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Golf News - 2009/2010 Ryder Cup Bid
2010 Ryder Cup was only ever going to Wales
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Ryder Cup for sale

An unrelenting pursuit of cash has left golf's most prestigious piece of silverware badly tarnished

Alasdair Reed, The Sunday Times, 30 September 2001

The clouds of economic gloom may be gathering over the horizon, but a clear blue sky above Wentworth on Friday afternoon suggested their arrival is hardly imminent. As the sun beat down on the Surrey course, expensive saloons sat smugly on the gravel of the members' car park, half-timbered mansions peeped coyly from behind rhododendron and redwood screens, while the reassuring sound of ice against fine crystal wafted over from the terrace of the bar.

Even if the crude crenellations of the mock-gothic clubhouse were a sure sign that money and taste are not always natural bedfellows, the calm opulence of the interior offered reminders of the comforts that money can buy. Beneath the stern portraits of long-dead secretaries and the oak panels with their gilded lists of past captains, the ankle-deep Axminster rugs would have told you that these tweedy officers of yore had rarely battled against financial deprivation to make Wentworth what it is today.

We were there to hear the outcome of the long and confusing contest to earn the right to stage the 2010 Ryder Cup. How fitting. How very, very fitting. In the heart of a millionaires' playground we were about to be told that the Cup is now a millionaires' plaything.

As widely predicted, the contest had gone to Celtic Manor, the Welsh resort - if that's not an oxymoron - created by Sir Terry Matthews, the Canadian- based technology magnate whose seemingly limitless personal wealth had underwritten the effort. Matthews had overcome the inconvenience of offering a course that, in large part, has yet to be built, seeing off the four world-renowned venues that had been the components of Scotland's bid. You could call it a coup - except that coups usually include an element of surprise.

Because, as the dust settles on Scotland's failed campaign - the award of the 2014 contest to Gleneagles is no more than a sweetener on a bitter pill - and as the recriminations begin, it becomes more and more obvious that the 2010 Ryder Cup was only ever going to Wales.

Scotland unquestionably had the better courses, a better track record of staging significant tournaments and a better tradition of encouraging golf as a sport for the masses. What they lacked, though, was an understanding of the politics of professional golf and an awareness of how power was shifting within the sport. They based their bid on worthy pronouncements, on such meaningless initiatives as free golf lessons for children, when it was obvious that a substantial personal fortune was a far more significant factor in the equation.

Even if Ken Schofield, the chief executive of the European Tour, had not virtually said as much in his notorious outburst in May - when he made his own preference for the Welsh bid clear - then his track record should have made that clear. Did anyone really believe it to be a coincidence that the 1997 Ryder Cup went to Valderrama in Spain and that the 2006 contest will be played at Ireland's K Club, courses owned respectively by Jaime Patino and Michael Smurfit, both staggeringly rich and both existing benefactors of the Tour? And did anyone really think that the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) of Great Britain, in whose hands the decision theoretically rested, would not have to bend to Schofield's will, when they have been doing precisely that for the past 20 years?

If the Perth-born Schofield ever had any sentimental preference for his homeland, it was obliterated in May, when a combination of pressure from the Tour's playing membership and an independent auditor's report obliged him to try to squeeze more from his organisation's involvement in the Ryder Cup. That pressure provoked the tabloid newspaper interview subsequently given his personal stamp of approval when it was posted on the Tour's own web site - in which he rubbished the PGA as a powerless body and sang the praises of Wales.

From that point on, the Scottish bid was in reverse and it seemed increasingly certain that the Tour, for whom the players represent the trump card in any negotiations with the PGA, would lay claim to more than the 50% share of Ryder Cup revenues it already enjoyed. As well as confirming Wales's success, Friday's announcement at Wentworth also brought news that the Tour will effectively have the whip hand in all Ryder Cup matters in the future and will, presumably, enjoy the lion's share of the proceeds. It was a spectacular double whammy for Schofield.

In the sharp-suited milieu of golf administrators, Schofield cuts an unlikely, even unimposing figure. At first glance, you might mistake him for a schoolteacher, or even the bank official he once was, rather than the man who has presided over tournament golf in Europe for more than 25 years, cutting the deals that have swollen the coffers of its competitions more than 100-fold in the process. His players now compete for more than £50 million in prize money each year; when he took over that figure was less than £500,000.

It is Schofield's job to look after the bottom line, and he has done that superbly well. By the end of this season, the top 100 players in Europe will each have won more than £100,000; the earnings of the best of them will be pushing towards £2m.

A greater share of Ryder Cup monies will add yet more to the pot. And if the bottom line was all that mattered in sport then we could be gloriously indifferent to what has gone on over the past year.

But if you consider the Ryder Cup to be more than a cash cow, then indifference is not an option. The chorus of praise that the Ryder Cup draws from across the sporting firmament is generally accompanied by acknowledgement of its purity of competition. In short, it is special because it is about honour and glory and all those other sporting fundamentals.

It is most certainly not about money.

Both the European Tour and the PGA were clearly aware of such sensitivities at the outset. When they started the bidding process, they stressed the importance of commitment to the grassroots of golf, to development, to widening the scope of a sport that is still too middle-aged and middle-incomed for many. All very worthy, but all very irrelevant when push finally came to shove. What mattered in the end was how much each bidder was prepared to pay. It was an auction in all but name.

And although he chose his words carefully, we can be grateful to Schofield for confirming that. "We are in the position of having to lean on our strongest financial supporters in the likes of Jaime Patino, Michael Smurfit and Terry Matthews," said Schofield on Friday. "The consistency of support from traditional sponsors is always uppermost in our minds."

Fair enough. Understandable even. But had that point been made clear to potential bidders at the outset? When the question was put to Schofield, he reiterated that the Tour tended to look kindly on those venues and individuals with whom they already had existing arrangements, but he failed to make clear whether the Tour had made bidders aware of the fact. And if the Scottish Executive, who put public money into Scotland's effort to secure the event, were not told about that criterion, were not told that cuddling up to the Tour in the past might just have a bearing on the decision, then they were spending that money under false pretences.

"It appears that it was never a level playing field," said a source at one of Scotland's candidate venues before the decision was even announced. "It looks very suspicious. To be honest, we feel a bit hard done by."

There is little doubt that Matthews will move heaven and earth - more of the latter, with the help of European Golf Design, the Tour offshoot which has been given a £12m contract to bring his course up to scratch - in order to stage the Ryder Cup. The Scottish courses will cope with their loss. But can golf cope with even the suspicion that its most prestigious piece of silverware is now a chattel to be traded on the open market? Are you comfortable with the idea that the Ryder Cup is now in the hands of an organisation that sees it primarily as an income stream?

Events beyond golf have dictated, quite correctly, that the 2001 competition should not be staged this weekend. The trophy itself remains in American hands. It would have been nice to see it at Wentworth on Friday, although the Surrey sun would have to have been much brighter to have given it any sort of sheen.

To the manor born: Terry Matthews

Wales has Sir Terence Matthews, reportedly the fifth richest man in Great Britain, to thank for winning the right to stage the Ryder Cup. When told it would cost over £10m to attempt to take the Cup to Celtic Manor he replied bluntly: "That's just pocket money."

Born in Newport in 1943, Matthews left Swansea University with a BSc in Electronics in 1969. Three years later, in Canada, he set up his first company with $4,000 of borrowed money. It doubled its profits every year for the first 11 years, eventually producing revenues of £1.5bn. Matthews sold a 51% stake to BT, founded Newbridge Networks and last year sold that for $4.4bn. Married with four children, Matthews' interests are listed as history, good food and wine. Not golf, you will note.

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