Ryder Cup Gathers Volunteers from Chaska, Chanhassen and Victoria

Thousands of volunteers queue up to ensure the crown jewel of golf shines on the world stage.
From left: Lauren Horner, Jackie Johnson and Eric Wilkinson will lead a group of more than 4,000 volunteers at the 2016 Ryder Cup.

It will take more than the American team to win back one of golf’s most prestigious and coveted trophies, the Ryder Cup, from the Europeans, who have held a firm grasp on the trophy since they captured it for the third successive time in Scotland in 2014. The biennial men’s golf competition features a strong force of volunteers who are working to make sure the Hazeltine National Golf Club event comes out swinging.

When it comes to an event of this magnitude and prestige, volunteers aren’t an afterthought. The Ryder volunteers outnumber paid staff and perform tasks large and small. With a broad scope of volunteer duties, some posts are behind the scenes, while other tasks are on a larger stage. “As a member of Hazeltine, it is our responsibility to volunteer our time and support the club’s mission statement of hosting major championships,” says Dave Ruegg, who has been on the Hazeltine board since 2008, is a past member of the board of governors, and is the executive committee project manager for the Ryder Cup. “This comes in many forms on an ongoing basis, but [it’s] ever so important leading up to hosting major championships.”

Local excitement for the Ryder Cup’s arrival is palpable in and out of the golf community. “(I see) the growing enthusiasm not only throughout our club but everywhere, locally here in Chaska to the surrounding areas and even nationally,” says Ruegg, who lives in Victoria with his wife, Dianne, and teenage children, Lauren and Carter. “When I travel, people stop me if I am wearing Ryder Cup apparel and either tell me they will be there or [say they are] trying to figure out a way to get there. Hazeltine has been proud to have a long resume of major championships; however people are just starting to figure out the Ryder Cup is unlike any other major that has been played here, as it is the crown jewel for golf.”

Volunteers will handle a multitude of areas as boots-on-the-ground staff and in managerial positions: tending to corporate hospitality, media, photo credential and volunteer services; selling merchandise; running the carefully watched leader and monster boards; performing scoring duties; distributing course maps and paring sheets to visitors; manning the information tent and will-call desk; providing tee refreshments; managing technology; and enforcing the mobile device policy, which ensures spectators follow the rules with their mobile devices while play is in session.

Forrest Skeesick is a veteran tournament volunteer, having served as a marshal on the 10th hole of the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. “It was fun to be on the tee with the pros,” he says. “It’s amazing to see how well and pure they strike the ball with very little effort.”

This round, Skeesick will work at the Ryder merchandise tent, which is familiar territory for the Victoria resident, who (at the corporate level) worked in store planning and visual merchandizing for local retailers. Skeesick looks forward to his Ryder experience. “It’s one of the greatest events and competitions in the golf world,” he says.

In addition to Skeesick, volunteer manager Jackie Johnson will oversee nearly 4,000 volunteers—more people than are employed by the City of Minneapolis. Of those registered, 80 percent of the volunteers are from Minnesota, and 20 percent of the Minnesota volunteers are from Chanhassen, Chaska, Eden Prairie, Victoria and Waconia. There are even a few hundred Europeans, who will also volunteer. “It is a tremendous group of people to work with and a nice challenge to have all your volunteers this far in advance for an event,” Johnson says. Her management scope entails overseeing the operations, including communications, logistics and schedules for the volunteers.

Johnson, who lives in Waconia with her husband, Jarod, and their four children, has a background in volunteer and special events coordination that dovetails perfectly with the Ryder Cup position. “My background started as a volunteer coordinator, where I learned the importance of managing and working closely with volunteers,” she says. “I have always been very passionate about working with volunteers, so this is a dream come true to be able to come back to my passion for such a prestigious event.”

Johnson has plenty of support. “I get the privilege of working with 70 plus committee chairs from Hazeltine National Golf Club, who will assist by leading volunteers in various areas,” she says.

The committees began preparation and planning duties months, if not years, ahead of the first Ryder tee time. “The majority of volunteers will start in August, where they will pick up their uniform/credentials and attend various classroom training sessions,” Johnson says. “Volunteers will be in full swing starting September 19 with onsite training sessions, the opening of the Ryder Cup Shops on September 23 and, eventually, the official Ryder Cup week from September 27 to October 2.”

