Martin Dempster: Ryder Cup at Gleneagles will prove doubters wrong

Ian Woosman at the Bell's Scottish Open in Gleneagles in 1987. Picture: Denis Straughan
Ian Woosman at the Bell's Scottish Open in Gleneagles in 1987. Picture: Denis Straughan
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IT’S just over 11 years since Scotland was officially confirmed as the 2014 Ryder Cup venue. It was 28 September, 2001, to be precise, the day when Henry McLeish, the First Minister at the time, boldly declared that the biennial joust would be the “best ever” in its rich and exciting history.

There was initial disappointment, of course, because Scotland had been hoping to land what became the 2010 match but lost out to Wales for that. Yet, in hindsight, an extra four years to prepare has probably proved a blessing in disguise for all concerned.

From the moment the nod was given to Gleneagles, which was chosen ahead of Carnoustie, Loch Lomond and Turnberry as the venue for Scotland’s first Ryder Cup since the 1973 encounter at Muirfield, much has been said and written about the PGA Centenary Course at the Perthshire resort.

Sadly, precious little of that, certainly at the outset, was very positive and I’ll make no secret of the fact I was among the cynical ones. From the day I first clapped eyes on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, I didn’t like it. In fact, I hated it. It just wasn’t the Gleneagles I’d fallen in love with watching the BBC’s brilliant pro-celebrity event from there in the 1970s and 1980s.

It’s taken some time, not to mention a massive investment by Diageo, the owners of The Gleneagles Hotel, but, with the clock ticking fast towards 2014 and Europe’s latest defence of the Ryder Cup, I’m happy to admit I’ve been won over.

Is the match going to be played on the best golf course in Scotland? Of course not. But is it going to be played at the best tournament venue in Scotland? Possibly, yes. It was tried and tested during the days of the Bell’s Scottish Open, an excellent road network close to Gleneagles ensuring spectators got in and out for that with much less fuss than they did, for example, at Loch Lomond when it subsequently staged the same event.

From that perspective, it ticks all the boxes for the Ryder Cup, an event that has grown beyond all recognition since that Muirfield match. Back then, there was minimal interest in it, both from a spectator and media point of view. Now, as the third biggest event on the sporting calendar – behind only the Olympics and World Cup – it’s a box office production.

“500 million TV viewers alone is a crazy number and to get yourself in front of an audience that size is an incredible opportunity,” admits Bernard Murphy, the general manager at Gleneagles. “The pressure that brings, of course, is to get it absolutely right because you don’t want to embarrass yourself.”

There is absolutely no chance of that. The time Gleneagles have had to wait for their chance to come around has been used well. Murphy was at the last two Ryder Cups – at Celtic Manor and Medinah – and watched everything that was going on then meticulously. So, too, did Scott Fenwick, who, in his role as the golf course and estates manager, will be responsible for the condition of the PGA Centenary Course when it’s in the sporting spotlight for three days.

Of course, the event itself will be the responsibility of Ryder Cup Europe and, under the leadership of director Richard Hills, it has become pretty polished when it comes to producing a modern-day tournament venue with all its corporate hospitality units etc. But, with match-day tickets set to cost more than £100 per day, Murphy and his team also want to play their part in ensuring that spectators feel they are getting value for that outlay.

In Wales, after the weather intervened, Celtic Manor became a pretty miserable place to be trudging around due to it being turned into a sea of mud. No-one at Gleneagles is naive, so they know the conditions could be the biggest test of all there, too. It’s why some of the cart paths around the course are being doubled in width and crossovers at fairways will have something more substantial for a surface than the customary bark.

“It was difficult from a spectator point of view in Wales due to the weather and you wouldn’t want to have two successive Ryder Cups in Europe (it would be three, in fact, as The K Club was also turned into a quagmire) to be like that,” observes Murphy. “We want people to go away saying, ‘okay it was dear, but it was a fantastic day’s sport and I got in an out easily so, all in all, it was a good day out’.”

During the bidding process just over a decade ago, Tiger Woods said he’d like to see the match played on a links course for the first time since the 1977 encounter at Royal Lytham while the likes of Colin Montgomerie and Sam Torrance, two men who went on to become winning Ryder Cup captains, were both reported to have lent their support to Turnberry’s bid.

Of course, it would be great if the modern-day Ryder Cup did visit one of the established Scottish seaside venues or, alternatively, rolled up at Trump Links International, which has surely got to be a distinct possibility, especially as it all, apparently, comes down to how much someone is prepared to pay for the honour.

In little under two years’ time, however, Gleneagles will have the responsibility of delivering an event the home of golf can be proud of and, quite frankly, that particular task couldn’t be in better hands.

New clubs could be McIlroy’s biggest challenge

OH what a fickle bunch we are. As the sun blazed down during the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth at the end of May,

Rory McIlroy was the talk of the steamie, a second missed cut in a row being deemed

as the young Northern Irishman having hit a crisis in his career.

Just over five months on, it’s been shown how utterly

ridiculous some of the nonsense written about McIlroy then has proved to be on the strength of him having just completed the money title double this season on the European Tour and PGA Tour.

Helped by his second major, another runaway one at that, McIlroy is, without a shadow of doubt, the best player in the game at the moment by a considerable distance and, in truth, there should be nothing to stop him from being the sport’s dominant force for as long as he wants.

There could be a spanner in the works, however. From the start of next season, McIlroy will no longer have the trusty Titleist clubs that have served him so well in the bag, a new deal with Nike being imminent after he recently announced he’d be leaving Acushnet at the end of the year. According to many observers, including McIlroy’s close friend and fellow

US Open winner, Graeme McDowell, the switch will be no big deal because the man himself is so talented and, on top of that, he believes players can adapt more easily to modern-day equipment.

It’s a gamble, though, of that there’s no doubt. Was Colin Montgomerie the same player when he left Callaway to play Ben Hogan clubs before he moved on to Yonex? It could even be argued that McDowell himself is not the same force he was with Callaway clubs

before switching to Srixon.

McIlroy will earn a huge chunk of cash – a $200 million deal is believed to have been struck – when he joins Tiger Woods in the Nike ranks,

but it will be very interesting to compare his 2013 report card to the exceptional one he’s about to sign off for this season.