RYDER CUP: Paul McGinley, the European captain, has arranged for Celtic Manor, venue for the Wales Open in a fortnight, to be set up identically to Gleneagles to help the likes of Stephen Gallacher, Lee Westwood and Jamie Donaldson prepare for the Ryder Cup.
Scott Fenwick and Jim McKenzie, the two men in charge of the courses at Gleneagles and Celtic Manor respectively, were asked by McGinley to try to get their venues almost identical to each other in terms of green speeds, rough variances and run-offs.
Working in tandem with European Tour agronomists Richard Stilwell and Eddie Adams, that has been achieved, allowing automatic qualifier Donaldson and wildcard picks Gallacher and Westwood to get to know in advance when they tee up in Wales what to expect at the PGA Centenary Course the following week.
It, in effect, will be a normal European Tour set up, with McGinley having been “respectful” to Jack Nicklaus, the original course designer and brought back on board by Gleneagles in a welcome move to make some changes specifically for Scotland’s first Ryder Cup in more than 40 years.
“Scott Fenwick has been great and he knew how important he was to me on my first trip to Gleneagles,” McGinley told The Scotsman. “He’s incredibly excited about it (preparing a Ryder Cup course) and that’s great. I want everyone to be excited.
“In terms of the set-up, there are a few more run-offs around some of the greens than people might remember and there are two reasons for that. First, we have more run-offs around greens in Europe than they do in America, where it’s more cabbage around the greens.
“We are quite comfortable chipping off tight lies like that and that’s one of the reasons why, historically, Europeans have had a good record at Augusta. The Americans are more comfortable in the US Open, where it’s more of a flop shot.
“The second reason is that I wanted to respect Jack Nicklaus, who came back to Gleneagles and created a lot of these run-off areas. The 18th, for example, is a run-off green and I didn’t want to come in and undo any ideas he had.
“The one thing I was conscious about in setting up the course was outsmarting myself. In the past we’ve been the shorter but straighter hitters while they’ve been the longer hitters. When Sam [Torrance] set up the golf course at The Belfry (in 2002), he tapered the fairways at 310 yards to try and combat the American big-hitters. Now it is almost the opposite but I’ve not done the opposite. What I’ve done is pretty much set up the course in line with the European Tour set-up.
“I’ve done that for two reasons. First of all is that it’s a set-up our players are used to. It is slightly different from the US Tour in the sense our fairways will be a little tighter. I want the guys to be comfortable and familiar with the set-up. Where I could easily have outsmarted myself is that we don’t know what the weather is going to be like, so I’ve gone to a common ground.”
Since he was appointed as European captain 19 months ago, McGinley has been a regular visitor to Gleneagles, liaising with Fenwick as well as hotel staff to get things exactly how he wants them for the 40th Ryder Cup.
“I remember saying it was going to become my second home – not a bad place for that, is it? – and that has certainly been the case. I know all the staff by their names and they all look after me so well when I’m up there,” he said.
“The Ryder Cup team is much bigger than just the players and caddies. You’ve got the wives, for starters, and I’ll go right the way through to you guys in the media. What you guys say about the team is important as the players read the press. They say they don’t – but they do. A lot of my positioning in the media is my positioning with them. I’ve been speaking to the players through the press and they are aware of that.
“You go right down the logistics people. We are all in this together. The more team environment we can create and the happier I can make it the less chance we’ll have of factions creeping in. The circle is big, very big.”
Having played in the event three times then being a vice-captain for the last two matches, McGinley has seen every aspect of the event grow arms and legs. “As Ryder Cup has evolved, so has everything else,” he said. “The media interest in it, for example, is so massive now. I was watching the Golf Channel (during the US PGA Championship in Louisville) when I woke up and you didn’t go five minutes before the Ryder Cup was mentioned.
“I’m aware of the size of it and, as the tournament has grown, particularly on the back of Medinah – one of the greatest sporting events of all time – it’s almost like being in the shoes of someone that runs a company such as Heinz with 25,000 people working for them. They will have a similar approach as I have in the sense that you are watching every angle. If there is something going off line, you try to cap it.”