While most volunteers won’t officially begin working for the Ryder Cup until closer to the event, many are operating as unofficial ambassadors through a Facebook page for Ryder Cup volunteers. Skeesick says more than 1,400 volunteers have visited the site, and local residents have touted area attractions.

With the eyes of the golf world focused on Hazeltine and expectations high, Johnson is motivated to meet that challenge. “I absolutely want to do my best, not only for the PGA of America and the Ryder Cup staff, but also to meet and exceed the expectations for the volunteers,” Johnson says. “There is a very strong support structure in place, and I am very honored for the opportunity.”

Tee Up: A (very brief) guide to the Ryder Cup

The biggest event of the golf world will attract upwards of 50,000 people to Chaska daily from September 27-October 2, but if you’re not a golf fan, chances are you’ve never heard about the Ryder Cup.

So what’s the fuss all about? Here’s what you need to know to become an instant expert on the Ryder Cup (or at least enough to make small talk).

History | Founded in 1927 by Samuel Ryder, this is the 41st Ryder Cup. The match-play competition happens every two years and features two teams of twelve players from the United States and Europe. Since the Ryder Cup began, the United States has won 25 times and Europe has won 13 times, but the European team has won the last three tournaments. (There have been two tied tournaments.) The last time the United States won was in 2008 at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

Play | The Ryder Cup is played over the course of three days. Match play determines the winner; whoever gets the ball into the hole in the least amount of strokes “wins” the hole. Winning the hole earns your team a point (if there’s a tie, each team gets a half-point). The team with the most points at the end of the tournament wins. (Still with us? Take a deep breath before the next paragraph…)

The first two days of the tournament, golfers play on teams during a morning session and afternoon session. The morning session is foursomes (or alternate shot). Each team picks two players to alternate hitting one ball into a hole, and the team with the least strokes wins a point.

In the afternoon, the teams will play fourball (or better ball): four golfers (two from the U.S. and two from Europe) hit their ball into a hole, and the person who does it in the least amount of strokes wins a point for their team. The final day of the tournament features 12 singles matches.

2016 Captains | This year’s team captains are Davis Love III for the United States and Darren Clarke for Europe. The team captains don’t actually play the game; instead they choose some members of their team (see below), and create the team match-ups. Since this tournament is in the United States, Love selected the format for matches (choosing to play foursomes in the morning and fourball in the afternoon).

Picking Teams | On August 28, eight players for the United States were determined by a point system based on money earned during various golf championships and PGA tour events. Love will pick three additional players on September 11 at the end of the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship, and he’ll make his final team pick on September 25 at the end of the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship. Europe has a different system for selecting team players.

Spectators | Ryder Cup fans are kind of wild. They dress up. They chant. If you’re actually watching the Ryder Cup, it’s easier to follow it on television (for this reason, there are huge screens throughout the course). The fans are there for the experience—and, yes, to glimpse many of the best golfers in the world at one venue.

Get Involved | If you don’t have tickets to the big event at Hazeltine, you can still jump on the Ryder Cup bandwagon. Check out Chaska’s 19th Hole Celebration (page 21) or cheer on your favorite team by watching coverage on NBC or the Golf Channel. You can also buy official Ryder Cup merchandise online at rydercup.com. ­­­—Liz Potasek

Keeping the Peace
A police chief’s perspective on the international tournament and life in Chaska.

RYDER CUP preview

Police Chief Scott M. Knight still remembers when he was hired by the Chaska Police Department in 1976. Even after serving in many roles at the department, such as patrol officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant and more, Chief Knight views his initial hiring as a memorable career highlight. Another highlight is being appointed Chief of Police of the Chaska Police Department in January 2000. As the chief, there are many things around town that blink on his radar, but especially this month with the Ryder Cup.

The chief is no stranger to big golf events hosted in his community. He has been Chief of Police during the major ones at Hazeltine National Golf Club, including the U.S. Amateur Championship in 2006 and the PGA Championship in 2002 and 2009. Of the golf events he has seen in Chaska, the Ryder Cup is by far the one that demands the most attention. “On the world stage, there are three top sporting events,” Knight says. “They are the Olympics, the World Cup Soccer and the Ryder Cup.”

