Ryder Cup venues: European selections

National pride, tourism revenue, personal egos and self-interest ensure there is never a dull moment when the European Tour needs to select a Ryder Cup venue. Andy Farrell, former golf correspondent for The Independent newspaper in the UK, has followed the soap operas via multiple transport modes

Novo Sancti Petri had a few drawbacks as a potential Ryder Cup venue. Getting there, firstly. It would have been quicker to get to the Australian Masters than the 1993 Turespana Masters. Almost 24 hours after leaving the office in London on the Docklands Light Railway—via a flight to Malaga and then overnight trains to Cadiz, doglegging up to Cordoba in the process—I arrived just in time to see Seve Ballesteros miss the cut and discover the new airport at Jerez was less than an hour away.

This was the first tournament staged on a golf course designed by Seve Ballesteros to separate “the men from the not so manly”. The man turned out to be Andy Oldcorn, defeating a field that included Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke.

The term field is used advisedly. The course was flat, long—the shortest par-three was 197 yards back in the days when that was a four-iron—and had bunkers as big as greens. Gale-force winds off the sea battered the golfers. There was virtually no gallery.

Nevertheless, two years after opening, club president Salvador Moll announced he wanted to host the 1997 Ryder Cup. “I have spoken to Seve and he has been encouraging,” Moll said.

or the first time, the match was leaving its British base and heading to Spain in honor of Ballesteros.

Seve Ballesteros cradles the Ryder Cup at Valderrama in 1997

Valderrama, owned by Bolivian tin billionaire Jaime Ortiz-Patino and home of the season-ending Volvo Masters, was the likely venue. So he was taking on Patino, Moll was asked? “No, Señor Patino is fighting me.”

In fact it was Seve who was fighting anyone and everyone. “It seems incredible to me that these people who have done nothing for golf are arm-wrestling me when it is I who brought the Ryder Cup here,” he fumed. His ire was mainly directed at the Royal Spanish Golf Federation which he called a “cancer” and more of a “social circle”. The president, Emma Villacieros, retorted: “We believe Seve is the person who has contributed most to the development of golf in Spain. That does not mean he says logical things.”

At first Ballesteros had wanted the match to be staged in the capital but once he was denied planning permission for a new course in Madrid, he insisted the Ryder Cup should be played in the tourist areas of the south. He had helped redesign the controversial par-five 17th at Valderrama but then supported Novo Sancti Petri’s bid, even after being invited onto the six-man Ryder Cup Committee.

The Valderrama club’s former owner, the late Jaime Ortiz-Patino

Yet a month prior to the crucial vote in 1994, Sve resigned his position, having failed to sway the committee to his desired outcome.

Other venues in the running were La Moraleja in Madrid, where Bing Crosby collapsed and died walking off the 18th, La Manga, El Saler, Royal Seville and Montecastillo in Jerez, which was designed by Jack Nicklaus. In a novel pitch, Nicklaus said: “Europe won on the course I built at Muirfield Village, so perhaps they should choose the one I have built here.”

Valderrama inevitably got the nod as the “best course in Spain”, according to Ken Schofield, executive director of the European Tour. It was certainly the best-conditioned course this side of Augusta National and, thank goodness, as it coped with the Ryder Cup week’s torrential rain to provide a happy ending on Sunday evening for Europe, Spain and Captain Seve.

Once the European Tour took over as managing partner for the Ryder Cup in Europe, supporting regular tour events became crucial for hosting the transatlantic match. The Smurfit European Open ran for 13 years from 1995 at the K Club, owned by Dr Michael Smurfit, who had sneaked over the wall of the estate as a child to steal apples. He returned to turn it into a luxury hotel with two golf courses, both designed by Arnold Palmer. The Ryder Cup Course provided a fitting stage for the event in 2006, memorable for the Guinness flowing as freely as the tears for widower Darren Clarke.

Le Golf National in Paris

Terry Matthews, who made his money from electronics in Canada, returned to Wales to buy the nursing home in which he was born on the outskirts of Newport. He turned it into a boutique hotel, then built a huger hotel nearby and added several golf courses. He staged the Wales Open for a decade and a half at Celtic Manor and with local government chipping in to fund events on the Seniors tour and the LET, Celtic Manor claimed the 2010 Ryder Cup, even though it meant rebuilding most of what became the TwentyTen course. Its positioning on the banks of the River Usk meant it could not cope with more torrential Ryder Cup rain and the match went into an extra Monday but what a finish it provided, with Graeme McDowell saving the day for Europe, and his captain Colin Montgomerie, in the anchor match.

Scotland had missed out in the bidding for 2010 so, to save face, were awarded the 2014 match that eventually was played at Gleneagles. Part of their bid was to promise that all under-nines in the country would learn to play golf, a policy that is yet to bear fruit.

After back-to-back UK matches in 2010 and 2014, the Continent was promised the 2018 edition and this year’s match will be played at Le Golf National in Paris.

The home of the French Open since the early 1990s bar a couple of years, the Albatross course has long been considered an ideal potential Ryder Cup venue with its spectator mounding and dramatic, water-strewn closing stretch. It is also close to Versailles and on the outskirts of one of the world’s greatest cities.

More of a surprise was Marco Simone, near Rome, emerging as the venue for the 2022 match. The Bid Evaluation Committee also scrutinized venues in Germany, Spain and Austria on an exhaustive range of technical details from the site itself to the development of the game in each country and backing at governmental level.

Rome’s Marco Simone

“The Italian bid was consistently strong and impressive across the board in terms of infrastructure, commercial structure and government support,” said Ryder Cup director Richard Hills. It did not hurt that funds were found to quadruple the purse for the Italian Open to make it a $7m Rolex Series event.

Across the Atlantic, where the PGA of America does not have to juggle competing nations and can deal directly with venues, the roster is full up to 2032 with the likes of Whistling Straits, Bethpage Black, Hazeltine National—where the USA regained the Cup most recently—and Olympic Club to come.

Europe is next looking for the 2026 hosts. Germany, backed by BMW, itself an important supporter of the European Tour, was disappointed to miss out for 2022. Sweden deserves a turn but they have been reluctant to bid recently with the date of the match pushed back to late September and even into October—meaning weather and daylight are issues in Scandinavia.

Adare Manor in Ireland has expressed an interest in 2026, while there have long been rumors of a purpose-built venue near the M6 in Lancashire—a notion boosted by the record crowds for The Open at Royal Birkdale last summer. And Spain is keen to finally bring the Ryder Cup to Madrid. The journey to staging the game’s biggest contest is long and winding—and expensive—but more than worth it as Paris will discover later this month.

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