Ryder Cups Runneth Over

The surge in popularity enjoyed by the Ryder Cup over the past two decades has had a residual benefit for club members everywhere. Many golf clubs now play Ryder-Cup-type formats in the late summer or fall.
It was an inevitable outgrowth of the unique format of the biennial competition between the U.S. and Europe. The public became riveted by the eyeball-to-eyeball match play competition between such fierce competitors as Seve Ballesteros and Paul Azinger, Raymond Floyd and Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomery and Cory Pavin, Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods — and the changing formats within the Ryder Cup matches gave golf a needed break from weekly stroke-play tournaments. U.S. club golfers almost never play foursomes, or alternate shot, competition, but challenging another club — or forming teams within one’s own club — has become a popular way to introduce that style of play to a wider range of players.
Autumn seems to be the ideal time to conduct such matches, since play at most courses is reduced after Labor Day, making it easier to get teams of 8, ten, or a dozen or more players around the course in the available daylight. There are endless ways to structure the matches. Town & Country still plays a team challenge match against Minikahda, as the two pioneering clubs first competed against each other in 1899. Northland Country Club plays a challenge match with Ridgeview Country Club, its Duluth neighbor. At Hillcrest Country Club in St. Paul, the men compete all year to qualify for the team that will challenge last year’s winner, also made up of Hillcrest members. Some clubs will hold one-day, 27-hole competitions during which teams will play a best-ball nine, an alternate-shot nine and a singles or scramble nine. Others will conduct up to three days of competition to make the event a bit more like the real thing.
Anyone who has competed in a Ryder Cup format has experienced a small taste of what players like Steve Stricker and Ian Poulter go through every two years — feeling an extra dose of nerves standing on the first tee, or over a four-footer on the last green, knowing you’re playing for your teammates as well as yourself. After watching the 2012 Ryder Cup, those who haven’t had that experience may want to figure out a way to start a team challenge. There’s nothing else in golf quite like it.

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