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Bidding war highlights true value of Ryder Cup

It was in the modest (sic) clubhouse of Loch Lomond Golf Club, the ancestral home of the Colquhouns and beneath portraits of famous family members, that the announcement came last week that Scotland intended to bid to be the host country for the Ryder Cup in 2009.

Scotland is the second country to enter the race to stage the biggest and most lucrative event in golf. Wales's hopes have already been made public by Terry Matthews, the ebullient electronics billionaire, who wants it to be held at Celtic Manor, the massive complex that he owns on the outskirts of Newport.

"I was not surprised when I heard about Scotland's bid," Matthews said. "It has been expected and it is a very serious bid, I have no doubt. But I've been to all the recent Ryder Cup venues, including Boston. We will do better than any of them. Celtic Manor is convenient for London, not far from Heathrow. It has excellent road, rail and air links. The Wentwood Hills course has been built specially for the Ryder Cup. I have invested a lot of money in bringing the facilities up to scratch. Wales has been a bit of a golfing backwater. I aim to do something about that."

In the male-dominated world of golf, it was good to see Scotland's bid to stage the biennial competition for the first time since Muirfield in 1973 made by Rhona Brankin, a self-confessed high handicap player, who is the deputy sports minister in the Scottish parliament. Brankin, emphasising Scotland's status as the home of the game, said that the 2009 Ryder Cup would be the focal point of a campaign to boost tourism. "We are keen to have more major tournaments in Scotland," she said. "I don't foresee resources being a problem."

During the Solheim Cup at Loch Lomond this October, the club's ability to deal with and provide for the large crowds who attend Ryder Cup matches can be closely examined. Previously, it has not done well. The Loch Lomond Invitational, played in July before the Open Championship, has been bedevilled by huge traffic problems. A more realistic venue in Scotland might be Gleneagles, Turnberry or Carnoustie.

Sweden and Germany are expected to announce that they, too, want to stage the 2009 Ryder Cup. Other countries will undoubtedly follow. A list of criteria will be published in the next few months and the host country will be announced by the Ryder Cup committee later this year. Next year, the same committee will name the staging club.

All this talk of an event nine years away might seem to be rather premature. But the Ryder Cup is now such a huge money-spinner that commercial interests have determined that no time can be lost in the race to set the tills jangling.

The Irish Government and Bord Failte, the tourist board, with other interested parties, got together in 1998 and paid £7 million for the right to stage the 2005 event. They then set about recouping that investment by aggressive marketing. When it was announced later that the K Club, half an hour's drive from Dublin, would be the host club, another round of promotion and marketing began.

Andalucía is thought to have profited to the tune of £60 million from the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama. How much more can a country such as Ireland gain from having seven years before the event in which to market itself and a couple of years after that to remind potential golfing visitors that it was the site of the 2005 Ryder Cup? Five or ten times as much? This explains why the £7 million that Ireland stumped up in 1998 is likely to be half (and maybe one-third of) the sum required to put on the 2009 event.

Do you still think that the Ryder Cup is about Jack Nicklaus conceding a putt to Tony Jacklin in 1969? About Severiano Ballesteros careering around in a cart at Valderrama in 1997? Think again. The Ryder Cup has become big business - with two capital Bs.

Television rights for the 1991 event went for $130,000. At Brookline, eight years later,the broadcasters had to stump up $13 million (about £8.2 million).

Another by-product of this emphasis on money is that the type of courses on which the match is played has changed. No longer suitable are those historic courses for which golf in Britain and Ireland has rightly become so famous - Walton Heath, Portmarnock and Muirfield.

Either they do not offer good enough facilities for all the ancillary activities necessary at a Ryder Cup or they are unwilling, or unable, to offer huge sums for the right to stage it. Nor, incidentally, are they designed by Americans, who, while they might not have the edge in the match itself in recent times, certainly have a stranglehold on the design of home venues in Europe.

The last Ryder Cup in Europe played on what might be termed a traditional course was the 1981 match at Walton Heath. Since then The Belfry (1985, 1989, 1993 and 2001), Valderrama (1997) and the K Club (2005) have been selected. All are venues from the American school of course design with huge bunkering and water everywhere. They have had huge financial backing.

Greenalls Whitley, the brewing and leisure company, supported The Belfry. Smurfit Packaging, one of the largest companies in Europe, did the same for the K Club. Doubts were once expressed about the ability of Jimmy Patiño, a multimillionaire, to spend the money required to bring his beloved Valderrama up to specification before the 1997 Ryder Cup. "Don't worry," Patiño said, reassuringly. "I have a golden rule here. I have the gold, I make the rules."

Money? It makes the world go round, doesn't it? It certainly oils the wheels of the Ryder Cup bandwagon.

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