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Golf’s greatest are cleared for landing at DuPage Airport

Updated: October 29, 2012 6:51AM

Keep your eyes to the sky this weekend, and you’re likely to see some high-flying private jets zoom over the Fox Valley as they prepare for landing at the DuPage Airport.

The 39th Annual Ryder Cup golf tournament at Medinah Country Club in Itasca is not only bringing in big crowds, but big bucks for the West Chicago airport, which expects to capture more than 90 percent of Ryder Cup’s corporate-related air traffic.

“(Thursday) and Friday are actually our busiest days,” said David Bird, executive director of the DuPage Airport Authority. “We have lots of corporate aircraft arriving. Players from both teams have arrived here, as have a number of well known people associated with the event.”

Bird said that the airport has marketed itself as the arrival hub of the event, which brings together some of the world’s best golfers from across the U.S. and Europe.

The U.S. Ryder Cup team features Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and recent Masters Cup winner Bubba Watson. Being such high-profile figures, it only makes sense that players would opt out of commercial flights, and opt instead for private planes, said local golf industry advisor Barry Cronin.

A Gulfstream jet can fly over 500 mph, cutting down travel time for the weary golf road warriors.

“For golfers, like a lot of athletes, they are really on the road a lot,” Cronin said. “If they can finish at 5 p.m. on a Sunday, get on a jet and be home in a couple hours, why wouldn’t they? What a wonderful luxury.”

That’s if they can afford them.

Woods and Mickelson are known to jet around on Gulfstream Vs — the jet seats` up to 18 people and come with kitchen gallies, high tech television and music systems and leather furniture that can convert to beds. Starting cost: about $50 million.

Many golfers don’t actually own their own jets but lease them by the hour. For example, the Marquis Jet Card from NetJets provides 25 hours of flight time and starts at $119,900.

In an interview with USA Today a few years back, Woods said if he flew commercial it would take too long and he’d have to deal with overly aggressive fans.

“If you’ve seen me at a golf tournament, you know how big a crowd I attract,” Woods said. “It’s the same way at an airport. And, once I get to my seat on the plane, there’s no way I can sleep because people are always wanting autographs.”

Commercial air travel—with schedules, delays and connections—would be like “riding a bicycle 50 miles to work. That’s what you’d be asking us to do if we didn’t use private jets.”

Cronin said that golfers can spend more than 200 days a year on the road, competing in tournaments and tending to sponsorship obligations.

“Do they really want to go through security, take off their shoes? For guys like Tiger and Phil, it’s a complete lack of privacy,” Cronin said.

“Have you ever hung out with a superstar? It’s incredible... If you had the money, you would do it. Everybody would do it. Karl Marx would do it if he had the money.”

Arnold Palmer made headlines some 50 years ago when he started flying to tournaments in his Cessna 172, but a lesser-known golfer, Johnny Bulla, is credited with being the pioneer of golf flight in the late 1940s. A former Eastern Airlines pilot, Bulla bought a used DC-3 and charged his fellow golfers for travel to golf events, according to Upstart Business magazine.

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