SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – As a fiery sun colored the morning sky, European fans raised their arms in unison for golf’s version of the Viking Thunder Clap. Le Golf National was built for this. Hosting a Ryder Cup was part the vision from the start, and it shows. A stadium course in every sense of the word, from the oversized grandstand on the first tee to the contoured mounds that create natural amphitheaters, even la petite fans can watch Tiger Woods here.
France doesn’t have a golf culture. The incessant booing on the first tee and beyond served as a cringe-worthy reminder of that fact. There’s a nouveau feel to this Ryder Cup, and with that comes a few growing pains.
The first tee is must-see theater, so French officials built a grandstand that rivals football stadiums to pump up the volume. For first-timers, the scale of it alone impressed. But for those who are regulars to these kinds of spectacles, it fell flat in comparison.
It wasn’t as loud as Hazeltine two years ago or as entertaining as last year’s Solheim Cup in Des Moines, Iowa. Only a couple dozen fans down below the bleachers delivered the usual amped-up cheers and songs. Up top – where close to 7,000 sat – it was rather subdued outside of Ole, Ole, Ole chants and Icelandic claps, even with a master of ceremony type at the helm. These things are always better when they’re fan-led.
And with the VIP stand to the left of the tee box only halfway full all morning, players didn’t have anywhere close to the usual number of rowdy fans shouting down. Players could literally turn their backs on the whole thing.
Visually though, it was stunning. The kind of massive scene that paints golf in a different light.
Of the 270,000 fans that are expected this week from 90 countries, the bulk of them have to be Ryder Cup rookies.
Ali bin Mohamed flew in from Qatar for his first Ryder Cup. Why this one?
“Because it’s France,” he said.
Even in Qatar, Mohamed noted, a country that only recently opened up its second golf course, most people know the name Tiger Woods. Like many at Le Golf National, Woods is a draw no matter their rooting interest. Woods was booed on the first tee, but European fans held up their phones and shouted his name throughout the four-ball session, hoping to turn his head.
“He made people like me feel that golf is not only for one race,” Mohamed said.
Paul Smith, Steve Cook, Mark Abbott and Robert Adams, four mates from Essex, England, got tickets through the lottery to attend their first Ryder Cup. The foursome is staying a mere 12 miles away from Le Golf National, but it took three hours to get inside the gates. They missed most of the action on the first tee due to an hour-long wait for the shuttle bus.
It’s a story that was shared by many on Friday.
Four American men wearing red, white and blue onesies left their hotel rooms in Paris at 5:15 a.m. and barely made it to the first tee in time to see Woods. But they were loving it anyway, enjoying ideal onesie weather while a couple of their wives indulged at the Louis Vuitton store in Paris. There’s truly something for everyone here.
Claire Rauscher and her husband from Charlotte, N.C., decided to buy tickets to Paris after an enjoyable experience at Hazeltine two years ago. They upgraded to secure reserved seats in the first-tee grandstand but missed half the action due to the lines getting in. And once the Rauschers found their seats, a TV compound blocked their view of the fairway.
Despite the hassle, Claire was still smiling.
“It’s like going to a golf tournament and an international football match,” she said.
The couple had already gone to Normandy and visited Disneyland. They’ll spend a full day sight-seeing in Paris when it’s over.
The four friends from Essex already have plans for Rome in 2022. They like the idea of traveling somewhere outside the U.K. for a Ryder Cup because it feels like a “proper holiday.”
Over 4,500 people applied to be a volunteer for this event. They took 1,350 from 50 different countries. There are 18 Jumbotron screens around the property and 10 grandstands. Fans can rent power banks to keep their social media feeds fresh and indulge at the #burgerbar and on 10 euro beers. And when it’s over, they can hop on a train and bask in the City of Light.
It’s still early at Le Golf National, but the course Ryder Cup chairman Pascal Grizot refers to as the Bethpage Black of Europe already has delivered on drama.
It’s proving worth the wait.