ONE of the main dangers to the Ryder Cup being completed on schedule reared its head yesterday as a blanket of morning mist at Gleneagles delayed the arrival of the iconic trophy at the Perthshire resort at the end of a week-long Scottish tour.
After a flawless journey from Edinburgh to Braemar via the Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, the Mull of Kintyre, the isle of Harris and the Shetlands, the last leg from Aberdeen was put on hold due to the fact the helicopter carrying the Ryder Cup couldn’t land at Gleneagles.
As places within two miles basked in glorious autumn sunshine, mist bellowing out from Glendevon shrouded the resort and its three courses to provide a timely reminder about the part Mother Nature could play when Scotland stages its first Ryder Cup in more than 40 years in a fortnight’s time.
“I prefer this before the event than at the event,” admitted Scott Fenwick, who, in his 34 years on the greenkeeping staff at Gleneagles, has quite often seen play delayed there due to the same weather conditions.
“It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, you can get fog coming in,” added the man who has risen through the ranks to become golf courses and estates manager and, as such, is in charge of the team preparing the PGA Centenary Course to host the third biggest event in sport. “But it’s not like we get days and weeks of the stuff.”
Indeed, the sun had burned through on this occasion by lunchtime, allowing the helicopter to land with its important cargo at 1pm, though the mist had probably lifted sufficiently a good hour or two before then to have allowed some golf to be played if it had been a Ryder Cup day.
Four years ago, the match in Wales was hit badly by rain, forcing the format to be rejigged mid-event. Even then, it spilled over to the Monday for the first time in 39 stagings.
Contingency plans are in place for a similar scenario this time around, but match director Edward Kitson insisted one weather hiccup in the build-up wasn’t giving him any undue concern.
“There have been some foggy mornings over the past few months, but today it has hung around for a bit longer than usual,” he said. “We’ve had fog at previous Ryder Cups, including a delay in 1993 (at The Belfry), and during the week of the event we have a meteorologist on site keeping track of the weather patterns, whether it is rain, winds or, hopefully, blue skies.
“We have some contingencies to deal with any delays on the first two days and, of course, there’s Sunday morning (the singles aren’t due to start until around 11.30am) if we don’t get to complete the matches on schedule by then. But the nature of the Ryder Cup is very different to regular European Tour events and match-play against stroke-play also makes a difference.
“In 2010, of course, we did go into the Monday, but, even though there are contingency plans in place should that happen, hopefully that won’t be the case this time.
“Our focus is always on trying to finish on Sunday night and every effort will be made to achieve that.”
While it had seemed the trophy would have to make the last part of its journey by car, plan A came off in the end as the helicopter landed in front of the iconic hotel, where Kayleigh Singer, a 17-year-old ClubGolf product from South Queensferry, stepped out holding the Ryder Cup to present it to Patrick Elsmie, the Gleneagles managing director.
Having staged a G8 summit in 2005, Elsmie and his 800-strong staff are no strangers to hosting either big events or big names, with the European and American players and officials set to receive five-star treatment during their week-long stay.
“The hotel is a place we have spent a lot of money on in recent years and we continue to make sure we provide a venue that is right for those that are participating,” he said. “The official parties and the guests of the official parties will be here and we want to make sure they go away with a positive image of Gleneagles, Perthshire and Scotland.”
While mist may play havoc with helicopters, it doesn’t stop building work and, with each passing day, the huge infrastructure that comes with a modern-day Ryder Cup is taking shape around the Perthshire resort.
“It’s like one of those slow motion things,” said Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland’s chief executive, of the final phase of a journey that started in 2001, when Wales and Scotland were awarded Ryder Cups at the same time.
“You come one week and the things to make the stands are lying there. Come up again and the stands are up. The (railway) station has opened. Each little bit adds to the whole thing. It’s adds to the excitement and tension.
“You can feel the excitement building. Even playing golf at my club at the weekend, everybody was talking about the Ryder Cup. Stephen (Gallacher) getting picked has just added another dimension to it.”
Gallacher, meanwhile, has played his first practice round on the course since he was handed a wild card by Paul McGinley, the European captain, along with English duo Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter.
Keen to utilise his knowledge of the course to the full, having recorded seven top-10s on it since 2001, Gallacher paid a visit with his coach, Alan McCloskey, as he started to gear up for a dream first appearance in the inter-continental contest.