Ryder Cup 2014: Gleneagles countdown starts

IN AN era when golf’s most prestigious team tournament has become a vast commercial juggernaut coveted by multinational brands, it was envisaged as a journey back in time to its spiritual home.
Tom Watson and Paul McGinley. Picture: submittedTom Watson and Paul McGinley. Picture: submitted
Tom Watson and Paul McGinley. Picture: submitted

A steam train on Monday took golfing royalty, politicians and an array of celebrity ambassadors to Gleneagles, just over a year before it plays host to the Ryder Cup.

The event was designed to hark back to the vital role Glen-eagles played in the creation of the tournament when, in 1921, it welcomed a US side who pitted their skills against a British select, thereby planting the seed for a regular transatlantic joust.

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Nearly a century on, Paul McGinley and Tom Watson, the respective European and US team captains, were joined by First Minister Alex Salmond as organisers of the prestigious event marked the milestone.

A day steeped in heritage began at 10am at Edinburgh’s Waverley station, where commuters were greeted with a towering 20ft replica of the Ryder Cup trophy by platform 11.

As the 1927 loco puttered out of the station, civic dignitaries and golfing officials brushed shoulders with a diverse selection of tournament ambassadors, including actor James Nesbitt, former footballers Ruud Gullit and Alan Hansen, JLS pop star Marvin Humes and model Jodie Kidd. If Agatha Christie were to have written a whodunnit for the BBC Three generation, she would have had trouble devising a better cast.

All avid supporters of the game, the ambassadors’ role in the plot was clear – to spread the message that golf is now a universally popular sport and entertainment product. Gullit said: “I think golf is hip now. You have characters like Ian Poulter making the game really popular.”

Such celebrity endorsements would have been unthinkable in 1921, when the US team, including several Scots émigrés, arrived at Gleneagles to find a half-built hotel. However, those taking part in the so-called International Challenge found perfect conditions (“The sun lit up the golden glory of the gorse,” The Scotsman reported) and left suitably impressed. “If a man can’t play golf here, then he can’t play,” said Wild Bill Mehlhorn, a top US player of the age.

En route to Perthshire yesterday, McGinley said: “It’s a great honour to be Ryder Cup captain no matter where it is, but to be the captain at the home of golf is very special. I think Gleneagles will be a great venue and the iconic images of the hotel will be spread around the world.”

He hinted at changes to the way the first tee is set up in order to make 2014 the “loudest Ryder Cup ever”, but warned he would not select Scots simply to buoy a home crowd.

For rival captain, Watson, who won the Open at Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield and Troon, Scotland holds “very special” memories.

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Mindful his role is that of a diplomat as well as a coach, he carefully navigated questions as to whether the Scottish independence vote would impact on the tournament. He replied: “I should hope not. I think the golf is different from the political scene. It’s an apolitical, international event and I don’t think it has anything to do with the politics of Scotland.”

On arrival at Gleneagles, Mr Salmond helped unveil a commemorative flagstone at the station, where significant improvement works are under way in order to deal with the estimated 7,000 spectators who will arrive each day by rail.