How Premier Golf Became Ryder Cup Travel Experts
Since 1991, Atlanta-based golf tour operator Premier Golf has hosted more than 30,000 people to attend the Ryder Cup every two years.
Premier Golf president Jim Ward is one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet regarding golf travel to the Ryder Cup. He says it all began when Premier, who takes golfers to destinations around the world, began an official relationship with the PGA of America in the late 1980s.
“We had already been doing business with the PGA of America in 1989 by servicing their business travel and handling golf travel services for PGA club professionals,” Ward says. “The PGA came to us that year and proposed packaging the Ryder Cup ticket to the 1991 matches at Kiawah Island, South Carolina with a hotel and ground transportation. We agreed to manage this but we really had no idea where it all would lead”
Timing is everything and the Ryder Cup, unbeknownst to many, was about to blossom into a major international sports event.
In 1989, the Ryder Cup at the Belfry in Birmingham, England was broadcast nationally in the U.S. and Americans got to see the drama, tension and patriotic fervor so synonymous now with the event.
“Americans watched as Fred Couples failed to get up and down on 18 to lose his match to Christy O’Conner Jr., which assured the Europeans a tie and retention of the Cup since they had won the last two matches in 1985 and 1987,” Ward says. “Americans also saw something they had never seen before. U.S.A. players and their wives surrounding the 18th green, crying”
He continues, “For the first time, Americans began to realize just how much the Ryder Cup meant to these players. The Euros now held the cup for three straight matches as they headed back to America and Kiawah Island. Little did we know at the time, but Premier Golf had caught lightning in a bottle.”
Enhancing the significance of the 1991 Ryder Cup, dubbed “The War by the Shore”, was our armed forces had just won the Gulf War a few months earlier and patriotic fervor was running high when the two teams arrived at Kiawah Island.
Ward has seen lots of Ryder Cups since, but 1991 was special because of its unique timing and the way the dramatic ending unfolded.
Ward remembers: “I was there to witness my first Ryder Cup and I can tell you, it was hostile. I saw the two intense competitors, Ballesteros and Azinger, almost get in to a shouting match, Corey Pavin was wearing his Army fatigue hat in honor of the troops, and I saw Mark Calcavecchia agonizingly blow a 5up lead to lose his match to Colin Montgomerie. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so distraught. The best part? I was standing on a sand dune, watching, as Bernhard Langer missed a five-foot putt, which assured Hale Irwin a half point and won the Ryder Cup for the United States. It was absolute bedlam with American flags and chants of USA, USA, USA.”
Premier Golf had over 2,000 people staying in hotels in Charleston, South Carolina for the 1991 Ryder Cup. The guests were transported by bus round-trip each day to the Ocean Course.
“Amazingly, everything went off flawlessly,” Ward says. “It was the first time we had attempted anything of this magnitude and I must admit, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was all over.”
Ward says those vivid memories from 1991 continue to inspire him and his team at Premier Golf.
“I wish every sports fan could experience a Ryder Cup in person,” he says. “It’s one of the most unbelievable and inspiring events and provides wonderful lifelong memories.”