Ryder Cup road trip: Where and how to relive past showdowns

September 18, 2016

For golfers who savor Top 100 courses, pampering service and electrifying history, a quartet of America’s premier resorts offer you the chance to relive Ryder Cup showdowns of the past. The next best thing to being there for chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A!” is going there and creating magic memories of your own. So bring your A-game — and the bubbly.

Kiawah Island, S.C., kiawahresort.com

Play: Home to the legendary “War by the Shore” Ryder Cup matches of 1991, the Ocean Course at Kiawah is a beautiful brute — a muscular, coastal Pete Dye design that offers sea breezes, sea views and seasickness when it’s played from the 7,356-yard tips (which can be stretched out an additional 500 yards for Tour pros and masochists).

When it debuted just prior to the ’91 Ryder Cup, Raymond Floyd speculated that no one would break 80 if the course were hosting a stroke-play event. Dye has since softened it twice (witness Rory McIlroy’s 13-under-par total in winning the 2012 PGA Championship), but it still sports a lethal blend of tidal-marsh carries, scrub-topped dunes and well-protected, topsy-turvy greens.

Replay: Feel the Bern on the 18th green — for Bernhard Langer. It was there in ’91 that Langer faced one of the most pressure-packed putts in golf history, a six-footer for par that would have sealed his victory over Hale Irwin in their singles match and secured the Ryder Cup for the Europeans. With spike marks in his line, Langer stroked the putt firmly toward the left-center of the hole, but it barely missed to the right. One of the most iconic images in the sport is Langer’s anguished reaction as the putt slid by — and America walked away winners.

While architect Pete Dye has softened his greens and their surrounds over years, the Ocean Course remains among the toughest tests in the country.

Stay: This 10,000-acre resort serves up 10 miles of private beach, 30 miles of forested paths and the Sanctuary Hotel. Additional highlights at this GOLF magazine Platinum Medal–winning property include an oceanfront setting, five sublime courses, a lavish spa and curving lobby staircases that evoke Gone With the Wind grandeur.

Taste: At the Ocean Course clubhouse, massive picture windows in the Ryder Cup Bar overlook the 18th green and the Atlantic. The bar also features a trove of Ryder Cup memorabilia and a wrap-around veranda perfect for sea-gazing and toasting to the good life, with a Palmetto Pale Ale or a Sweet-Tea Mojito.

Pinehurst, N.C., pinehurst.com

Play: Dating to 1907, the Donald Ross masterpiece known simply as “No. 2” wound back the clock prior to the 2014 U.S. Open. A Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw restoration returned the course to its mid-century heyday, swapping out wall-to-wall sod for tawny-edged fairways framed by hardpan and native rough. Mostly untouched were Ross’s ingeniously (some would say fiendishly) contoured greens. These turtleback putting surfaces and closely mown surrounds make Pinehurst No. 2 the fiercest test of chipping in the biz.

Replay: Every visitor is compelled to replicate Payne Stewart’s indelible fist-pump, when the Knickered One thrust his right arm skyward after draining a 20-footer to capture the 1999 U.S. Open. A full-sized bronze of Stewart in that exalted pose is positioned adjacent to the 18th green.

For Ryder Cup flavor, pay special attention at the par-5 10th. It was there, during his singles match in 1951, that Ben Hogan yanked his drive into the pines, hacked out, then thundered a 280-yard fairway wood. The ball trundled onto the green, leaving a putt estimated at between 75 and 100 feet. Hogan being Hogan, he rapped it up the slope, and down it went for an unlikely birdie 4. He beat Charlie Ward 3 and 2, and the U.S. thrashed Great Britain 9 ½ to 2 ½.

For the 2014 U.S. Open, a Coore-Crenshaw restoration at Pinehurst’s No. 2 brought back the tawny-edged fairways and native roughs last seen in the 1940s.

Stay: As you rock back and forth on the porch of the 118-year-old Carolina Hotel, it’s easy to see what folks find so comforting here: Pinehurst’s timeless-ness. The view hasn’t much changed in 100 years, just the resort’s amenities, which now include nine golf courses, a newly constructed short course, an 18-hole putting course, a state-of-the-art spa and fitness center, and a nearby beach club.

