FOUR weeks today, the focus of the sporting world will be on Gleneagles as the 40th Ryder Cup gets underway. Not since it hosted the G8 Summit in 2005 will the five-star Perthshire resort find itself in the spotlight from such a global audience.
Last staged in Scotland in 1973, when Muirfield was the host venue, the Ryder Cup has grown arms and legs since then.
It is now one of the biggest events on the world’s sporting calendar, attracting 45,000 spectators per day.
It has been known since 2001, when two home venues were announced simultaneously, that this event would be staged in Scotland, with the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles being selected ahead of Turnberry, Carnoustie and Loch Lomond.
Planning had started before the final putt dropped at Celtic Manor Resort in Wales four years ago and now, as the European qualifying race edges towards its conclusion on Sunday, Gleneagles is beginning to be transformed from its normal tranquility into a bustling tournament venue.
Not like the one, though, that has hosted the Johnnie Walker Championship in recent years and, before that, of course, the Bell’s Scottish Open. The modern-day Ryder Cup is a different animal altogether, as illustrated on its own by the fact the European Tour received 1,000 media accreditation requests for this year’s event.
As a result of all the clattering and banging echoing around the north end of Glen Devon over the past few weeks – and that has not finished yet – 15,000 grandstand seats will be provided around the course.
The biggest of those structures, at the first tee and 18th green, will house more than 2,000 spectators.
One at the left of the seventh fairway, which offers views of the third green, fourth hole and stunning scenery as well – will be a peach of a vantage point for 1,000 people.
Also appearing around the course are huge corporate hospitality units, some of which are three storeys tall. The Ryder Cup has become a popular event for businesses to host clients, with catering companies set to provide 8,000 covers per day in those plush units, all of which have been given names connected to Scotland, when the action gets underway.
Add in a sizeable Spectator Village, which is located on what is normally the driving range – the first hole on the King’s Course is being used for that purpose in the Ryder Cup – and various other bits of infrastructure and it’s easy to see why past players have admitted to being taken aback by the scale of the event after being appointed as European captain.
“Colin Montgomerie used to come to meetings and admit he never knew that so much work went on in the background and it’s been the same with Paul McGinley,” said Edward Kitson, who, as the match director, has the task of pulling the event together and making it run as smoothly as possible to the satisfaction of spectators paying between £35 to £145 to take in either the practice days or the three match days.
In his opinion, the Gleneagles site works well, with spectators, for example, having much shorter distances to walk to the course from either of the two bus terminals that have been built or the revamped local railway station than was the case in Newport for the last match on this side of the Atlantic.
“In Wales, we had a similar-sized tented village to the one here, but the real benefit of this one is its location as it is right next to the first and 18th holes and also next to Station Road, which is where 8,000 spectators arriving each day by train will be coming on to the course,” added Kitson.
“I think it will create a much better atmosphere and compared to Wales, where it was the best part of a mile from the public entrances, the furthest people will have to walk here from the two bus terminals or the railway station to reach the course is 800 yards, which is pretty good for a major event.”
From the original plan, one of those terminals is in a spot that had been earmarked for a TV compound, which is now in another location. In the main, though, it has stayed as it was, with Kitson and his team determined to ensure the event proves a good spectator experience.
“The PGA Centenary offers some amazing views and one of the programmes we have carried out was to take some of the broom out on the tops of the hills around the course, thus creating natural amphitheatres,” he said, currently overseeing a construction operation involving around 300 people.
“We also have just under 15,000 seats around the course, including just over 2,000 around the first tee, which is bigger than Wales, where it was 1,600, and one of a similar size behind the 18th green. We could probably have got away with less than that, but we know that people like to sit and watch the big screens, of which there are 16 either around the course or in the Spectator Village.”
With four weeks to go until the opening match steps on to the first tee amid a cacophony of noise, things are taking shape nicely. Just as the European side seems to be in good hands with McGinley, the same goes for all that infrastructure with Kitson and his team.