Ryder Cup Memories: 1991 Kiawah Island "War by the Shore"

By Jim Ward President of Premier Golf

How it all began
We had already been doing business with the PGA of America in 1989, servicing their business travel and handling golf travel services for PGA club professionals. The PGA came to us that year and proposed packaging Ryder Cup tickets with hotel and ground transportation. We agreed to manage this but we had no idea where it all would lead. We began preparations to handle the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island, SC.

Americans, for the first time on national television, watched the 1989 Ryder Cup at the Belfry in Birmingham, England. They watched as Fred Couples failed to get up and down on 18 to lose his match one up to Christy O’Connor Jr. This match assured the Europeans a tie and retention of the Cup since they had won the last two matches in 1985 and 1987. Americans also saw something they had never seen before; American players and their wives surrounding the 18th green…crying! 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; Premier Golf had caught lightning in a bottle!

Ballesteros and Olazabal smiling at the 1989 Ryder Cup

The War by the Shore
America had just won the Gulf War a few months earlier and patriotic fever was running high when the “hostilities” began at Kiawah Island SC. Perhaps a little too much so when the matches were dubbed “The War by the Shore”. I was there to witness my first Ryder Cup and I can tell you, it was hostile. I saw the two battlers, Seve and Azinger almost get in to a shouting match, Corey Pavin wearing his Army fatigue hat in honor of the troops, and painfully watched Mark Calcvecchia blow a 5up lead to lose his match to Colin Montgomerie. I don’t believe 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.

1991 Ryder Cup Team USA
We pulled it off!
This was also the first Ryder Cup for PremierGolf. We had over 2,000 people staying in hotels in Charleston SC. We transported them by coach, roundtrip daily, to the Ocean Course.  Everything came off flawlessly. This 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.

Back to the Belfry
So now, after six years, the Ryder Cup was back in America where it belonged. After an earlier period of complete dominance by the Americans, the Ryder Cup had suddenly become the most compelling, pressure packed event in all of sports. And now, it’s back to the Belfry to see if the Americans can retain the Cup. This will also be our first challenge of managing a European event.


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