SENIOR management at Gleneagles are “comfortable” and “relaxed” about the possibility of Darren Clarke being appointed as the 2014 Ryder Cup captain, insisting his criticism of the PGA Centenary Course in the past is no longer relevant as the layout, as well as its conditioning, has changed significantly since then.
Clarke, a five-time Ryder Cup player and a vice-captain to both Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal as they led Europe to victory in the last two matches, has emerged as a leading candidate for the captaincy in Scotland, a report last month even claiming the Northern Irishman has already been approached by the European Tour and that he has indicated he wants the job.
An official announcement is not due until January and the other name believed to be in the frame is Paul McGinley, who was also part of the backroom teams at Celtic Manor and Medinah and, on top of that, has his supporters on the strength of him having been a successful captain in the Seve Trophy, the biennial bout between Great Britain & Ireland and Continental Europe.
Clarke enhanced his chances of becoming the first Irishman to earn the Ryder Cup captaincy when he became Open champion last year but, even as he celebrated that triumph at Royal St George’s, he refused to back down over stinging criticism aimed by him at the PGA Centenary Course during the Johnnie Walker Championship in 2007.
“It’s unbelievable they chose to stage the 2014 Ryder Cup on this course,” he said at the time. “There are unbelievable courses in Scotland, not least of which are the two others at Gleneagles, the King’s and Queen’s. So it’s beyond my comprehension they’ve chosen to have the Ryder Cup on this course.
“Gleneagles is an unbelievable resort and a sensational place, but the Ryder Cup is going to be played on the wrong course. I’m going to be ripped for saying what I’ve said. But I just can’t see it as a Ryder Cup venue, Ryder Cup golf course, and it’s a shame.”
Reminded of those comments the day after he’d picked up the Claret Jug last July, Clarke was unrepentant. “Yes, I’ve made some disparaging remarks about Gleneagles in the past,” he said at his winner’s press conference in Kent. “My views are quite straightforward. To me a spade is a spade. Some people may not like it, but I say what I think. I’ve always done that and I will stand by what I said. At some stage in the future, that may come back to get me, but I will always stand by what I’ve said.”
It was only in August that Clarke returned to Gleneagles for the first time in four years and, as was thought at the time, his decision to accept an invite back to the Johnnie Walker Championship appears to have opened the door for him to lead Europe into battle against the Americans there in 2014.
Bernard Murphy, the general manager of The Gleneagles Hotel, has seen the stories linking Clarke with the vacancy and, in an exclusive interview with The Scotsman, he insisted no-one at the five-star Perthshire resort would have any issues if he was appointed by the European Tour’s tournament committee during the Abu Dhabi Championship in just over two month’s time.
“We are entirely comfortable with who the captain will be in 2014 and that includes Darren Clarke,” he said. “I think he is a fan of Gleneagles as a resort; I think he just had a bad experience on two of the greens on the PGA Centenary Course that year. The course has changed beyond all recognition since then and I think he liked the rest of the place, the other courses and the hotel, anyway.
“It would be great if he was captain – the others who have been mentioned, too – and we are very relaxed about that. It was good to have him back at the Johnnie Walker Championship this year and, if Darren is appointed, we would look forward to him coming here and talking about how he’d like the course to be set up to help give Europe an edge in two years’ time.”
Scott Fenwick, the golf courses and estates manager at Gleneagles, was probably the man Clarke hurt the most when he criticised the condition of the PGA Centenary Course. But, like Murphy, he will be happy to work with the 43-year-old, insisting those remarks bear no relation to how the layout is today.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what anyone has said in the past about the course. It’s about going forward,” said Fenwick. “It’s all about the Ryder Cup, so it doesn’t really matter who is the captain. It’s about making sure Scotland, Gleneagles and the Ryder Cup are the winners at the end of the day. It’s about everyone working together and Europe have proved very good at that in the Ryder Cup recently. There’s been a great team ethos.”
Over the past few years Gleneagles have invested heavily in making changes to the Ryder Cup course and the resort as a whole, a programme that will have cost close to a quarter of a billion pounds once the match itself comes around having included the installation of a sub-air system in the greens and a major makeover by Jack Nicklaus, the original designer, of the 18th hole.