French vision clinches 2018 Ryder Cup

THE vision of thousands of urban children being introduced to golf on 100 new mini-courses helped convince the head of the European Tour that France should be awarded the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Le Golf National near Paris was named yesterday as the venue for the biennial contest between Europe and the United States and European Tour CEO George O'Grady said the bid's imaginative legacy promise, combined with the security of going to an established course, had tipped the decision in its favour.

"There is a lot of talk now on the back of golf's involvement with the Olympic movement that you can't just introduce people to the game and say 'there you are, play 18 holes on a championship course'," O'Grady said.

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"You need to make it fun for kids starting to play the game and that's what is behind what they are doing. The French federation are saying to the youth of France, 'Here is an exciting pastime, it's not going to take you all day to play, this will get you going.'

"Of course they can still go on to play proper courses and become big players but, at the beginning, it's about creating a fun sport in a fun environment and I think it's admirable."

The courses will be nine or six holes with affordable access and equipment and will try to attract a new generation to a sport too often seen as being reserved for the well-off.

"It will take time, you can't just build 100 courses like that and we won't hold them to a contract if they only build 95 but there is funding in place," O'Grady said.

"We've had great success in Wales on the back of the 2010 Ryder Cup and golf is now being played in schools in Scotland.

"We have to make the Ryder Cup work to develop the game in countries we go to. People sometimes accuse us of being too commercial, it's not that, it's leaving a legacy. If Samuel Ryder were looking down from heaven I think he'd say, 'I like this new way to bring people to the game' and in this case hopefully excite the youth of France to take up golf."

O'Grady and the rest of the Tour committee tasked with choosing between bids from France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Netherlands were also impressed with the overwhelming support the French bid had from the country's golfers.

More than 80 per cent of more than 400,000 federation members voted in 2010 to pay an annual €3 levy for 13 years to help finance a Ryder Cup bid.

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"They didn't go cap in hand to the government asking for everything," O'Grady said.

"They said, 'Look, we've done this ourselves, our members are behind it, can you give us some additional help?'

"Now they have government backing and private sector backing and the aim for all is to leave an enormous legacy."

However, not everything about awarding the Cup to France was based on hopeful promises as the hard-nosed business side of the European Tour recognised the risk involved in three of the five bids that were based on yet-to-be-built courses.

"The plans for the new courses in Portugal and Spain are absolutely superb and, if Spain continue with their plans, they will get the Ryder Cup in the near future," O'Grady said.

"But, even though seven-and-a-half years sounds a long time, developing new areas with all the hotels, offices and roads is a big ask so, in that way, you could say we have gone for certainty. It is an established, first-class tournament venue and in these tough economic times we can see where we are going. We are leaving nothing to chance on building a new course."

The Spanish bid was considered to have gained strength on the back of the death of Seve Ballesteros earlier this month but O'Grady said that had no influence and that complaints that they had used the "Seve factor" were ill-advised.

"The Spanish Federation have conducted their bid impeccably," he said. "Seve has been part of their team and of course we have been well aware of the situation for a long time and we feel the emotion too. But the 'Seve factor' didn't make the slightest bit of difference to us. We evaluated all the bids on their merits and the board took the decision that on the criteria we had laid down, France's bid was exceptional."