Padraig Harrington, standing on a dockside in Dublin's city center, can see that Ryder Cup fever has well and truly hit his homeland. On this otherwise ordinary January morning, eight months before the biennial matches between Europe and the United States are to be played at the K Club, about twenty miles west of here, Harrington is holding the game's most cherished team trophy close to his chest for a photo shoot. He strikes the pose of a protective guardian determined not to let this holy grail out of his grasp.
The sight of the gold seventeen-inch-tall dual-handled trophy brings all quayside traffic to a halt, as drivers emerge from their cars and crowd around a scrum of photographers. Moments later, they are joined by a fleet of military personnel who have vacated the flagship of the Irish navy, the L.É. Eithne, which is anchored nearby and about to embark on a transatlantic voyage. Through it all—this gentle madness—Harrington wears his trademark boyish grin.
This scene is but a microcosm of what awaits when the Ryder Cup finally takes place September 22 to 24 on the K Club's Arnold Palmer course in suburban Straffan, County Kildare. After waiting what seemed like an eternity to host the seventy-nine-year-old competition, the Irish cannot get enough. This will be the biggest international sporting event ever held in Ireland, and the whole country has thrown its weight behind it. Politicians from opposing parties have found a mutual focus. The Gaelic Athletic Association, the country's biggest sporting body, has moved the All-Ireland Gaelic Football Final, the equivalent of the Super Bowl, one week ahead of its traditional date in late September so that the Ryder Cup will have the stage to itself. The Irish plan to make it golf's greatest shindig of all time.
When Ryder Cup officials held a public lottery for tickets in Ireland in the fall of 2005, demand far exceeded supply. Richard Hills, the director of the event, has never experienced anything like this in a quarter century of administering the matches. Hills describes the expected daily attendance of 45,000 people as "the absolute ceiling" that will be allowed. "We were heavily oversubscribed from a very early stage, in ticket applications and for corporate hospitality," he says. To accommodate the crowds—who, as always, will have just four matches to watch during each of the first two morning and afternoon sessions, followed by twelve singles matches the third and final day—some 17,000 grandstand seats will be erected. In addition, seven JumboTron screens will be positioned around the golf course, on the practice range and in a tented village area to better enable the galleries to view all of the unfolding play.
Spectators fortunate enough to have secured tickets will not be permitted to drive to the course. The surrounding neighborhoods will be designated what the Irish term a "sterile area," with road closures to regular traffic. Anyone driving to the K Club that week must use either of two nearby park-and-ride facilities, one located at Weston Airfield in Leixlip and the other at PGA National at Palmerstown House in Naas. Some 120 double-decker buses will shuttle ticket holders to and from the course. (The players won't have to contend with the traffic restrictions: The Americans will be put up in the west wing of the palatial five-star hotel at the K Club, while the Europeans will stay in the east wing.)