It's the sort of event that John Brownlee has watched so many times on TV. In fact, The Golf Channel was televising this news conference with Ryder Cup captains David Love III and Darren Clarke live from the clubhouse at Hazeltine National. But this time, John was watching in-person, with his young sons at his side.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for them to see those guys up close," he says.
10-year-old Quinn and 8-year-old Ian are avid golfers, but they didn't quite understand the importance of the 2016 Ryder Cup coming to their own golf club, until they started asking about all the television cameras. "When I explained to them that this press conference would be seen by people around the world, in Europe and the U.S. — and that Mommy's at home watching on TV right now, that got them pretty excited."
Besides bringing his kids to the preview press conference, John was also there in his official role as the chair of the Member Communication Committee for the Ryder Cup. "I'm responsible to sort of be a liaison between the PGA and the members. Communicate the different deadlines and when things are happening and that kind of stuff. And during the event, we'll have some services for the members at the member pavilion and I'll be responsible for some of that."
"I'm proud of the club, I'm proud of the people who are really pulling a lot of the weight. One of the things that Davis Love said in that press conference was that this place is ready for the Ryder Cup today, and I think that was a testament to all the work that's been done and just the natural golfers at Hazeltine and Minnesota in general have."
"It's very cool," he says, "and we feel very fortunate to be able to see all that play out with our own eyes.
John and his family have been Hazeltine members for five years, but he has been associated with the golf club for most of his life. "I grew up at Hazeltine as a kid," he says.
"My best friend's parents were members, and Hazeltine has an incredible junior golf program, so we just played all summer long. One of our parents would drop us off at 8:00 or 10:00 in the morning and pick us up after dinner and we'd be out playing golf all day long. I think the guest fees for a junior back then were about five dollars," he says, "so it was pretty good babysitting to be on the golf course all day."
Now his two boys play the course almost as much as their dad did. "They're both in the junior program," he says, "and Quinn played on the club's team in the Junior PGA League this year. It's a really cool program, they wear jerseys and everything with numbers on them, and play little three-hole matches. It's a great little program where they play against other clubs. And Ian, the younger one, will play on that team next year as well."
The family also plays as a foursome on Sundays.
"We try and play every Sunday night as a family," he says. "My wife plays, the four of us play, so at the very least we're out there together at least once a week. Sometimes a little bit more than that, but Sunday evening is kind of our family golf night."
Ready for the Ryder Cup
The 2016 Ryder Cup may still be a long way away (Sept. 27 - Oct. 2 to be exact), but John says the Hazeltine members are already brimming with anticipation. "Just imagine it with 40,000 people dressed in red, white and blue, and/0r yellow and blue. It's going to be an absolute spectacle. It's going to be incredible. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it."
Of course, they have plenty of visual cues around the club and clubhouse. "There's the pictures on the windows, and Captain Love's locker is two lockers away from mine. It has the little medal on it that says 'Ryder Cup Captain,' and you see it there and think, oh my god, that's Davis Love's locker. It is very surreal."
In fact, the juxtaposition between Hazeltine being the social and golf hub for his family and the host club for one of the world's great team competitions really hit home when he walked into that press conference, in the same ballroom that usually hosts weddings and other club events.
"I mean we play bingo in there in the wintertime. That's the room where we have the annual haunted house for the kids. Not to mention weddings and other big events. And then to see it set up like that with the red Ryder Cup background and the luminaries of golf, the guys you see on TV, it is kind of surreal. You think about that, like okay, in a few weeks it's going to be a haunted house for the kids and here we are watching these guys talk about the Ryder Cup. It's pretty crazy."
It will definitely be a year to remember, he says. Particularly with the U.S. trying to bounce back after three straight European wins.
"I'm really excited for my kids. When they're old someday, they'll tell their kids that they were there for hopefully the USA comeback win, and that's as good as it gets."
Hazeltine National Golf Club is a private golf club located in Chaska, Minn., about 30 minutes southwest of downtown Minneapolis. The club opened in 1962 with a mission to build and maintain a golf course suitable for the conduct of national championships. Hazeltine is one of only two courses in the United States to have hosted the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Amateur, and Ryder Cup. Hazeltine’s meeting and event space, golf shop and specified services in the learning center are open to the public. More information about becoming a member at Hazeltine is available at www.hazeltinenational.com.