Ryder Cup 2023 attracts a new generation of fans
By: Steve Rockowitz
November 9, 2023
Rolex has been an enduring supporter of golf as well as the prestigious Ryder Cup since 1995. Steve Rockowitz flew to Rome for this year’s tournament to see just how brand and sport tee up
There’s nothing quite like the experience of being with thousands of golf fans and witnessing the first tee at the Ryder Cup. It’s the golfing equivalent of the Super Bowl or World Cup. The Europeans have a list of songs that they sing between teams appearing and teeing off, and groups of people are dressed up in any number of costumes. The only thing that can possibly top it is being ensconced at the Rolex suite, which is situated strategically on the 16th, 17th and 18th holes, and witnessing the European team clinch the 44th Ryder Cup on the 16th hole green. Let me assure you, there is nothing better.
In the world of golf, no event captures the essence of teamwork, sportsmanship and sheer passion quite like the Ryder Cup. Since the tournament’s establishment in 1927, it has become the epitome of tradition, captivating audiences with a uniquely riveting display of skill, camaraderie and long-standing fervour for the sport. This biennial competition transcends the boundaries of individual achievement, embracing the power of team spirit and national pride. For one week, 24 of the best players from Europe and the United States face off in a combination of four-ball, foursomes and singles matches.
Prior to this year’s event, the US held 27 victories to the Europeans’ 14, setting the stage for an ongoing battle that continues to captivate audiences worldwide.
“Twenty-four of the world’s greatest players come together to play for themselves, for their teammates, for their captain, for their continent, for their country” is how tournament director Guy Kinnings describes the Ryder Cup. It’s more than a golf tournament; it’s a global spectacle that showcases the pinnacle of sporting excellence. This experience cannot be simulated or replicated – it is raw, authentic and deeply moving.
This year’s trophy presentation first brought out the losing team for an interview. When the winning European team came out later to huge fanfare, the Americans went over to shake hands and congratulate each opponent individually. It was incredible sportsmanship that brought the spirit of this unique tournament into perspective.
Kinnings speaks of being similarly moved watching the players throughout the tournament . “You watch [one of them] hole a putt at 8 o’clock on a Friday morning and he reacts more demonstrably than if he’s holing something on a Sunday afternoon with a two-shot lead at a regular tournament. It just excites in a totally different way,” he says. “The moment you witness the first tee on a Friday morning at a Ryder Cup, the noise is unique and that’s why it’s the moment that the players want. People also just love the Ryder Cup – it’s match play, it’s tribal, it’s that passion. The fans, who behave more like soccer fans, add to the experience with their singing, shouting and energetic support.”
This year, Kinnings says, tickets were “seven times oversubscribed” on top of the already 270,000 people who attended the event. The largest demographic was, surprisingly, 25- to 35-year-olds, which further sets the Ryder Cup apart from other golf tournaments in its ability to attract and captivate new generations of golf fans.
This year also marked Rolex’s third year as a worldwide partner of the tournament. The brand’s association with the Ryder Cup dates to 1995 when it was appointed Official Timekeeper of Team Europe. Beginning with Arnold Palmer becoming Rolex’s first Testimonee in golf, followed by his friends and esteemed rivals Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, Rolex’s partnership with golf has been one of the most enduring relationships between a brand and a sport. These three legendary figures formed a natural alliance, using their influence to promote the values of fair play at the core of their ethos. This was displayed during the 1969 Ryder Cup, when Nicklaus conceded a putt to tie the competition – a gesture that continues to be admired in the world of sports. Since then, Rolex has been an unwavering supporter of the Ryder Cup, exemplifying brand values of respect and integrity within the realm of golf.
The Ryder Cup and Rolex also share a mutual commitment to upholding the highest standards of perpetual excellence. It’s no surprise that these two iconic brands have come together to celebrate the spirit of competition and honour the rich heritage of the game of golf. For Kinnings, it was important to “have brands that were not just parochial, in that they only operate once every four years, and instead have global brands that want to activate every two years,” he says. “In 2021, Rolex became a worldwide partner, along with the others, and it made a lot of sense. Doing this with Rolex allows us to work together towards our values, which I think is closely aligned with what we do as a tournament and as a sport, so it’s easy to tell that story together.”
Looking ahead, Kinnings envisions a deepening partnership between the Ryder Cup and Rolex. “It’s aimed at doing things just the right way, and if our product is good enough for people who do that, then everywhere they go they remind you of that pursuit of perfection and doing things in exactly the right way.” Rolex’s involvement ensures that the Ryder Cup doesn’t have to “reinvent the wheel every time”. It allows for “better communication, because you’re talking about a product that’s once every two years and that’s not a lot for a brand to be involved in. They’ve got to be able to tell that story throughout that two-year cycle – and Rolex does that, because whatever it is they do, they do it beautifully. They get involved with how we do the qualification and the captain announcement and the one-year-to- go event. They work with us to make sure those moments are accentuated so that the narrative is that much better.”
Kinnings also commends Rolex for its continuous support of golf at all levels, including its investments in amateur and junior golf. “Rolex is such an extraordinary supporter of golf and what’s so lovely about Rolex is that they have all the Majors, the Rolex Series on the DP World Tour, the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, but look at what they invest in at the amateur level, where I suspect there’s no one sitting there going, ‘What’s the return on investment?’ What are they doing? Well, they’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.” He re-emphasises, “To do the right thing is generally the right thing, and Rolex will just do the right thing – the right thing to support men’s and women’s golf, and the right thing to support junior golf every bit as much, if not more, than the top-end.”
For the Ryder Cup, the partnership with Rolex aligns naturally and “makes life easy”. Kinnings concludes by referring to what he would say in his old agent days: “If you’re going to be a Rolex Testimonee, play your cards right and you’ll be a Rolex Testimonee forever because it’ll help you play well but also conduct yourself in the right way.”