While the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan County is a huge sports story, it’s also a big economic one as the biennial contest between the best U.S. and European golfers is expected to have a direct economic impact of $135 million in the region.
From the 30,000 official hotel room nights and extra air traffic at area airports to the 1,300 temporary workers hired (including construction workers) and 1 million square feet of temporary structures constructed on the course for attendees, the event’s economic reach will be felt throughout the region, says David Kohler, president and CEO of Kohler Co. and chair of the 2020 Ryder Cup.
“Hotels up and down the I-43 corridor will be utilized,” he says. “We have good traffic flow on I-43 and on State 23, so it will be fairly easy for people to get here from Green Bay, the Fond du Lac area or Milwaukee.”
The event’s impact will remain long after the professional golfers leave, as people who watched the tournament on TV decide to visit the area, Kohler says.
“The event will be viewed by millions around the globe. It will be like a 27-hour global commercial for not only golf but Wisconsin,” he says. “The global brand awareness through the TV coverage is priceless.”
Hosting the Ryder Cup, which Kohler called the “pinnacle event in golf,” will continue to improve the area’s reputation as a golf destination.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. Last year, the Ryder Cup was in Paris. Next year, it will be here in little Haven, Wis., and then after that, it moves to Rome,” he says. “The event gives great credentials to our courses, which brings people in.”
In addition to the Ryder Cup, Whistling Straits hosted the PGA Championship in 2004, 2010 and 2015 and the U.S. Senior Open in 2007. Serious planning began for the Ryder Cup following the 2015 event, says Jason Mengel, director of the 2020 Ryder Cup. Next May, preparations will amp up as construction begins on the temporary structures needed for the event. Four of the six chalet villages used for corporate hospitality have already sold out.
“We expect to have 50,000 visitors a day,” Mengel says. “The golf course will become a small city as we finish the construction. We need to make sure there’s electricity, security, Wi-Fi. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
In July, the Sheboygan County Municipal Airport was granted recognition as a user fee airport, which means international private flights can land there and go through U.S. Customs. While that will be ready in time for the Ryder Cup, Kohler says it also will benefit area businesses that do business overseas. “Receiving that recognition is a game changer for the airport,” he says.
As the event approaches, Kohler says it will be vital to focus on the details and create the best possible experience for customers.
“We’re expanding and improving our hotels, adding new shops and services in Kohler and getting ready for the world
to arrive,” he says.
In addition to Whistling Straits, Kohler’s hospitality businesses include The American Club in Kohler, Lodge Kohler in Green Bay, the historic Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews, Scotland, Blackwolf Run in Kohler, spa services and business ventures such as Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates. Beyond those ventures, Kohler manufactures engines, generators, and kitchen and bath products.
As for what the golfers can expect when they arrive for the Ryder Cup, Kohler says, “It’s not an easy, vanilla course. When the wind blows, it can present some challenges and create some drama. It’s going to be a great event.”