EUROPE’S Ryder Cup director has praised the army of people working behind the scenes to ensure next year’s event at Gleneagles runs like clockwork and has spoken of his own personal pride in being involved in the event’s first staging in Scotland for more than 40 years.
The countdown clock to Europe defending the trophy against the Americans will start ticking louder in just over a fortnight’s time with a series of “Year to Go” celebrations.
They will start with opposing captains Paul McGinley and Tom Watson taking a steam train from Edinburgh to Gleneagles, where a nine-hole event featuring juniors representing the clubgolf initiative will be followed by a Q&A session at Perth Concert Hall. Hosted by Dougie Donnelly, it will also include entertainment by Fred Macaulay and Hue & Cry, with McGinley and Watson then hosting a first joint press conference since their respective appointments back at Gleneagles the next day.
With the PGA Centenary Course having been given its final competitive run-out before the big event in the recent Johnnie Walker Championship, Richard Hills, who has overseen the last nine matches from a European perspective, says most of the pieces of a complex jigsaw are now in place.
“I think [Gleneagles managing director] Patrick Emslie and the team, including [golf course manager] Scott Fenwick, have done an outstanding job,” he commented on the course. “As they say on the farming programme, it’s been a two-year winter and then this year it has been a hot summer and pretty much a drought.
“We’ve not had a great roll of the dice on that one, but Scott, with the help of [European Tour head of agronomy] Richard Stillwell and his team, has been able to get the course pretty much where we want it to be at this stage.
“Comparing this with The Belfry, The K Club and Celtic Manor, I would definitely say we are on track with the timeline. There were a few bits for the Johnnie Walker Championship where Scott did have to do some late turfing due to the weather, but I am confident they’ll be fine for next year.
“The sub-air system [installed as part of improvements costing £1.3 million since 2011] is a great insurance. It means you can control your own destiny to some extent. I think that, coupled with the aeration work that has been undertaken, mean we are very comfortable with the position. A lot of sand has gone in, so it is becoming firm and fast.”
On off-course logistics, Hills added: “On a couple of fronts it is a case of chasing a piece of string. Technology, for instance, has changed so much and with our phone policy now, people will be wanting to watch on their phone and be kept updated. The pressure that puts on the infrastructure behind the scenes is considerable.
“However, from the First Minister downwards there’s been a lot of effort in the Scottish Executive to ensure that everything works the way we want it to behind the scenes.
“I think we are at a capacity with the audience in terms of the daily figure being 45,000. It’s that balance between being able to allow people the experience of being able to see it or shuddering it right down and hardly giving anyone the chance. It’s a fine line and capacity-wise we are right on the line.”
During his time in the job, Hills has been involved in Ryder Cups on this side of the Atlantic in Spain (Valderrama), England (The Belfry), Ireland (The K Club) and Wales (Celtic Manor). “Now I’m very proud to be working for Ryder Cup Europe, for [chief executive] George O’Grady and the European Tour as the managing partner on something that is coming to the home of golf,” he acknowledged. “It is going to be a unique thing on the CVs of a lot of people involved with next year’s Ryder Cup.
“We’ve been very proud of how the community has come together on this and there are things we will be announcing in due course. But it is already known that we will be doing some education work with the national curriculum, for instance. It started in Wales and are we are delighted that Perth & Kinross have come to the fore to take this forward. Kids are going to know about the Ryder Cup, whether it is through club golf or this, and it’s about using it to help them learn.”