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Ryder Cup fever in the board room

Extract from Golf International - Issue No 24 July 2001

The way things are going, it might soon be the case that the off-course Ryder Cup action provides more intrigue than the 10th hole at The Belfry. Certainly, strategy is playing its part. In our last issue, we ran a story entitled 'Celtic Manners', about the bidding process for the 2009 Ryder Cup.

In brief, the decision as to who will get the match lies with a six-man committee, composed of three men from the European Tour and three from the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA). In the event of a tie, it's the PGA's turn to have the casting vote. The candidates are Celtic Manor, the sole Welsh bid; Gleneagles, Loch Lomond, Carnoustie and Turnberry - the four Scottish would-be hosts; and Slaley Hall from the North of England. It would be fair to say the latter is widely regarded not so much an outsider as barely running. As John Hopkins pointed out in his story for us, "there is a view that the Tour favours Celtic Manor because [its owner, Terry] Mathews has proved such a good benefactor, while the PGA favours Gleneagles".

That is even more the case now, although there are suggestions that Loch Lomond might since have made up some ground within Scotland.

A few dates: May 17: Terry Mathews says: "We will spare nothing to bring the Ryder Cup to Wales for the first time."

May 23: Gleneagles announces itself the official sponsor of the Scottish PGA Championship, with a purse of £1 million this year.

May 25: It is announced that the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond - as well as "Scotland's hopes of staging the Ryder Cup in 2009" - had been boosted by an additional sponsorship from the Bank of Scotland and the Scottish Executive.

May 26: The Daily Mail carries an interview with Ken Schofield, executive director of the European Tour, conducted the previous morning (the first day of the Volvo PGA Championship) at the Tour's Wentworth headquarters. Schofield says: "I think the days when the Ryder Cup made a profit of £10 million and each side [i.e. the Tour and the PGA] walked off with half each will not wash anymore." This was read by everyone as not so much secret code as blatant semaphore for the fact that the Tour was no longer prepared to split the profits 50/50 with the PGA, a message under-pinned by Schofield's remark: "Our people worked day and night to get [six sponsorships for this year's Ryder Cup] yet we walked away from the press conference that day and no one from the PGA said a single thank-you. I was livid".

Not in quotes from Schofield, the interviewer, Derek Lawrenson, wrote: "By the time an official announcement is made in September, Schofield will have forced the PGA's hand, leaving the way clear for the Tour to name Celtic Manor [as venue for 2009]. "You didn't have to be student of semiotics to infer from the fact that Lawrenson's story was not only reproduced on the tour's website but also in its weekly news bulletin that it had Schofield's full blessing.

Later that day: In response to the Daily Mail article, Tony Lewis, chairman of the Wales bid for the 2009 Ryder Cup, issues a statement saying "As far as I know, the announcement of the venue for the 2009 Ryder Cup will be made at The Belfry in September. I have heard nothing to the contrary. In the meantime, we will continue to go flat out for every golfer in Wales". (Incidentally, planning permission for the new holes that Celtic Manor needs in order to meet the approval of the Ryder Cup committee has not yet been approved.)

Also on May 26: Schofield and Sandy Jones, his counterpart at the PGA, host a joint press conference at Wentworth at which the latter does a half-decent job of concealing his fury at finding out about all this through the press. Later, Schofield gives an interview to The Scotsman, saying: "Anyone who thinks [about Wales being his preferred winner] that what I've said is the last word doesn't know how this works … any hint of unfairness in the bidding process is quite fanciful. The reality of the situation is that Scotland have four months to make their bid the best it can be"

But despite his careful remarks on this point, Schofield did not disdain going on the offensive. "Only the European Tour has ever taken the match out of Britain [Valderrama in 1997 and the K Club in 2005]. Apart from that, nothing. So it's very hard for a lot of our guys [Tour members] to accept that we're going back to The Belfry again.

I have to put my hand a up and say that we at the Tour agreed to that choice, since this year marks the PGA's centenary and The Belfry is their base. With the benefit of hindsight, which is a great thing, I believe a mistake has been made. Since 1985, four out of the last five home matches for Europe will heave been held in one country, England. Not only that, but all four have been at a single venue… I have to say to you that's a big hurdle the tour's management has to overcome.

There's a perception among our members that if the Ryder Cup is not going to England, then it will be held in Scotland or Wales. One match for [continental] Europe every eight years, bluntly, is not enough."

As one consequence of this thinking, a European Tour sub-committee will soon sit down with representatives of the PGA to discuss the breakdown of the future financial relationship between the two bodies. Schofield has made it abundantly plain that the 50/50 status quo is not an option; that may also go for the PGA ever having the casting vote to choose the host venue again.

Simply put, if this September the PGA refuses to back Celtic Manor, Schofield could seek to reduce its financial stake in the Ryder Cup more than he otherwise might. Even though Schofield is determined to cut the PGA's shares of the spoils in any case, the Tour would not seek to leave it so bereft that it might go out of business - even if only because of the negative public relations implications for the Tour.

However, Schofield does have one really powerful card to play in order to get what he wants - his members. He is very aware that the players are disillusioned about the PGA's role in the Ryder Cup, and certainly they would be unlikely to be slow to support anything he might do that would mean more money for them and less for the PGA. And as illustrated by his comments above, Schofield is also keen to dampen any mutterings that the Tour is too Anglocentric.

Robert Green Editor Golf International (Reproduction of all or any part of this article is expressly prohibited without the prior consent of the author)

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