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Ryder Cup draws international tourists, big spending to Chicago

Paul  Kopulos his mom Sharown Gaynor's Restaurant Pub near Medinah Country Club. They are hoping their proximity Ryder Cup

Paul Kopulos and his mom Sharon own Gaynor's Restaurant and Pub near the Medinah Country Club. They are hoping their proximity to Ryder Cup events helps business. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 25, 2012 6:11AM



The Ryder Cup is coming this week to the Chicago suburbs, and if that doesn’t impress you, consider these facts:

♦ With 1,800 credentialed media, its press horde is bigger than the one at the NCAA Final Four.

♦ It’s one event with enough clout to close a high school. Lake Park High School, whose parking lots are a 3-iron shot from the front gate of the cup’s host, the Medinah Country Club, is closing for the event but will make money from it to spend on athletic facilities. Its lots will be used to stage shuttle buses.

♦ Its estimated economic impact of around $130 million puts it on par with the promised benefit from last May’s NATO summit downtown. The difference is that massive outlays for security won’t be needed for the Ryder visitors.

♦ Hosting a Ryder is a rare event, like Halley’s Comet, unlikely to happen more than once in a Chicagoan’s life.

For suburbs west and northwest of Chicago and the city itself, the Ryder Cup is a chance to show off for a well-heeled crowd, many with corporate connections, in the hope that they will return for business meetings or a full-fledged relocation.

Shops, restaurants and attractions will vie for patrons such as John Hudak, a 55-year-old resident of Tucson, Ariz., arriving next week with friends in the hospitality business. They plan to watch golf, play it and eat a lot. “We particularly like red meat and red wine,” he said.

They’ve got tee times at various courses, including Lemont’s Cog Hill, and might make a side trip downtown. Hudak, publisher of Madden Media, which produces marketing guides, said the Ryder Cup is a great opportunity to promote the host area.

“It’s a world class, premier event. With the international travel it brings, the exposure is priceless,” he said. “And the people who come will want to know, ‘What is an authentic local experience?’ That’s what they’ll want to do.”

Authentic? Local? For visitors to Medinah Country Club, the closest business that fits that description is Gaynor’s Restaurant and Pub just south of Irving Park and Medinah roads and near the main gate. Owner Paul Kopulos said he’s not sure of the economic impact, but he’s doing his part.

His sports-themed place has signage welcoming Ryder Cup visitors, and he’ll set up a “19th Hole” tent serving drinks and Chicago-style hot dogs. But Kopulos has rueful memories of 2006, when the country club hosted a PGA championship.

“They closed the road down and set up a shuttle service from the train station,” he said. Kopulos watched as potential customers were bused on by.

“It was like a ghost town here,” he said.

This time, the setup is different, with access to his business and the neighboring post office preserved. However, the estimated 40,000 people per day who will come to Medinah still must park about a half-hour’s drive away and hop a shuttle. Medinah has a convenient Metra stop and the commuter service has added trains for the Ryder Cup, but the passengers this time will walk a short way to the course.

The competition’s ground zero is in Medinah, an unincorporated patch of DuPage County with near-estate homes in a setting that safeguards a rural feel. There are no sidewalks and street parking is verboten.

The layout guarantees that Ryder Cup tourism dollars will be widely dispersed. It’s possible that the communities nearest to the event, such as Itasca, Roselle and Bloomingdale, won’t get much of a share.

Attendees have booked rooms in Schaumburg, Rosemont, Lombard and Oak Brook. These are towns with sizable hotels and proximity to the remote parking sites attendees must use.

The parking is at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights and a DuPage County forest preserve property near Army Trail and Glen Ellyn roads. Volunteers staffing the event can park at the home of the Schaumburg Boomers baseball team.

Downtown Chicago also is getting in on the activity, with nearly all its 35,000 rooms booked during Ryder weekend, said Warren Wilkinson, chief marketing officer at the city’s tourism agency, Choose Chicago.

The lodging that’s closest to the match is Itasca’s Eaglewood Resort & Spa, a neighbor of the country club and a lush property in its own right, with a par-72 course. As of late last week, the 295-room facility still had about 10 rooms available for the Ryder Cup, all the result of cancellations, said sales director Julie Berry.

She said she expects to have little trouble re-renting them. “The hotels in the suburbs filled up first, then the demand went downtown,” Berry said.

For Eaglewood, the cup presents a chance to draw international trade, expanding its domestic business profile, she said. To celebrate the occasion, the resort is hosting special events—“dueling pianos,” acoustic guitar performances and a firepit party among them.

The international factor makes the Ryder Cup a prestigious “get” for local tourism. Its format — teams from the United States and Europe playing for pride but not prize money — brings nationalism and stronger rooting interests to a sport that otherwise depends on individual competition.

“In Europe, this is probably the second biggest sporting event” after soccer’s World Cup, said Michael Belot, director of the event for the PGA.

“There’s a lot of emotion that comes into play,” he said. “For these top golfers, it’s the one time they get to be on a team.”

Sky News and the BBC are set up to provide saturation coverage. In the United States, ESPN and NBC split the duties. The PGA estimates the worldwide audience at 438 million.

The biennial Ryder Cup alternates between U.S. and European venues, and the home continent traditionally provides about 90 percent of the attendance. But a chance to win over an international visitor really sets tourism agencies in motion.

“They stay longer and they shop more,” said Skip Strittmatter, executive director of the DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau. “When Europeans get here, things look cheaper than they do at home.”

For all Ryder clientele, her agency has produced local guides and coupon book.

Remember the old slogan for activists, “Think globally, act locally”? The Chicago region’s promoters have their own version, “Think globally, spend locally.”



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