landscaped patio with two tables of five chairs each, floral arrangements, daily cleaning service, 100 Ryder Cup tickets and four staff tickets, four invitations to the Ryder Cup Gala Dinner on Wednesday of Ryder Cup Week, an invitation for a threesome to join an Oakland Hills member for a round of golf at the time and date of the purchaser's choosing sometime in 2002, including caddies/carts and refreshments; invitations for four people to play in a corporate golf outing, a full page, four-color ad in the Ryder Cup program and 200 copies of the program. Cost: $350,000 for a spot on the left side of the 16th fairway, $325,000 on the left side of the 18th hole.

The 50-person chalet has five tables with 10 chairs each, two TV sets, 50 tickets, invitation for four people to play in a corporate golf outing (but not invitations for three to play in 2002), 100 Ryder Cup programs and the other goodies that are in the 100-person chalet. Cost: $190,000 to be on left side of the 16th, $175,000 to be on the left of the first, second or ninth holes.

General public ticket sale is expected to be on a lottery basis and that won't be done until after the 2001 Ryder Cup at The Belfry in Birmingham, England.

Oakland Hills will be ready for the 2003 big show both outside and inside. The club will host the 2002 United States Amateur, giving it an opportunity to show off the North Course during the 36-hole qualifying stage as well as the famous championship South Course. And the clubhouse has been "roto-rootered" according to General Manager Baylis.

"We did everything but replace the outside structure, tore it down to the studs," Baylis said. "It looked like a movie set with a grand facade and nothing behind it. The clubhouse was closed from January 1999 until May 2000 and all of the plumbing and electric was replaced, a new kitchen and bake shop were built, the pro shop, with 2,200 feet of retail space (2003 Ryder Cup-logoed items have been on sale, briskly since June), is new and much of the building's furniture was replaced.

A new cart barn/first tee building was constructed with storage for 148 carts in the basement and 1,100 bags in the upper level.

In all, it cost $13-15 million -- "Enough to do it right," Baylis said.

That's planning ahead.

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