HAVEN, Wisc. â On one side of the lighted red barn in a field outside the course is a painting of a man who looks like a Rasputin from the Midwest. The man in the painting pops up as you get closer to the barn, zigzagging and zigzagging across the landscape with purpose, which is fitting. Because the property is called “Zig’s” and the man is Robert Ziegelbauer and you don’t have to be a detective to see the relationship between man and property.
âI don’t know what you’re looking for,â he said to a volunteer who’s been there, âbut you’ve come to the right place.
Ziegelbauer, who has lived in Sheboygan all his life, is a bricklayer by trade. It handles all the boulders and boulders of Whistling Straits, and while stone isn’t necessarily associated with golf courses, it doesn’t take a lot of hikes around the Ryder Cup site to realize that this responsibility is akin to overseeing the maintenance of pine trees in Yellowstone.
It’s his job most weeks. This week, he transformed his two-acre property into a social hall and campground.
It has become a kind of tradition for Ziegelbauer. This is the fifth time that he has made his property private to the public. It all started in 2004 when a marshal stopped asking him if he could park his van on the Ziegelbauer lot months before the PGA Championship came to town. The request gave Ziegelbauer an idea: his house, which sits right across the entrance to the Whistling Strait, could serve as a respite for his classmates.
âPeople are working so hard to launch an event like this, weeks and months before, and so much time during the week,â says Ziegelbauer. âI wanted to give something back to my co-worker. It’s for them. “
He got a temporary liquor license and a few generators. The rally was such a success among Whistling Straits staff and volunteers that it hosted at the 2010 and 2015 PGAs as well as the 2007 US Senior Open.
You don’t have to be in the field for very long to see its appeal. There is a bar in the barn – which this journalist believes should be a prerequisite for any barn – and a mobile water trough outside between the barn and Ziegelbauer’s house. A dozen motorhomes have dropped anchor for the week in the yard of Ziegelbauer. The designs are infused with savory smoke from the grill, which sweats $ 1 dogs and $ 2 burgers and kids. Come on weekends, there will be a live band. What Ziegelbauer doesn’t have, people provide.
âPeople come and ask what they can do,â Ziegelbauer says. âPeople will bring additional generators. People will open their motorhomes to people they have just met. if they need a place to crash. I swear you have never seen so many people get along.
The grounds are mostly dotted with those working at the tournament, as the pitch has been co-opted for parking for media and tournament officials. But this is not an exclusive affair; there are a handful of people who got lost or had heard rumors about the pastoral pub and wanted to see if it existed, and they are all treated with a wave of welcome. There are dozens of conversations going on but everyone seems to be singing the same tune.
âIt’s one of my favorite parts, seeing how people interact with each other,â says Ziegelbauer. âYou see people listening to other people’s problems and helping, or someone who feels lonely to find some friendship when they need it. It has become a community.
It’s also a kind of Ryder Cup pain reliever. Because what started as an exhibition has become a spectacle, and it is above all for the good. But he was also accused of being bloated, overpriced, corporate and overkill, leading some to question whether the event had strayed too far from his true spirit. Against that, the converted barn into a social hall, with its open doors, cheap drinks, and family vibes that turn unfamiliar visitors into instant friends, is reminiscent of what the original Ryder Cup was looking for. (If anyone accuses Ziegelbauer of commercialism, he donates his profits for the week to the local Boys & Girls Club.)
“It’s for everyone,” says Ziegelbauer. âThe more the merrier. If you like people, if you like to have a good time, this is the place to be.
So if you’re in Whistling Straits this weekend and hear laughter coming from the fields across the course, let the red barn be your compass and the aroma of the barbecue your north star. On Tuesday evening, a customer asked a bartender when Zig closed, but a Whistling Straits employee shouted, “We don’t close until the last stranger is gone!” To cheers.
Ziegelbauer looked down from the steps of his house. He knew it was a lie. There is no stranger at Zig.
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