HE may be an Auchterarder man but Ken Schofield reckons all the praise for a Ryder Cup coming to his home patch lies with the person who fought Scotland’s corner in a bidding war 13 years ago.
“We should give a lot of credit to Sandy Jones – in fact, I’ve said to him that this should be regarded as his Ryder Cup as he was very instrumental in Scotland being heard,” said Schofield of the chief executive of the Professional Golfers’ Association.
While Jones himself is quick to point out it was by no means a one-man show in getting the event back to Scotland for the first time since 1973, Schofield was certainly in a seat at the time to be in a position to offer such a view with genuine sincerity.
As the European Tour’s chief executive, he was a non-voting advisor on the Ryder Cup selection committee, which decided the venues then for the transatlantic tussle.
It was the 2009 event, which eventually became the one in 2010 after 9/11, that was up for grabs and Schofield courted controversy after throwing his weight behind the Welsh bid at Celtic Manor.
However, Jones was determined that an equally strong Scottish bid didn’t go down the drain and, in a Ryder Cup first, two venues were announced at the same time in September, 2001.
“When we had all the issues between Wales and Scotland, it was really Sandy and [Europe Ryder Cup director] Richard Hills who came up with the idea of the double-header,” added Schofield, who started his working life in a bank before joining the European Tour in its communications department then climbing through the ranks at the Wentworth-based organisation.
“I know that some of our Continental friends felt we were a bit biased towards the home countries in making that decision, but I felt it was the right one.”
While not everyone could see it at the time, the extra four years Scotland had to prepare for its turn in the Ryder Cup spotlight proved no bad thing, especially after what happened to the financial world in the interim.
“Even though I had no idea there was going to be a huge economic recession, I always felt it was better for Scotland to be going second after Wales.
“We automatically had longer time to plan and to motivate people,” said Jones, who cut his golf administrator’s teeth with the PGA in Scotland before taking over the hot-seat at the organisation’s national headquarters at The Belfry.
“Ken was keen for Wales to go first, as, of course, was [Celtic Manor owner] Terry Matthews. Everyone thinks I was against Wales, but that wasn’t the case at all. I was pushing the two venues because they were so good. When you get that sort of offer, sometimes you should take it.
“They were two real committed bids, so why throw one of them away because they might not have come back to the table?”
Thirteen years on, both Schofield, having been brought up in Auchterarder, and Jones, who now owns a house in the Perthshire town, are delighted to see Gleneagles getting ready to stage one of the biggest events in sport.
“I remember going along to Gleneagles to see Eric Brown when he tied with Ralph Moffitt in the 1960 Dunlop Tournament,” recalled Schofield, who’d just joined the European Tour prior to the 1973 Ryder Cup at Muirfield but was over on the Ayrshire coast that week preparing for the John Player Classic at Turnberry.
“I was also an extra for a ‘Shell Wonderful World of Golf’ match when Eric played Gene Littler, the previous year’s US Open champion, which brings back special memories. We also had a great run at Gleneagles with the Bell’s Scottish Open on the Kings’ Course and I think that probably gave inspiration to the Diageo people to get the Jack Nicklaus course [the PGA Centenary] built so that it had the increased capacity you need for a modern-day Ryder Cup. I’ll be very proud when the gun goes.”
While he retired just under a decade ago, Schofield hasn’t missed a match since then and, in fact, will be working in official capacity at this one.
“It will be my 20th Ryder Cup, which is half the matches, and my main duties will be with the Golf Channel,” added the lifelong St Johnstone fan.
“I feel very privileged to have worked with them since 2006 and we’ll have a lot of friends over from America during the week.”
For Jones, welcoming the likes of Ted Bishop, the PGA of America president, to a venue that holds such a special place in the Scot’s heart will also probably make this Ryder Cup second to none in that respect.
“People talk about living the dream and that’s been the case with this for me, I suppose, for around 20 years as I remember walking up the driveway at Gleneagles with Ken in 1995 and saying, ‘if the Ryder Cup comes back to Scotland, this is really where it should be’,” he said.
“It just seems like yesterday when he announced it would be staging this match and it is actually quite scary. The scariest thing of all is going to be the day after. I dread that day, especially if we lose. It will have come and gone and I’m going to have to get my head around trying to cope with that.”
Like Schofield, Jones has watched the Ryder Cup grow beyond recognition from the one at Muirfield 41 years ago. “The first one I was involved in was in 1981 at Walton Heath and you simply can’t compare it to this one,” he said. “I’ve had so many messages from people saying, ‘you want to see the set up at Gleneagles, it’s fantastic’.
“I’ve seen the plan and the budget, so I know it’s not going to be skimpy. It’s a world-class event and I think that’s what people have got to remember. There are great events then there are world-class events.
“Was the Commonwealth Games a world-class event? You would say it was a class event but did the world really care? Golf seems to transcend the fact it’s Europe v the United States. The Australians seem to get involved in the Ryder Cup, as do the Japanese.”