The real winner at Whistling Straits
The Ryder Cup Golf Course’s nearest neighbor, Robert “Ziggy” Ziegelbauer, anticipates a week of hard work and good fun ahead.
Excitement is building in Wisconsin and around the golf world for this week’s Ryder Cup competition, the biannual event pits the best American tour pros against their European counterparts.
It begins Friday, Sept. 24 at the great Whistling Straits course near Kohler, with everyone wondering if the Americans, captained by Madison’s Steve Stricker, can take back the Cup the Europeans won in France in 2018.
But days in advance, I know who the real winner will be at Whistling Straits.
It’s my friend Ziggy.
Two decades ago, Ziggy — while it says Robert Ziegelbauer on his driver’s license, he’s known far and wide as Ziggy — purchased a home and two barns on just under two acres of land in Haven, an unincorporated community north of Sheboygan.
The seller was an old friend, which explains why Ziggy got it instead of Herb Kohler and his Whistling Straits team. The property is 400 feet from the entrance to the golf course.
Once major golf tournaments began coming to Whistling Straits — the 2004 PGA Championship was first — Ziggy emerged as a well-liked and memorable character among golf insiders.
CBS hired him to lay fiber optic cable across Whistling Straits. Ziggy hosted Phil Mickelson’s parents in his home twice. He rented RV space to others. At night, there was a beer tap and live music.
Ziggy’s prime location got it rolling, but his cheerful personality — abetted by an immense handlebar mustache — was what people remembered.
At the last Whistling Straits major event, the PGA Championship in 2015, Ziggy had upped his game to the point both Golfweek and Golf Digest did stories on him.
Still, everything about this Ryder Cup week promises to exceed anything Whistling Straits and Ziggy have seen before.
“Tenfold more interest,” Ziggy says, when we chatted recently by phone. “I created a website and I’ve had an enormous amount of interest. I bet I answered 1,200 emails. It’s just been stupid crazy.”
Ziggy has space for 20 RVs, and they have long since been reserved. When we spoke, two weeks before the matches, a team from LEO Events, producing Thursday’s opening ceremony, was already in place at Ziggy’s. The BBC was expected in a few days. Ziggy was talking to NBC about helping them lay fiber optic cable.
He laughed. “And anyone I’ve ever met has been calling and asking if they can come by.”
I first met Ziggy a decade ago. We were paired together at an NFL Alumni golf outing at Trappers Turn in the Dells. Bob Leu told me Ziggy is impossible not to like, and he was right. We’ve stayed in touch since.
Ziggy is a Sheboygan native, a graduate of Sheboygan North High School who spent two decades working for the Sheboygan County Highway Department. More recently he has worked as a stone mason, including helping with all the stonework at Whistling Straits.
In 2014, Ziggy ran for the county board, and he not only won, he’s now the board’s vice-chairperson.
“This is my fourth term,” he says. “I enjoy it very much.”
Despite the guaranteed frenetic pace, Ziggy will enjoy this week, too. That’s how he rolls. I remember once talking to Ziggy’s friend, Denny Rundle of Dodgeville, after the two had taken a trip to the Masters in Augusta, Georgia.
“You go somewhere with Ziggy,” Rundle said, “and in 10 minutes he knows everybody, and everybody knows him.”
Rundle was there, too, at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, when, on Sunday night after a long and successful week, Ziggy hired an Old West reenactment troupe from Indiana to close the festivities at his place. They all dressed as legendary gunfighters.
The highlight of the evening?
“Annie Oakley shot a balloon off Ziggy’s head,” Rundle said.
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