Doubts on Valderrama still lingers

 

THE golfing paradise of Europe it may well be, but there remain some lingering doubts about both the ability of Valderrama - and its infrastructure - to cope with staging the Ryder Cup match next year and, also, with Europe's ability to retain the trophy.

Seve Ballesteros's ears may have been stinging with the criticism laid on his course designing abilities by Europe's number one player, Colin Montgomerie, yet a more lasting impression in the Spaniard's memory is likely to be the poor form of certain players over the terrain during the Volvo Masters.

The charismatic Spaniard's form probably left the biggest question mark of all, and, per haps, he should immediately decide to act as a captain rather than attempt to play his way into the team, much as the prospect might appeal to him.

Of more significance, however, were the respective performances of Ryder Cup men Colin Montgomerie, Costantino Rocca, Bernhard Langer, Per Ulrik Johansson, Ian Woosnam (who yesterday visited a specialist concerning his bad back) and David Gilford, who were a combined 72 over par for the tournament on the course.

Golf's showpiece may be all of 10 months away, but such performances pose worrying questions about Europe's ability to keep the silverware.

Questions must also be raised about the course's capacity to cope with the expected crowds. Indeed, the course owner, Jaime Ortiz Patino, acknowledges Valderrama is "not a stadium course", yet claims he is confident of its ability to cope with the large crowds anticipated for the golfing extravaganza.

His view, though, tends to veer on the side of optimism, in my opinion, and serious doubts remain about the venue's suitability, more than the course itself.

The Volvo Masters does not attract enough spectators to provide a really serious test of viewing areas (indeed, there are few occasions when spectators can comfortably get within such close proximity to the players), so with just 10 months to go before the match, the place has still to pass an examination in that regard.

Apart from the massive bank behind the 17th - akin to the old Clones hill - and another at the 14th, such vantage points are few and far between, and the area around the clubhouse (first tee 10th tee, ninth green and 18th green) is liable to be severely congested during the Ryder Cup.

Access could also be a problem although the local authority has promised the new motorway will be completed "in two or three months". Yet, even Senor Patino admitted: "What worries me is that: I don't yet see anyone working on that particular stretch of roadway."

However, the Ryder Cup committee plans to use a car park close to the seventh hole (which was not in use during the Volvo Masters) during next year's match, which should alleviate traffic problems somewhat.

There can be no questions raised though about the quality of the course. Immaculate fairways and magnificent greens - even if the firmness of the 17th was a little unfair - and, while that same 17th hole was again the focus of Montgomerie's wrath, Patino explained: "The swale to the right of the 17th green is not intended to be a bail out area, otherwise we might as well make it an island green. The second shot should either go for the green, if not laying up, or go way right and, long over the swale, not pin high."

For his part, tournament winner Mark McNulty felt the hole needs to be changed, but his main gripe was with the contours of the fairway. "They should take that hill away," he said.

Be that as it may, the course's penultimate hole is set to be a magnificent spectator hole during the Ryder Cup and will, undoubtedly, contribute its fair share of heartache to players.

If any changes are to be made to the 17th, they certainly won't occur before the Ryder Cup so, perhaps, a more pertinent observation from McNulty should be taken on board by Europe's team of 12, whoever they may be, and particularly Montgomerie, who is a certainty to play: "Stop moaning about the course!"

After all, US skipper Tom Kite has already professed a love for the lay out and that should be sufficient warning to the holders' to get their act together.