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Scotland favourites for Ryder Cup 2009

Scotland's bid to host the 2009 Ryder Cup will be boosted by concerns that the Welsh submission is flawed by a venue which currently fails to meet course requirements for the biennial contest between Europe and the USA.

With the Ryder Cup committee due to meet on 13 and 14 February to assess the bid documents - the North of England is the third candidate - Scotland approach the final hurdle as favourites to win a tight race. Though there is little to choose between bidders on investment in the game or support for development of junior golf, Scotland is believed to have a clear advantage in terms of courses.

Wales (Celtic Manor) and the North of England (Slaley Hall) are single-centre bids, but Scotland offers a variety of parkland and links venues which have established international reputations. Gleneagles offers every facility a Ryder Cup would need, and Turnberry, Loch Lomond, Muirfield, St Andrews and Car-noustie are also superior to what can be delivered elsewhere.

Members of the Ryder Cup committee have still to study the three bids in detail, but my understanding is that strong misgivings persist about the Wentwood Hills layout. Indeed, the course which hosted the Welsh Open last summer is regarded as so unsuitable for match play that plans have been drawn up to replace a third of its holes for 2009. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr on land which rises and falls from the Usk valley, it is eccentric in character, and at the Welsh Open, eventual winner Steen Tinning started the week wondering if he should have brought skis rather than golf shoes.

New Zealander Greg Turner took one look, and complained: "It felt like I was playing on a skyscraper, hitting shots from the ground to the 15th floor and vice-versa. Tell you what, if there was global warming and the sea rose 60 feet, the course might be a good option."

Not surprisingly, the Welsh are aware of the course’s shortcomings, and have already planned a remedy.

"After they played the Welsh Open there last year, Mike Stewart of the PGA and some of the pros came along to suggest some changes, especially at the 15th and 16th holes," reported Tony Lewis, chairman of the Welsh bid, yesterday. "Since then it’s been made pretty plain that Wentwood Hills wouldn’t do for the Ryder Cup when the players have to complete two rounds a day. So what we’ve done is to talk to the European Tour’s course design department, and give them the latitude to make any necessary changes.

"My understanding is that the bottom 12 holes near the river are regarded as fantastic, and the other six won’t be involved. The plan is to build a fourth course at Celtic Manor, and then come up with a Ryder Cup layout. Brian Huggett has been taken on as a consultant, not just for the Ryder Cup, but to establish Celtic Manor as the prime European Tour destination in Wales.

"When you think about how long it took to get the Belfry right, we feel we’ve got plenty of time."

While Terry Matthews, the billionaire who owns Celtic Manor, has pockets deep enough to fund radical alterations, it beggars belief that the committee would award the match to an unseen course.

Bearing in mind that Matthews insists he is in for the long haul, it could be that Celtic Manor would be better placed to host the 2013 match.

As for Slaley Hall, the huge crowds attracted by the Ryder Cup mean that worries have arisen that bottlenecks could crop up on certain parts of the course.

But awarding the Ryder Cup to a controversial or undistinguished venue would not be a first for the prestigious event. Valderrama, site of the 1997 match; the Belfry, venue this year well as in 1985, 1989 and 1993; and the K Club, where the contest will be played in 2005, all have their critics.

This didn’t stop Jaime Patinho, owner of Valderrama, from taking the match to Spain or Michael Smurfit, owner of the K Club, from repeating the trick in Dublin.

Although Matthews is ambitious to make it a Ryder Cup hat-trick for the game’s entrepreneurs, selecting Celtic Manor, when more suitable venues exist in other parts of the United Kingdom, could prove to be too much of a gamble for officials.

The PGA is known to favour a swift announcement of the successful candidate, if the committee can reach a decision in mid-February. However, committees, just like juries, can be notoriously fickle, and should no decision be finalised next month, it is possible that the process could go on until early summer.



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