People of The Ryder Cup: The Match Director
Although the matches at The Ryder Cup only take place over three days, the whole planning process for this much-anticipated matchup between Europe and the USA is a much longer process.
From resurfacing roads and improving the golf course, to creating The Ryder Cup’s largest first tee grandstand and France’s first temporary three-tier structure, a lot goes into making this event a unique experience for spectators.
That’s why we sat down with Edward Kitson, The Ryder Cup Match Director, to find out the processes and challenges behind creating a truly special Ryder Cup.
What is your first personal memory of The Ryder Cup?
“My first memory was actually working The Ryder Cup in 1989 at The Belfry and I'd literally only just started at the European Tour two or three weeks beforehand. I remember I worked five weeks on the trot with not a single day off and I thought: ‘Gosh, what have I got myself in for?’
“The whole week was an amazing week, it went by so quickly actually. I can't remember to this day what I was doing all week. I just know the day started at around 4am and we were finishing very late. But it was a great start to an event I've become a great part of since.”
How does someone become a Match Director? How did that journey begin?
“Between school and university, I caddied predominantly for Bill Longmuir, before there was all these professional caddies. I did this for six months and also caddied for Barry Lane. Lane had his first top ten finish when I was caddying for him on the weekend.
“I thought, from this experience, that I would love to do something in sport. After university I started applying for jobs in the sporting world and, at the same time, I got the opportunity to be a runner at what was then the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth through (Ryder Cup Director) Richard Hills and (former European Tour Chief Executive) George O'Grady. I did that for four weeks and really enjoyed the experience.
“In those days, the Championship Management Department was very small. There were only about four people working in it and they said there may be something available later in the year, but they weren't sure. It was then agreed I would start on September 4, 1989 as a Staging Assistant.
“I did a couple of events first and then went on to The Ryder Cup and worked there for six weeks up at The Belfry.
“Between 1992 and 1996, I actually moved and worked on our European Tour Properties Department and the EuropeanGolf Design Department. I moved to IMG's offices in London and worked there until 1996.
“Then, two colleagues left the European Tour and I was asked if I would come back and work on the Volvo PGA as they were short staffed. I took up that opportunity and came back and started working back in what was the Championship Management Department.
“I was then asked if I would want to stay on for The Ryder Cup as the Staging Director. Some of the planning had started for the Ryder Cup in 1997, but I took on the full role of doing the whole operation delivery and that was really my first big role in The Ryder Cup.”
In terms of planning for a Ryder Cup, when does the process start?
“When the Ryder Cup was announced to go to France in 2011, we started on the planning, but the focus at this stage was very much on the transportation and the infrastructure on the golf course and around the site. Le Golf National was a great venue, but it didn't have any roads around the site, so we had to look at how we could improve the roads and buggy paths to accommodate the build of The Ryder Cup infrastructure.
“The irrigation system was very old and there was very limited drainage. The golf course had also become very overgrown with bushes and other things. The focus for that initial period was working on a plan with Le Golf National and their team on how we could rectify these points and the investment that could be put into the golf course to deliver the infrastructure required to host a Ryder Cup.
“One of the key elements of the bid had been bringing spectators in via train, so we had to work out how to plan this and was there anything we could do with the Authorities on the improvement of the roads. That was the main focus between 2011 and 2014.
“After The Ryder Cup in Scotland, our main focus has been on the detailed masterplan of the site and where all the infrastructure and structures will go. And then, the development of all the specifications and the appointment of all the different contractors.
“For most Ryder Cups, it's a seven-year programme, which is the same with Italy for 2022. Not a day goes by without thinking of planning for The Ryder Cup.”
Gleneagles offered its own challenges, how did that week go for you?
“Gleneagles was a great partnership between ourselves, the Scottish Government, Events Scotland and also Gleneagles and we had a very good collaboration as a team. We worked very closely with those three organisations on the whole planning of the event.
“That started from after Celtic Manor in 2010 right through till 2014. We'd have quarterly meetings, then in the last two years we'd have monthly meetings and they were very helpful on the whole transportation planning such as the delivery of all the park and rides, the policing and the security. Gleneagles was a great venue. It had lots of space, it had hosted major events before but never of this scale; this is very similar to our collaboration in Paris.
“We worked very closely with Gleneagles on the whole operational plan of what we wanted to do. A number of the holes were changed in advance of The Ryder Cup to create more space for spectators and areas were created where we could put the hospitality. When it came to the week of The Ryder Cup I think the concerns were obviously what the weather could be like in Scotland.
“The actual weather was fantastic except for on Thursday night when we had a mini-storm. I woke up at 3am in the morning and was told that the scaffolding was blowing over on our walkways and there were trees and branches blowing down.
“So, between 3am and 5am we did a full site view of what damage had been done. We were able to rectify some of the scaffolding that had been blown over by the time the gates opened at 6.30am.
“But from the moment of the first tee shot, the sun came up on that Friday morning and it was the most glorious morning. It was everyone's dream to see Scotland on the Glen and we were exceptionally lucky with the weather. It was the most wonderful, smooth week as far as I'm concerned after that.”
Do the challenges tend to come earlier on in the planning or the closer you get to the event?
“One of the challenges is finding the location for all the parking because, in an ideal world, you want to have hard standing areas as, should it rain, the car parks will hold up to the wet weather. Certainly, in France, we've had a challenge finding hard standing areas where we can park cars.
