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 ROBERT GREEN
 Another Thing

It’s to be Paris in the autumn-time
The five-way race to stage the 2018 Ryder Cup was deservedly won by the French. Which, of course, left four prospective venues to lick their wounds

I am not sure if it was appropriate or ironic that the announcement of the venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup was preceded with Amy Macdonald’s Your Time Will Come playing in the background. For the unfortunate four, that remains to be seen.

For only the second time, the Ryder Cup will be held on the continent. First it was in Spain, at Valderrama in 1997, and next it will be at Le Golf National, some 15 miles from the centre of Paris, in 2018. The French bid had generally been regarded as the front-runner since the process of selecting the host venue began, but the inevitable sentiment surrounding the recent death of Seve Ballesteros, the man who had come to epitomise the Ryder Cup, had created an environment in which the BBC declared Spain to be favourites.

George O’Grady, chief executive of the European Tour, began his remarks by saying: “There are only 10 days since the great Severiano Ballesteros passed away and only six days since his funeral. We make this announcement today in full recognition of his immense leadership and contribution to the Ryder Cup but also to golf throughout Europe and the world.” If the Spanish thought that remark might be the harbinger of good news, they were soon to be disappointed. To their credit, as Gonzaga Escauriaza, head of the Madrid bid, explained to The Times, they had not played the ‘Seve card’ in the days between his death and the announcement.

“We did not put out a single press release mixing the words ‘Ryder Cup’ and ‘Severiano’. We could have done because he gave our bid a lot of support, but we did not want to put that pressure on the committee.”

Spain has a seriously stronger Ryder Cup pedigree (ten past players to France’s two) and six events on this year’s European Tour compared to three for France. What they don’t have is a course, whereas Le Golf National, near Versailles, is the long-established venue for the French Open. Its closing four holes are effectively played in an arena where up to 40,000 people can see at least some of the action. Its suitability to stage the Ryder Cup cannot be questioned. O’Grady said: “The French bid had a first-class stadium ready. In these hard economic times, we have gone for certainty. The ground has still to be broken on the Madrid course.” In light of this decision, it may now not be built. There were three other losers, of course, although O’Grady was, not unreasonably, not keen to consider matters in that manner. “I don’t think anybody’s actually lost here, [just] one country has specifically won,” he said. That’s the thing with the Ryder Cup, remember – there are no losers but golf is always the winner.

The German host venue, Wittelsbacher in Bavaria, would have been sponsored by Audi, which would not have been so great for BMW, the European Tour’s main sponsor, albeit for the Ryder Cup itself the Tour would have been entitled to rebrand the venue (just as the 02 Arena will be renamed during the London Olympics because the mobile phone operator from which it takes its name is a commercial rival of BT, an Olympic sponsor). Still, as the Billy Crystal character says in When Harry Met Sally, once the “thing is already out there”, you can’t take it back.

Elsewhere, the Portuguese venue, a Tom Fazio to-be-designed layout at Comporta Dunes, south of Lisbon, had to have been hugely compromised by Portugal’s economy. It’s all well and good having financial guarantees provided by the host country’s government but not so valuable if that government might not be good for the money. Finally, the Colin Montgomerie-designed The Dutch, between Amsterdam and Rotterdam, was generally regarded, as good as the course is, as the widest of outsiders.

The French bid had a bold commitment to build 100 golf facilities throughout the country, particularly in urban areas. On the growth-of-golf-legacy front, their proposals seemed to be the most specific.

As Richard Hills, the Ryder Cup director, put it: “The French bid has its roots in the very heart of French golf. The tangible support of the overwhelming majority of French golfers, together with significant government support, provides a strong foundation for a Ryder Cup which will embrace the whole of France.” They also had nifty promotional video, cleverly showcasing the attractions of and connections between golf, Paris and Versailles. And, a big deal in a Ryder Cup week, the latter’s Palace is one heck of a place to hold a formal dinner.

Instead of disappointing four candidates, it appears the Tour did contemplate only letting down three by naming the 2022 venue as well. (I mean, how well has that strategy has panned out for FIFA?) “We were tempted,” said O’Grady, “but legally, once we had stated that we were going to just announce one, [we couldn’t]. Sweden withdrew their bid because the conditions were not right in the country at that time, knowing they might be for 2022.”

Any chance of Qatar bidding for that as well?

July 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

 






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