I managed to cross an item off my bucket list this week.
This list isn’t well defined. It has general contours and I randomly add things to it when opportunities present themselves. A big one came my way this week.
On Wednesday I attended a Ryder Cup practice round at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Which has to be one of the greatest town names ever. Shuh-Boy-Guhn. Say it a few times. Shuh-Boy-Guhn. It makes me smile.
This is a big sports weekend in our area and I was itching to participate in one of the events. The Ryder Cup is north in Wisconsin. The Notre Dame/Wisconsin football game is at Soldier Field just to the east. Johnny plays soccer wearing the navy side of the reversible jersey at a local park. Three tempting options. I had toyed with the idea of attending the Ryder Cup but never did anything about it.
While perusing Nextdoor on Tuesday morning, I noticed someone selling practice round tickets for Wednesday. The price was right but I needed a partner. I knew exactly who to ask. I texted my friend Amy to see if she was available. While not a golf fan, she loved the idea of playing Thelma and Louise for a day. Plus, she’s a Wisconsin native and always relishes a trip back to her people.
Part of the fun was that it came together in the 11th hour. I spent Tuesday getting things settled at home and preparing Becky’s feeds and medications. Leaving for a day is no trifle exercise but it all came together beautifully. Becky’s godmother graciously took her for the entire day and, with the other kids stashed at school, I was freed for the impromptu road trip.
Early Wednesday morning, Amy pulled into our driveway. We hit Dunkin for coffee, filled up with gas, and headed north. The drive went quickly as we chatted the entire time. Amy is a fascinating person with a background in teaching. I learn something from her every time we hang out and could talk to her for days.
She grew up in Milwaukee and enjoyed pointing things out as we drove through the city on our way to Shuh-Boy-Guhn. Like the Allen Bradley clock tower. It’s lovely but I was curious about the history behind the building. She had no idea. It’s just one of those things she points out. I finally found something in Wisconsin that Amy doesn’t know about.
We arrived at Whistling Straits after the 2.5 hour drive and parked in a field. We bundled in layers and grabbed our tickets. After a quick golf cart ride to the entrance gates, we walked into golf’s version of Disney World. I’ve never seen anything like it. I was amazed at the infrastructure brought in for the event. The grandstands. The pavilions. The porta-potty stations. The Pro Shop alone was over 60,000 square feet. And doing a brisk business selling everything from t-shirts to shot glasses. I’m boring and bought a coffee cup and some ball markers. I rarely play golf but couldn’t resist the shiny medallions.
It was thrilling to finally experience a PGA event in person. I love watching golf on TV and regularly follow the sport, especially during the four major championships. The Ryder Cup did not disappoint. I can’t tell you much about the golf itself as I was too star struck to pay attention to those details. I quickly identified several golfers, their body language speaking as loudly as a name tag. Ian Poulter walks like Ian Poulter. Phil Mickelson has a unique stride and looks like he’s laughing at his own inside jokes. Bryson DeChambeau is larger than life, one of the more animated players on the course. Jon Rahm is absolutely huggable.
I saw Rory McIlroy eat a banana. Which struck me as odd. Someone so famous eating such a plebian fruit. A woman in the crowd gave him a hard time for it. “Oooohhhh, Rory. Yuuummmy baaanana! Lots of good potassium!” Rory took another bite, looked back and smiled. And then she added, “But Sergio’s a better golfer.” His smile faded as he kept walking.
Most of all, I wanted to see Jordan Spieth. I’m a bit of a fan girl and Amy teased me about it all day. He’s from Dallas, my hometown. He went to Jesuit, my brothers’ high school. I admire what he has done with his fame and fortune. The Jordan Spieth Foundation focuses on military families, special needs children, junior golf, and pediatric cancer. His relationship with Ellie, his special needs sister, is heartwarming and he credits it with keeping him grounded. So I wore my Jesuit Ranger baseball cap and t-shirt, hoping maybe he would take notice. On the 15th hole, he came within 20 yards of our standing spot while looking for his ball. I wish I had some of the banana lady in me but I was too chicken to yell out. I politely clapped and cheered.
The atmosphere was electric, even for a practice round. These guys were having a great time singing “God Bless America” and wearing matching hockey sweaters. I heard a couple different languages but the Americans clearly enjoy home field advantage.
The golf course itself is indescribable, a thing of beauty caressing two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. The walking was tough, often treacherous. At times, I had to touch my hands down to maintain balance climbing up and down the grassy mounds. There are over 1000 sand bunkers sprinkled throughout the landscape. The wind off the lake was biting and strong, almost blowing me over at times. I have no idea how you hit a golf ball in such weather. But the European and American teams did it methodically over and over again, with exceptional aim and control. Sometimes golfers would drop multiple balls and practice several shots from a single spot.
We watched both American and European foursomes at several different holes on the course. The European team pulled an incredible PR stunt, arriving in cheese heads and wearing green and gold, a nod to the Green Bay Packers’ uniform colors. Brilliant. Amy and I both thought that the Americans looked more serious and physically fit. But the Europeans seemed to be having more fun. If I had to pick, I’d rather have a beer with the European side. Especially if Jordan could join us. I hope that isn’t too un-American. I just call it like I see it.
As the day came to a close, we hung around at the putting green, my hopes still high for an up-close of Jordan. I saw Tony Finau (fabulous smile), Brooks Koepka (nice wristwatch), and Dustin Johnson (huge feet). But no luck on Jordan. Regardless, the day was a success, a solid serving of both golf and Wisconsin with a generous side of friendship.
On our trip home, we had one last errand planned. A beer run to the Mars Cheese Castle for some New Glarus, a Wisconsin specialty. Unfortunately, we arrived a few minutes after closing. So we settled for the BP gas station across the street.
We struck up a conversation with the store manager about cheese curds and New Glarus. Amy tried to explain cheese curds. I’ve seen these little gems before but I’m suspicious of a food that’s supposed to squeak in your mouth. I once tried to fry some but ended up with exploding projectiles all over the kitchen. I haven’t revisited this food group since. I did compliment the manager on all the different flavors in the refrigerated case.
We stuck with beer and hunted for some seasonal favorites. Eventually we found ourselves in the manager’s store room, looking through their recent shipment for limited fall flavors. Amy knows what she wants and she knows her Wisconsin beers. We selected Staghorn Octoberfest, Pear 21, and Belgian Red. Our arms full of six-packs we piled into the car for the drive home.
It was a fabulous day. While you can certainly see more golf watching at home, the atmosphere and beauty of Whistling Straights was well worth the drive.
Ryder Cup play begins today. As I write, the Americans have taken an early 3-1 lead. I look forward to watching throughout the weekend, reliving my bucket list day with a Belgian Red in my new coffee cup.
And teaching Becky how to say Shuh-Boy-Guhn.