Taste: Conveniently situated off the lobby of the Carolina is the Ryder Cup Lounge, a comfy retreat bursting with mementos of Ryder Cups past — especially the 1951 contest. Dreamy Lobster Crab Cake Sliders and specialty drinks, such as the Ryder Cup Sangria, can be enjoyed at the intimate bar or in rockers on the porch.

Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., pgaresort.com

Play: Home to the Tour’s Honda Classic since 2007, the Champion course at PGA National also hosted the 1987 PGA Championship and the 1983 Ryder Cup, one of the most exciting matches ever contested. In 1990, Jack Nicklaus tweaked Tom Fazio’s original design and in the process created the infamous “Bear Trap.”

Replay: Even without the Bear Trap, Fazio’s course produced plenty of drama at the ’83 Ryder Cup. The closest Ryder Cup ever played on American soil up to that point came down to the penultimate singles clash, between Lanny Wadkins and José Maria Canizares.

At the par-5 18th, Wadkins planted a 60-yard wedge shot 18 inches from the hole to earn a vital half-point tie. When Tom Watson downed Bernard Gallacher 2 and 1 in the final match, the U.S. escaped with a one-point win. Still, the greatest shot of all at 18 occurred in the day’s first contest, between Seve Ballesteros and Fuzzy Zoeller. With the match tied on the final hole, Ballesteros found a fairway bunker with his second shot, then carved a 3-wood out of the trap from 245 yards and found the green. Stirred but not shaken, Zoeller hit a 2-iron third onto the green. Both men two-putted for the halve.

PGA National is a mainstay on the PGA Tour’s Florida swing.

Stay: PGA National serves up five courses, but golf is hardly the sole attraction. This Silver Medal–winning resort features a 40,000-square-foot spa, acclaimed dining and nearby beaches and shopping.

Taste: You shouldn’t depart without trying one of the sizable, savory burgers at Bar 91. Grape and golf connoisseurs should book a table at Ironwood, where the wine list includes bottles from four Tour legends, among them Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

1979 Ryder Cup: THE GREENBRIER
White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., greenbrier.com

Play: Although the resort’s Old White TPC course has grabbed most of the attention as host of the Greenbrier Classic since 2010, it’s the namesake Greenbrier course that experienced Solheim Cup glory in 1994 and Ryder Cup action in 1979.

At 6,675 yards, this Nicklaus redesign of a 1924 Seth Raynor creation isn’t scorecard long, but it frustrates the wayward hitter with tight, forested fairways that roll through an Allegheny Mountain valley lined with maples, oaks and pines. The 339-yard, par-4 10th demands an aerial approach over a deep, wide creek to a narrow putting surface, and the 403-yard, par-4 second features a lake that drowns all pushed shots.

Replay: The handsome par-3 17th is nearly the aesthetic and shot-value equal of the second and 10th holes, with water lurking to the right. It was at 17 that Lanny Wadkins and Larry Nelson closed out Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido in the opening four-ball match of the 1979 Ryder Cup. This set the stage for Ryder Cup rookie Nelson to dominate the competition, going 5-0, including three wins over prevailing British Open champ Ballesteros. The U.S. would triumph over Europe, 17-11.

The Greenbrier Old White TPC course
Old White TPC’s third dazzles with its classic biarritz green.
Courtesy the Greenbrier

Stay: After devastating summer floods in 2016, The Greenbrier has bounced back to reclaim its place as one of America’s finest hotels. Almost mythic in its appearance, the hotel boasts a vast Georgian facade, and the resort offers similarly grand activities, from casino gaming and sporting clays to bowling and tours of an underground bunker once intended for U.S. government use in case of a nuclear war. Its spa is one of the nation’s oldest, dating to 1778 — although services and treatments are fully up to date.

Taste: Prime 44 West, named for hoops legend Jerry West, is the resort’s spot for steaks. Bring your appetite for the “Nothing But Net” 44-ounce Porterhouse. For a flavorful nod to the Greenbrier’s renowned pro, try Sam Snead’s at the Golf Club or its more casual sibling, Slammin’ Sammy’s.