THE journey starts now. That was the message delivered here yesterday as the countdown started in earnest to Scotland staging its first Ryder Cup in more than 40 years.
The sporting spotlight that has been on Medinah for the last week will switch to Gleneagles in two years’ time, when the PGA Centenary Course hosts the intercontinental contest.
It will be the first time the match has been staged in the home of golf since 1973, when an American side that included Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino beat Great Britain & Ireland, as it was back then, 19-13.
The event has grown beyond all recognition since then. Today, it is estimated to be worth around £100 million to the host country and the spin-offs are just as valuable.
Scotland officially took over the mantle from Chicago when First Minister Alex Salmond, who was inside the ropes supporting Paul Lawrie at Medinah, was presented with the traditional silver putter at last night’s closing ceremony.
Performing at that, as part of the programme aimed at giving a massive television audience a flavour of Scotland, were classical violinist Nicola Benedetti, who made a flying visit before rushing back to London for tomorrow night’s Classical Brits, and folk singer Julie Fowlis.
“The 2014 journey starts now,” said Mike Cantlay, the chairman of VisitScotland. “I hope the country will really appreciate the significance of the Ryder Cup and that the fact Scotland is hosting the event in two years’ time catches on.
“Through 2013, after what has been a really tough summer for Scottish golf courses due to the weather, we really want to encourage clubs across the country to really get stuck in about the concept of having the whole world looking at us in 2014.
“We want to see more people playing the game next year. We really want to see the whole country bouncing with golf and work that through to the event at Gleneagles.
“After 2014, we won’t see a Ryder Cup in Scotland for a while, inevitably. We want to use the Ryder Cup to re-position Scottish golf in Scotland and over the world.
“It should bring in £100 million worth of spend specifically during the week in 2014, which is great. But, at the closing ceremony, we are on stage to half a billion people. The message we get across through Nicola Benedetti and Julie Fowlis is really important.
“There’s a wider picture here than just the £100m spend and the countdown starts ticking on Monday morning. The excitement has to start now in terms of gearing up for Gleneagles.”
A small army of Scottish Government officials spent part of the week in Chicago and paid close attention to every aspect of how the event was being run by the American organising bodies, led by the PGA of America.
“The scale of the event doesn’t surprise but it is important to see,” added Cantlay. “Not just in terms of the infrastructure and how the whole thing comes together, but also the different trends in terms of spectator flow etc.
“The retail outlet here, for instance, is traditionally much bigger than it is back home. Just seeing how the whole thing works has been fascinating.
“We spent some time in the control centre along with Tayside Police. In America, there are umpteen different organisations involved. At Gleneagles, most of those things will be carried out by Tayside Police.
“Here the spectators have arrived in the dark. There are different health and safety considerations in Scotland and a different climate, too. It’s been really interesting to see all that this week.
“We’ve had several functions this week and one of them has been certainly to learn a bit more about the event. The French guys are here as well for 2018, which is a long way off. But we’ve been talking to them and starting to exchange ideas.
“The plans for the opening and closing ceremonies in 2014 are all coming together but I can’t go into specifics at the moment. What I will say is that our ideas and concepts are well advanced.
“Scotland is on the world stage those days and it will be amazing. I hope what we put together for the closing ceremony here will already have impressed people. And it’s just the start.”
Arriving in Chicago at the beginning of last week there was little to indicate the ‘Windy City’ was hosting the world’s third biggest sporting event. It will be a different story in two years’ time. “If you arrive internationally into Scotland at the moment, the branding is already up for 2014, both at Edinburgh and Glasgow,” reported Cantlay.
“2014 is going to be an amazing year for Scotland in general, not just golf. We’ve got the Commonwealth Games and a Ryder Cup in the same year. The Commonwealth Games comes to an end on August 3, just when the Edinburgh Festival is kicking in. Then we’ll have the run-in to the Ryder Cup.”
Hosting events like the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games is creating welcome spin-offs. A bid to stage the 2015 World Gymnastics Championships has already proved successful while Scotland is among six countries in the running to host the 2018 Youth Olympics.