Sheboygan-area businesses cash in on Ryder Cup tourism

Ryder Cup event signage at The Blind Horse.

Last updated on September 24th, 2021 at 03:51 pm

With an estimated 45,000 spectators descending upon Whistling Straits each day of the Ryder Cup this week, bars and restaurants in Sheboygan County are looking to capitalize on the event’s global draw while making a lasting impression on first-time visitors.

“We expect to have the busiest week we’ve ever had,” said Tom Nye, general manager of The Blind Horse Restaurant & Winery in Kohler.

The property’s restaurant and two private event spaces quickly booked up almost two years ago, in advance of the Ryder Cup’s originally scheduled 2020 date. Some of those bookings canceled when the event was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but “we’ve had no problem refilling that space,” he said.

Initially, most of its group business during Ryder Cup week came from European companies. Now, it’s largely U.S. companies putting on dinner events after a day at the course.

Nye expects the impact of the Ryder Cup on the region’s economy to be far greater than past PGA events held at Whistling Straits, the most recent being the 2015 PGA Championship. The Ryder Cup’s global reach sets it apart, especially as it relates to the amount of money coming into the area. Organizers estimate the event will have an economic impact of $135 million on the region.

In addition, with Kohler Co.’s hotel properties fully occupied by Ryder Cup golfers and PGA personnel, most visitors were forced to look for accommodations in other parts of the region.

In addition to its fully booked restaurant and event space, the winery’s expansive outdoor patio is also open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, featuring live music, casual fare, and first-come-first-serve seating. The expected surge in business comes on the heels of a high-volume summer for The Blind Horse. Its patio space was packed with an upwards of 1,000 people almost every weekend, said Nye.

“We’re used to the crowds, so whatever happens, the way we’re looking at it is every night is going to be like a Saturday night,” he said.

Across town at 3 Sheeps Brewing Co. in Sheboygan, it’s all hands on deck.

“There are craft beer fans all over the world, and usually when a craft beer fan goes to a new town, they seek out the local brewery, so we’re hoping we get at least a visit from a bunch of people,” said co-owner and founder Grant Pauly. “We’re prepared to handle them if they come in big masses — we’ve changed our taproom up quite a bit and rearranged things for the week.”

Beyond craft-beer-loving visitors popping in for a flight of the brewery’s new Ryder Cup- themed beers, 3 Sheeps is expecting to draw a crowd of golf enthusiasts with a week-long watch party event hosted by Golf.com. From Tuesday through Sunday, the media company is taking over 3 Sheep’s taproom, with big-screen TVs streaming the action, golf simulators, and a live show by and access to SubPar podcasts hosts Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz. A four day-pass for $100 gets you 10 pints of beer, USA t-shirts, and True Spec Golf driver fitting.

Pauly said Golf.com approached him about the partnership about six months ago. Prior to that, the brewery had fielded some inquiries from groups interested in renting out the taproom for corporate and private events.

“We really didn’t want to do that because we wanted to interact directly with customers and do what a taproom and craft brewery is all about,” he said, adding the event is meant to feel like an outdoor tailgate where people can kick back and meet other locals and visitors.

Foot traffic at 3 Sheeps began picking up over the weekend, particularly with international customers and hotel and Airbnb guests stocking up craft beer for the week. And with a range of beverages on tap, from traditional lagers to hard seltzers, there’s something for every palate, said Pauly.

Local restaurateur Stefano Viglietti is in the midst of one of the busiest weeks for his four downtown Sheboygan restaurants, Il Ritrovo, Trattoria Stefano, Field to Fork and Duke of Devon, which are largely booked for the week with large groups and a couple buy-outs, he said. It’s already been a busy summer, and to get ready for this week’s rush, the restaurants are making more of everything – baking more bread, roasting more coffee beans, making bigger batches of ragu. Additional staff were also brought on.

Viglietti said the Ryder Cup builds upon Kohler’s global reputation for golf, which draws world travelers — and cultured diners — to Sheboygan year-round. The impact of that is long lasting.

“The week itself is great, but then it’s really beyond that — or before that when people come and they know the event is going to be there, so they want to play the course before. It has lasting effects that are very positive,” said Viglietti.

For Destination Kohler, Kohler Co.’s hospitality arm, taking advantage of the Ryder Cup means developing customers who will one day return to stay at its hotels, golf on its course and dine at its restaurants. One way it plans to introduce visitors to the surrounding community is through a free Ryder Cup watch party, taking place Wednesday through Sunday at the Shops at Woodlake The Kohler Golf Party will have big screen TVs, local food trucks, live music, and a mobile exhibit by the Global Water Center, which aims to educate visitors about the world’s critical water issues.

“We are very proud of our properties, our associates and the way we treat guests,” said Betsy Froelich, Director of Marketing – Kohler Hospitality & Real Estate. “We hope that people come and see our love of history and tradition and bringing things like golf majors to Wisconsin … the last Ryder Cup was in Paris, then you come to Kohler Wisconsin and then it goes to Rome. We feel really proud to stand on a stage with cities like that.”

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Maredithe Meyer covers restaurants, retail, tourism, and sports and entertainment. She joined BizTimes in 2015, previously as an intern reporter. She earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University in 2017. When she's not on the job, Maredithe coaches field hockey and loves exploring her favorite city on earth, Milwaukee.

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