Chicago missed out on the Olympics, but the northwestern suburbs are getting the golf equivalent. This week, golf greats have descended upon Medinah Country Club for the 2012 Ryder Cup, a biennial event that's held in venues throughout the world. Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and company tee off this weekend.
But, as we found out, residents of Medinah, Itasca and Roselle are hoping to leave a lasting impression for the tens of thousands of international media and spectators expected to be there.
It's one of the most prestigious events in golf, a biennial tournament that pits the United States against Europe. And USA team members say boisterous Chicago sports fans will give their team an added advantage, as Ryder Cup crowds are encouraged to be rowdier than a typical well-behaved golf gallery.
“We expect this to be the most raucous Ryder Cup crowd yet,” said U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III. “Chicago fans are great sports fans. We think they'll really help us out.”
While both teams prepare, grounds crews are making their own final preparations. The long, tree-lined fairways of historic Medinah Country Club are set to be showcased to a worldwide audience of millions.
Outside, the sleepy little town of Medinah -- population 3,000 -- is getting ready to swell to welcome 45,000 visitors a day.
DuPage County officials are expecting the county to pull in $80 million in added revenue from the Ryder Cup.
“We’re talking about people coming and spending dollars, not only at the hotels, restaurants, dining, entertainment; many of them will be golfing at our world class golf courses here,” said Skip Strittmatter, Executive Director of DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’ve even put together a guide for everyone for the best dog trimmers, cleaners, everything anyone would need here for a 10-day visit.”
Sergio Abate, whose restaurant is located just outside the club, is among the local business owners trying to get a piece of the action. He's hired 15 additional staffers for the week.
“We cannot expect all 40,000 people to come here, but we do hope to get a little part of that,” said Abate. “I think we're all gonna be happy. All the businesses in the area, and in Chicago.”
Add Sharon Kopulos, the manager of Gaynor's Irish Pub, located directly across the street from the golf course, to the list of locals preparing for an onslaught.
“The numbers are totally overwhelming. We're a small family-owned business, but we're gonna do the best that we can,” she said.
Kopolus hopes she can attract some of the fans, media, and even golfers themselves with an inviting pub atmosphere, and a menu that includes some not-so-traditional Irish American pub grub.
“They should try our Irish tacos and deep fried bacon, and a pint of Guinness, you're good to go,” she said.
Also across the street from Medinah is Lake Park East High School. Teachers and students are off all week. Not because of a strike, but because the school will be the dropoff point for all 40,000 spectators shuttling in and out of the event.
“When we first started talking with the PGA, the whole idea of closing schools was a tough decision,” said Lake Park Superintendent Lynne Panega.
Panega says they settled on an early start to the school year to make up for the week's hiatus.
“There is no loss of instructional time. We definitely modified our school calendar to ensure that,” she said.
And Panega says the event will deposit $415,000 into school coffers, which will go toward building a new soccer field.
Most of the 3,000 Lake Park East students are enjoying a week-long fall vacation. Not so for the girls’ varsity golf team. They will be volunteering at the event, and have a chance to be up close and personal with some of their golfing heroes.
One varsity team member said her favorite player is Northern Irish golfing star and European team member, Rory McIlroy. He is one of the formidable opponents that make up European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal's squad.
And though Olazabal is in enemy territory, one European team member is familiar with the course and the fans: British-born, top-ranked golfer Luke Donald. He's a Northwestern graduate, and now a resident of suburban Northfield -- and he might just be the European team’s ace in the hole.