Neil and I woke like children on Christmas morning at about 6.30am today. “Are you awake?” I said nervously. “Yes, for about the last three hours.” Came a reply through the darkness.
We decided we just couldn’t wait any longer so headed straight for the course. As the bus pulled up through the gates of Valhalla the morning sun was poking it’s head above the tree-line and we were given our first glimpse of the turf on which the 37th Ryder Cup will be won and lost.
The first mission of the day was to go out and assess the course. Brits, (I really mean me here), can be a little snobby about American courses and modern American Jack Nicklaus designs in particular. I’ve always pictured sprawling flat bunkers, huge green complexes, massive water hazards and no trees. Well, Valhalla is not like that at all. It has the feel of an old British parkland course – a Wentworth or a Woburn.
The start is a little inauspicious with electricity pylons towering above the first few holes but as the course moves on and into the back nine, the holes become extremely picturesque with greens and fairways framed by huge old trees and bubbling creeks. There are changes in elevation as the fairways sweep through the trees, it means there are a number of great vantage points for spectators that should only add to the atmosphere.
In general, the course looks to be in immaculate condition. Neil said he was reminded of Augusta by the pristine tees and fairways. The greens look to be pretty fast too. We saw Phil Mickelson on the practice green tickling putts down the slope that looked to have no hope of reaching a cup some 30 feet away, but many were rolling three and four feet by.
There’s no real evidence of damage from Hurricane Ike. There are a few twigs in the rough but that’s about it. The organisers have clearly done a sterling clear-up job.