Ryder Cup location policy needs to change
CADDIE'S ROLE:Integrity and a sense of history seems to take a back seat when a Ryder Cup venue is selected, writes COLIN BYRNE
WE WERE at the austere Gleneagles hotel in Perthshire for the Johnnie Walker Championship last week. The hotel is a grey imposing-looking structure perched high above the many golf courses set below it. It is in keeping with the drab weather that seems to greet us every time we go there to play golf. Unfortunately the course that we trudged around last week for four rounds of competition would do nothing to lift the gloom.
There are two other established 18-hole tracks on the Gleneagles complex and although they are not spectacular courses they are interesting and in keeping with their environment.
The King’s course, with its springy moorland turf, has been testing the golfing aristocracy since 1919. Both the King’s and Queen’s courses look like the type of layouts you would expect to see on the rolling land of Perthshire.
It was decided to build their third 18 holes on the vast 850-acre estate in the early 1990s and like so many quality resorts and aspiring wannabies, the management opted for American designers to create their masterpieces and lure the world to come, stay and play the unique challenge of their celebrity designer.
Arnold Palmer got the gig at The K Club in Kildare on a nice piece of farming land and put Michael Smurfit on the world golfing stage. Robert Trent Jones Junior got the call up from Terry Mathews, the Welsh IT wizard who took a late shine in life to the advantages of the game of golf. The much respected and record-holding major winner Jack Nicklaus got the invitation to design the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles, which was selected to host the Ryder Cup in 2014.
There seems to be a trend that has developed in the past decade concerning the European Ryder Cup hosts; influential businessman, limited knowledge about course design, recognises the game as a great commercial vehicle and wants to fulfil a dream of hosting the most accessible match in professional golf to the masses in his back-yard.
Back-yards are very much what these American creations in the British Isles are. What looks good in the swamplands of Florida or the corn fields of Illinois probably would not look quite so appealing in Perthshire. Much like a links course in Georgia would probably look slightly misplaced. Apart from the general collapse of course development due to economic reasons it may well be time for potential golf developers to reflect on future builds.
I was always miffed about how American guests would flock to our shores to embrace the challenge of our type of golf and end up traipsing around a converted farm adorned with bright flowers and pretty grass patterns on finely-trimmed fairways. An experience that could be had back in the US.
It must be a similar experience for overseas visitors to Scotland, the home of golf, dealing with the reality of playing a totally misplaced golf course where the only true experience of something different is the foul weather.
I can understand the Ryder Cup Committee struggling to find a suitable location to host their jamboree if the host country was the Czech Republic or Denmark. But the choice of unique, renowned, classic and world-class golf courses on which to stage such a prestigious event is endless in Scotland.
Perhaps Wales did not have such a wide choice of alternatives but Ireland certainly did.
For Scotland to choose the Centenary Course at Gleneagles as the arena for the ultimate professional matchplay show-piece speaks volumes for the event itself; integrity and sense of history take a back seat, this is the nouveau golf show open to the highest bidder.
The successful Ryder Cup at The K Club was a sodden affair. Even when we have a dry spell The K Club is moist.
The Wales Open at Celtic Manor is a murky swamp at best and that’s held in the summer-time. The Johnnie Walker at Gleneagles, played in August, is traditionally a mud bath.
The 12th hole has been redesigned in order to bring the par back to a standard 72. The new hole was unplayable for three rounds last week as it was feared that you might loose a ball in the fairway of the newly-designed par four.
Gleneagles is truly a beautiful place. I would highly recommend a visit to the fantastic equestrian centre, the shooting school, the fishing school, the school of falconry, the spa’s and other sporting facilities at the elegant resort. The wee course and the pitch and putt course are unique and a great attribute to the complex to include the family in your golfing.
The King’s and Queen’s courses are exactly what you would expect to find in Scotland. Just beware if you come to play the ill-fitting Centenary Course which should revert back to the muddy terrain it is built on.
For the good of the suave and sophisticated Gleneagles complex and the integrity of the game and its historic links to Scotland, I hope 2014 marks the end of the modern era of the Ryder Cup location policy in Europe and integrity takes precedence once again over money.