The President’s Cup Returns

Virginia Hosts the World’s Best Golfers

September 22, 2005

The President’s Cup returns to the Robert Trent Jones Club in Northern Virginia this week. The most prestigious golf event held in Virginia, the President’s Cup is a showdown between a team of top U.S. players and an International team. The twelve-man teams spar for the Cup every two years, and even though this is only the sixth playing of the tournament, it has become a symbol of great competition, drama, and goodwill in the world of golf.

The Robert Trent Jones Club (which is called “RTJ” by those of us who will work a lifetime to make the kind of money that members drop for initiation) has hosted every stateside President’s Cup since the first one in 1994. This is an exclusive, classy setting at Lake Manassas in Gainesville, Virginia. They do not call it “Gainesville”, though– in a sharp marketing effort, all of the advertising and literature generated by the tournament lists the location of RTJ as “Prince William County”. The imagery seems appropriate for such a majestic place.

So the President’s Cup returns to Prince William County, and some of the hype was predetermined in 2003, when the tournament was held in South Africa. After four days of golf in 2003, the teams were tied at 17 points. The two captains, golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, sent their strongest players, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, into a one-on-one sudden death playoff. After several holes, and some amazing clutch putts from both players, there was no winner, and no more daylight. The captains and the teams all gathered on a green, at dusk, in Africa, as the world waited for the situation to be resolved. In a show of great sportsmanship, Nicklaus and Player decided to call the tournament a draw.

Usually a draw means the team who holds the Cup, retains the Cup. The U.S. team had won at RTJ in 2000 (there was no 2002 tournament; the even and odd years were traded with the Ryder Cup after 9/11), but the captains also agreed to share the Cup. The events in South Africa—the great golf, the drama, and the graceful acts of the two teams—secured the relatively young tournament a place in golf history, and a place among the elite tournaments.

The sense of goodwill this tournament has generated goes beyond the events of 2003. This is one of the few times that the best players in the world play without compensation. Their shares of the income from the tournament are donated to charities. Over $10 million have been donated as a result of the President’s Cup so far.

In 2003, there were some magic moments off the golf course as well. The President of post-Apartheid South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, spoke genuinely at the closing ceremony and then invited F.W. de Klerk, the last of the old-era Presidents to the podium for a few words. Stonewall Jackson, meet Martin Luther King. Good stuff.

On Wednesday this week, the PGA brought a bus full of Iraq War veterans to RTJ, most of them shy of 30 years old, most of them recent amputees. The veterans got to watch and meet most of the International players during the practice round. Gary Player spent at least 45 minutes speaking with the vets. Then the soldiers got to hang out at the U.S. team cabin and the practice area. One injured soldier told a tournament volunteer that it was the best day of his life, at least since the day he got married.

So the President’s Cup, still a young tournament, returns to the Robert Trent Jones Club, where the U.S. team has never lost. There is some unsettled business from 2003. There is a classy setting. There is a growing heritage of goodwill and sportsmanship. Sounds like a good weekend to watch some golf on television, or to make a trip to Northern Virginia.

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