Knight estimates that the Ryder Cup will draw 50,000 people to Hazeltine daily. This includes the spectators, players, vendors and the medical and police teams. “At every tournament or championship that happens at Hazeltine, there isn’t a ticket that goes unsold because Minnesotans and surrounding states just love golf,” Knight says. “It’s a lot of people, but it’s a lot of fun.”

With a population of 25,000, Chaska will definitely be energized with the influx of tournament goers. Knight has certain areas of concern that are priorities. The first priority is getting people to and from the venue efficiently and safely; most of the people coming to the Ryder Cup will arrive via shuttle from Shakopee. The next area of focus is crowd management. The goal is to ensure people can enjoy the experience safely and comfortably without being crushed by hoards of crowds. And lastly, the team will monitor the weather. Severe weather is not likely this time of year; however, Knight has plans in place if weather becomes an issue.

Of course there’s more to being police chief than only focusing on safety at the Ryder Cup. To the chief, the best part about his job is the people, both department staff and community members. “The people who live here and make up our community make it a very rewarding place to work and live,” Knight says. “There is a true community mindset and culture here.”

Originally from Minneapolis, Knight has been a resident of Chaska since the mid 1970s. There are also several challenges with the job; one of the biggest is making himself and the department accessible and transparent to the community. “The challenge comes in making the connections and the outreach so people feel that they not only have the right but the comfort level to approach the police department,” he says.

Apart from being the chief, Knight is many other things. He is a husband, a father (he has two grown children and one 11-year-old daughter), an avid marathon runner and also a cancer survivor.

In August 2014, Knight was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, in his jaw. His journey with cancer included surgery at the University of Minnesota to remove the cancerous tumor and multiple doses of chemotherapy, as well as radiation. “It was quite radical, everything that happened to me,” Knight says. “But I never had a doubt that I would survive it.”

Being a cancer survivor has made Knight appreciative of every single day. He makes himself available to anyone who might be wondering what their journey with cancer would mean. “God and the U of M saved me. And there’s a reason for it,” Knight says. “I’m still here. And one of those reasons is to share my experience with anyone who might benefit from it. I have a debt to pay.” —Kelsey Kuno

Chaska Police Chief Scott M. Knight prepares for the influx of visitors for the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club.

19th Hole Community Celebration
Chaska throws a party for the world.

Hazeltine National Golf Course won’t be the only hot spot when the Ryder Cup comes to town September 27—October 2. Downtown Chaska has plenty to offer, including an international curling tournament and a festival with live music and local food.

The 19th Hole Community Celebration was designed with both members of the community and Ryder Cup spectators in mind, says Chaska city manager Matt Podhradsky. After visiting Gleneagles Resort at Perthshire in Scotland, the location of the 2014 Ryder Cup, Podhradsky and others on the trip—including mayor Mark Windschitl, former assistant city administrator Jeff Dahl and former Southwest Metro Chamber president Lori Anderson—were inspired to find ways to get the city of Chaska involved with the Ryder Cup event. “We want to focus on giving people reasons to stay in town,” Podhradsky says.

While many of the Ryder Cup spectators will likely stay in Minneapolis hotels and take buses to the event, there will be transportation to the 19th Hole from Hazeltine after tournament play ends. Visitors to the area can experience Chaska with live music, local wine and craft brew, and food at Firemen’s Park and the Chaska Curling Center.

Earlier in the week—on September 27—the Chaska Curling Center will host an international bonspiel featuring curling teams from the United States, Norway and Scotland.

During the day on September 29-October 2, the 19th Hole will give anyone without a ticket to the Ryder Cup a place to experience golf’s biggest event. There will be big screen televisions to watch tournament play, mini golf, and activities for families. —Liz Potasek

IF YOU GO

5-10 p.m. September 29; 10 a.m.–10 p.m. September 30-October 1; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. October 2. Chaska Firemen’s Park, 3210 Chaska Blvd., Chaska; free admission.

Get in on the action with viewing parties, food, games and more during the day. Enjoy live music, local craft beer and wine, and food in the evening.

Music Line-up:
September 29: The Tuxedo Band
September 30: Arch Allies
October 1: The Dweebs