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2009 Ryder Cup - Bidding process from Scottish point of view
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Blair stands ground over Ryder Cup row

Bruce McHenry, The Scotsman, 1 November 2000

Tony Blair refused to withdraw from the Ryder Cup fray yesterday after being criticised for supporting England’s bid to host the 2009 event.

The Prime Minister wrote a letter of support for Slaley Hall in Northumberland, which is competing against bids from Scotland, Wales and Sweden, and was criticised by SNP and Conservative Party politicians for favouring the English bid.

Yesterday, Scottish Liberal Democrat spokesman Ian Jenkins MSP added his voice to those who believe Blair should remain neutral.

"I believe in a strong and vibrant United Kingdom, that needs a Prime Minister who represents all the constituent parts of that United Kingdom without favour," said Jenkins.

"Mr Blair should have left it to his Culture Secretary Chris Smith and the English Sports Minister Kate Hoey to head up this bid."

Mr Blair claims his letter was written as a constituency MP rather than as Prime Minister, but Slaley Hall is in a neighbouring constituency rather than his own Sedgefield seat. "As a local north-east MP I am well aware of the importance of sport to the people in the area," wrote Blair. "Thousands participate in a wide variety on a regular basis and the organisation committee can be assured of tremendous local support should the competition come to the region.

"I eagerly look forward to joining the people at this great sporting occasion."

Yesterday, Downing Street sought to play down the furore caused by Mr Blair’s intervention. "He was writing a letter as a constituency MP, wishing them well. This does not preclude or cut across or affect in any shape or form the work being done by the Scottish Executive. The Prime Minister does not have a role in any decisions," said a spokesman for Mr Blair.

The Prime Minister has made no secret in the past that he supports England at football rather than Scotland, the country of his birth, but this is the first time his backing for a country has had any potential to influence the outcome.

Last week, the Scottish Executive launched Scotland’s bid to bring the Ryder Cup to the home of golf in an investment package worth £30 million which included a commitment to introduce every child to the game of golf by the age of nine. It was presented by sports ministers Sam Galbraith and Rhona Brankin, and yesterday the document detailing Scotland’s bid was delivered to the PGA at The Belfry by Allan Wilson, Scotland’s new deputy sports minister, along with deputy tourism minister Alasdair Morrison and bid organiser Gavin Hastings.

On Monday, Slaley Hall’s bid was valued at £40 million, and in common with the Scottish bid, it is underwritten with £24 million of public money. Another £16 million will be found to back Slaley Hall from a mixture of both the public and private sectors.

Yesterday it was the turn of the Welsh bid to make its pitch. The campaign has been backed by billionaire Terry Matthews who wants to bring the prestigious event to his £120 million Celtic Manor complex in Newport, which was built to fulfil Matthews dream of holding the Ryder Cup in Wales.

However, Matthews did not reveal yesterday how much of his own fortune he has put into the bid, but money is no object for a businessman who sold his last company, Newbridge Networks, to the French group Alcatel for £4.4 billion this year. It is expected that he will top the Scots and Welsh bids, but the Ryder Cup committee has stressed the decision will not be based on pure finance alone.

It is understood that Matthews will also increase the prize money for the Welsh Open to £2 million to please the PGA, and there is also the possibility of the Welsh financial package being matched pound for pound by the European Union through the Objective One funding programme.

Rhodri Morgan, Wales’ First Minister, described the Celtic Manor bid as "a visionary plan that will transform the golfing landscape" across the country.

The National Assembly for Wales has set up a bid committee under the chairmanship of former England cricket captain Tony Lewis to take the Ryder Cup to the Newport venue. "This is a great opportunity for the Professional Golfers’ Association to raise the level of the game in an entire country over a 10-year period," said Lewis.

"We know that more people play golf than rugby in Wales, but tournaments, facilities and the coaching infrastructure have lagged behind. With the Ryder Cup we can put the funding in place to rectify this."

Morgan added: "Wales will use the opportunity of hosting the Ryder Cup to create a whole range of new facilities for coaching, practice and play.

"We will deliver exciting new tournaments and put Wales on the world map for golf tourism. The net gain to golf as a sport and Wales as a nation will be massive. Proposals for developing golf include the widespread introductions of coaching in schools, development initiatives at all levels of the game and a strategy to ensure sexual equality."

All bids will be considered by the PGA and the European Tour in the next two months before an announcement is made in January about which country will stage the event.

If Scotland is the choice, the fight will then begin between Gleneagles, Loch Lomond, Carnoustie, St Andrews and Turnberry to decide which course should play hosts.

Sweden have also made a bid, but is thought much more likely that the competition will return to the continent in 2013.

To link in with the centenary of the PGA, The Belfry at Sutton Coldfield - their headquarters - will host the match next September for the fourth time, while the K Club near Dublin will be the first Irish course to stage the match in 2005.

Blair caught up in Ryder Cup bid row

Steve Bargeton, Political Editor, The Courier, 1 November 2000

Scotlan'd bid to host the 2009 Ryder Cup was officially launched yesterday amid a major political row over Tony Blair’s backing for England.

The Prime Minister has incensed MSPs by sending a letter of support for Slayley Hall Golf Club in Northumberland which is competing with St Andrews, Carnoustie and Gleneagles for the prestigious event.

Yesterday Downing Street said that Mr Blair was acting in his capacity as a north east of England MP.

"He wrote the letter in his capacity as a constituency MP, not as Prime Minister, and it does not cut across the Scottish Executive’s bid," she said.

But the SNP said Mr Blair was aligning himself with the bid against the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament.

"Tony Blair is supposed to be Prime Minister of all the nations and regions of the UK, but he has shown himself up to be England’s PM," said shadow sports minister Irene McGugan.

"It is entirely wrong of him to express his support for the English Ryder Cup bid, over the Scottish campaign.

"Following on from the highly publicised support of the Scottish Government for the bid to bring the Ryder Cup to Scotland - the home of golf - this intervention by Tony Blair pulls the rug from under the feet of Henry McLeish.

Ms McGugan said the First Minister should tell Mr Blair to publicly withdraw his backing for the English bid.

Away from the political row, newly appointed Scottish sports minister Allan Wilson, deputy tourism minister Alastair Morrison and former Scotland rugby captain Gavin Hastings headed to the Belfry to submit Scotland’s bid for the biennial contest between Europe and America’s top golfers to the Professional Golfers Association (PGA).

Five Scottish courses have stated their interest in hosting the three-day contest and more may put themselves forward.

The three on the Open Championship rota - Carnoustie, Turnberry and St Andrews - are in contention, along with Loch Lomond and Gleneagles.

A £24 million bid was launched last week at the same time as a commitment by the Scottish Executive to introduce every child to golf before they reach the age of nine.

Ministers estimate the Ryder Cup could net the Scottish economy at least £67 million, as well as boosting golf tourism, a target sector for visitors.

The projections are based on a study commissioned by the Executive which shows the 1997 Ryder Cup in Valderrama, in Spain, created £56.2 million, while last year’s event in Boston generated £103 million, £30 million more than projected.

A decision on the host country is expected in January and thereafter individual courses will compete to secure the world’s third biggest sporting event.

A bid from Wales is backed by billionaire Terry Matthews who wants to bring the prestigious event to his £120 million Celtic Manor complex in Newport.

Sweden is also bidding to host the event.

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