Scotland eyes £100m prize as host of Ryder Cup

Ryder Cup captains Tom Watson and Paul McGinley show off the trophy. Picture: Jane Barlow
Ryder Cup captains Tom Watson and Paul McGinley show off the trophy. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Times have changed since the event was last here, says Martin Dempster

When the Ryder Cup was last staged in Scotland – at Muirfield in 1973 – it was only really big in terms of the players taking part. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper and Lee Trevino were in the winning United States line-up, while the Great Britain & Ireland team included Tony Jacklin and Scots Bernard Gallacher and Brian Barnes.

There were no big crowds lining the fairways of the East Lothian links. No giant merchandise tent with its tills ringing merrily. Media interest was minimal. The contest carried bragging rights, which belonged almost exclusively to the Americans, but not much else.

Times have changed. The modern Ryder Cup is a different animal as the Home of Golf will discover when the 2014 match is staged on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles from 26-28 September.

In 2010, when the event was held at Celtic Manor in Wales, the local economy benefitted to the tune of £82.4 million. Based on that, as well as information from data on the economic impact of the Open Championship on Scotland, the projected figure for the 2014 encounter is £100m. In short, it’s now big business as well.

“The Ryder Cup is one of the biggest sporting events on the planet and as well as the kudos and achievement that goes with hosting such a major sporting spectacle, the economic and legacy benefits to Scotland are significant,” said Robbie Clyde, 2014 Ryder Cup Project Director with EventScotland.

“On top of the headline £100m figure for economic impact during the week of the event, the commitments made as part of Scotland’s Ryder Cup bid are delivering tangible benefits to Scotland.”

The clubgolf junior initiative, for instance. Launched in 2003 with the backing of eight-time European No 1 Colin Montgomerie, it has seen almost 300,000 schoolchildren introduced to the game, generating members for Scotland’s 500-odd golf clubs. Such has been the success of the scheme that it is regularly held up as a shining example to other nations interested in hosting the event by Europe’s Ryder Cup director, Richard Hills.

“Scotland is also leading the way in commitment to, and delivery of, major golf events thanks to investment from EventScotland and the Scottish Government as part of the Ryder Cup bid,” said Mr Clyde.

“These events not only promote Scotland to new audiences all over the world but provide a terrific platform for Scottish golfers to compete on a bigger stage.”

AS A direct result of hosting the 2014 Ryder Cup, more than 30 professional tournaments have been supported in Scotland since 2003, generating more than £20m in benefit to the country. In addition to the Scottish Open, events such as the Senior Open Championship, the Scottish Challenge and the Ladies’ Scottish Open have grown in stature with the help of a £10m commitment by EventScotland.

Building on the legacy of the Ryder Cup, this funding will continue through to 2018, as is the case with clubgolf.

That legacy will also include a groundbreaking new education programme. Touted as a blueprint for future Ryder Cup events, it features an online resource, developed by schoolchildren, involving real-life lessons around different aspects of golf.

The first bursaries to be funded through the Ryder Cup were also awarded recently, the recipients at the University of Stirling, Queen Margaret University and Perth College UHI taking courses that are relevant to the event, tourism, hospitality and management.

Excitement about Scotland hosting its first Ryder Cup in more than 40 years was already growing before the event was delivered an added bonus just over a year ago.

On the back of losing five of the six previous matches, the PGA of America threw away its rule book in terms of picking a captain and called Tom Watson out of “retirement”. The last man to lead the US to victory on European soil – at The Belfry in 1983 – has a great affinity with fans in Scotland, having claimed four of his five Open Championship triumphs here. He won’t necessarily guarantee an American victory, though, in picturesque Perthshire and, in Irishman Paul McGinley, he’ll be locking horns with an astute opposite number.

Scotland has a hard act to follow after Europe, with Ian Poulter providing the inspiration and Paul Lawrie also playing his part, staged a memorable last-day comeback to win the last encounter, at Medinah, just outside Chicago.

It’s a challenge the Home of Golf is relishing, though, and George O’Grady, the European Tour’s chief executive, is confident the event is in safe hands.

“It has come round so quickly after the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ and, with two great captains in place, I think every player and spectator you meet is looking forward to the 2014 Ryder Cup,” he said. “At the Year to Go Celebrations, which were launched at Edinburgh Castle, we saw how much is going to be left behind in Scotland once the Ryder Cup has come and gone.

“It’s great, for instance, to have seen the Ryder Cup being added to the National Curriculum, not just how you play the game but how you use it as a life and business model. Learning about all aspects of the Ryder Cup that are actually part of life. We are already having a great effect in Scotland – and the match is still nine months away.”

As with the match in Wales and, before that, the 2006 encounter at The K Club in Ireland, this year’s event is a sell-out. Coming from 75 countries worldwide, 250,000 spectators will be in attendance during the course of the week, when it is estimated that 20,000 portions of fish and chips and 15,000 burgers will be washed down by 130,000 pints of beer and 10,000 bottles of wine.

The Ryder Cup also now attracts a huge TV audience. ESPN’s coverage of the opening day’s play at Medinah, for example, averaged a record 1.68 million viewers while Europe’s fantastic comeback was reported to have drawn a peak audience of more than two million to Sky Sports.

With figures like that, it’s no suprise that, in the build-up to the Gleneagles event, VisitScotland has heightened marketing activity around Scotland as the Home of Golf in a bid to take full advantage and attract visitors to the country in the future.

The third-biggest event on the sporting calendar – it is only eclipsed by the Olympics and football’s World Cup Finals – will also help attract potential inward investors and businesses.

“The Ryder Cup allows Scotland to present itself on the world stage like never before and VisitScotland are already capitalising on what the increased marketing activity to promote the Home of Golf and maximise long-term tourism benefit,” said Mr Clyde.

It’s big, a lot bigger than that 1973 event. Scotland, though, has a record that is second-to-none when it comes to staging the Open, the world’s oldest major.

It also takes all the beating in terms of staging the Women’s British Open, which returned to the Old Course at St Andrews for a second time last summer.

Those examples, coupled with the fact it will attract the most knowledgeable golf fans in the world, will ensure Scotland delivers with the 2014 Ryder Cup on all fronts.