“We've got some areas that are hard standing but not a lot. In Wales, we created a really big area that was all hard standing, which was part of their redevelopment plan. In Ireland, we lost half the car parks there and had to relocate them to what was a racecourse, because they were used to that traffic, but it was further away.
“That is one of the key elements of any Ryder Cup. Getting people in and getting people out, all in one go, is tough. They want to be there Friday morning for the first tee off time and to be there Sunday evening at the last shot.
“It's very different to other sporting events. Yes, football stadiums do that, but they're doing it week in week out. The Ryder Cup is just a one-off event - hence why it's a big element of the whole planning stage.”
How does your role then change during the actual event week?
“I suppose the easiest way to explain it is, very much over the last seven years it has been a lot of planning and working with everyone on the development of the plans. When it comes to the week of The Ryder Cup, that planning should hopefully have been complete.
“The focus is then very much on the operation and delivery of it all. If things are going well, my role, though the days are quite long, in principle is keeping an eye on all the planning and making sure it's going well from an operations point of view.
“And then, if things need changing or amending, I consult the team on these - such as problems on the roads, or security areas or if we have issues with people queuing for too long in the catering areas. It's to try and come up with solutions to those problems.
“If there's any firefighting we need to do, we'll do that throughout the week basically. The hardest challenge, which we sadly experienced from Ireland and Wales, was the bad weather. If we get a lot of rain and wind that creates its own challenges and makes the role much more difficult operationally.”
What makes Le Golf National work for The Ryder Cup?
“With the work that we've done on the golf course, together with the French Golf Federation (FFG), we've taken a lot of the bushes out of the side of the hills and it's created some wonderful viewing areas for the spectators.
“Particularly the first and the second holes have great banking around them and then 15, 16, 17 and 18 are all in a bowl, where spectators can see almost four holes in one go, which is something we've never had before.
“I think the atmosphere will be unique on those holes. It is a stadium course that was built with that in mind and for hosting major events. It's going to be spectacular.”
The first tee grandstand is a big talking point this year. What went into the planning of that and are you excited about the atmosphere it will bring?
“The first time we really worked on a first tee grandstand was actually in Ireland in 2006, where we had a little wrap around stand. It became the start of the whole concept of creating these first tee atmospheres.
“It was wonderful with Tiger and Darren Clarke - it was a very special week for Darren. I do remember that and thinking ‘Gosh, this is something we need to work on.’
“We had about 1,400 seats there in Ireland. In Wales we worked to about 1,800 seats. And then we were able to increase that to 2,200 at Gleneagles because of the space we had around.
“We had this unique opportunity in France where there was a lot of space behind the first tee, but the stand will also look over the first, with views of 9, 10, 15 and 18 as well. There are over 6,900 seats on this complex, which predominantly look over the first tee and then the others will have views 9,10, 15 and 18.
“We have, for the first time, allowed people to reserve seats in the stand because the capacity is much greater than we've ever done. I think it's going to be a wonderfully unique opportunity and you can actually see six or seven different holes from the top of the stand.
“It's 20 metres high so if you're scared of heights it might not be one for you.”
It's the first time there's been a temporary three-tier structure at a sporting event in France, what was the process behind that?
“GL the company that's building the three-tier structure is a French company, but there's a law in France that says temporary structures can only been two tiers high. So, when we heard about this we weren't sure what to do as at past Ryder Cups we'd had three-tier structures.
“This is because it's a good use of space and it also helps in terms of viewing. At the top of a three-tier structure, the view is unique and very special. We were keen to try and continue this plan and we had three locations on the site planned to build these three-tier structures but obviously we had to apply to the authorities for this.
“With ourselves, GL and the French Federation, we had to send a lot of documentation as to why we wanted to do this. It was to increase the capacity and it's good for the event. But they also wanted to see the technical drawings and the specifications and it took the best part of 18 months to get a full sign off on this.
“This will be the first time a temporary three-tier structure will have been built at a sporting event in France. Hopefully, it will be something that they will hopefully continue to do now that The Ryder Cup has showcased this."
What other things should fans look out for at Le Golf National?
“We have the largest merchandise/retail site that we've ever built at a Ryder Cup - which is in the West Spectator Village. That's where 60% of the spectators will come in.
“Within that, our team have created a wonderful layout and the whole interior has been done to a very high standard, showcasing all the official licensees and suppliers who have supported The Ryder Cup. It's also the first time we've had two spectator villages. Hopefully, for the spectators, it will be a wonderful opportunity to purchase some unique Ryder Cup merchandise.
“We've also got 16 big screens on-site and they're the biggest we've ever done. They will be a feature for the spectators too.”
“We are also staging the Opening Ceremony in the West Spectator Village and the stage will be used each night for concerts.”
From a personal point of view, what are you looking forward to at this year's Ryder Cup?
“I'm part of a great team who have worked very hard on this event. It's the first time The Ryder Cup has gone to France, we've worked with so many colleagues in the office, with the French Federation and local authorities - I just want it to run really smoothly and showcase France in its best light.
“So many people have put so much time into this and particularly the volunteers who are giving their time so freely, we appreciate that.
“We're just hopeful that when the first tee off on Friday comes we've got a lovely day and come the evening on Sunday we've had a good week, everything has run operationally smoothly, and when the final putt has dropped everyone can look back and know that all the hard work was worth it. .”
Stay tuned for more inside access pieces on RyderCup.com over the next few weeks.