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Dermot Gilleece: The pursuit of money makes the Ryder Cup go round


The PGA Centenary Course at The Gleneagles Hotel Golf Resort

The PGA Centenary Course at The Gleneagles Hotel Golf Resort

Getty Images

The PGA Centenary Course at The Gleneagles Hotel Golf Resort

As the game's ultimate cash cow, the Ryder Cup will fulfil its biennial function of serving golf and mammon with the 40th staging at Gleneagles, starting on Friday. Whatever about making new friends as originally envisaged by its founder, the tournament will most definitely generate huge revenues for the PGA European Tour.

The rewards, primarily from a TV deal re-negotiated with Sky in the wake of the so-called Miracle of Medinah two years ago, shouldn't be viewed in a negative sense, certainly not in this country where Ryder Cup money effectively helps to fund the Irish Open in the absence of a title sponsor. This is the simple reality of an event which has grown enormously because Americans don't take kindly to being beaten on a regular basis.

Something of a breakthrough was made at the controversial Country Club staging at Brookline in 1999, when revenues estimated at $150m outstripped even the 100th Boston Marathon of three years previously, as the most lucrative undertaking in that city's history.

Memorably, that was also the occasion when the players first asked publicly for a slice of the pie. And his role as spokesman of a rebel group is believed to have cost Mark O'Meara the chance of the 2006 captaincy in the land of his forebears at The K Club, an honour he dearly coveted.

It certainly made for quite a change from the 1989 staging at The Belfry where Christy O'Connor Jnr, among others, scuppered US hopes of victory. As it happened, with none of the major American networks prepared to pay for the rights to what proved to be a thrilling, tied match, it was eventually screened there by the USA Network for a giveaway $200,000. Nowadays, the bill would be close to 100 times that figure.

The so-called Boston tee party effectively set the financial standard for subsequent stagings. Now, it is Scotland's turn and a glorious opportunity for their tourist body, VisitScotland, to recoup multiples of the £500,000 which they spend annually on golf promotion.

They need look only to the recent experiences of their neighbours. The K Club staging in 2006 generated revenues of £50m for the European Tour, of which a profit of £10m was declared. The Scots would be more interested, however, in the figure of €143m which Fáilte Ireland claimed in additional tourism revenues through the help of television viewing figures which peaked at 4.6 million in the US, creditable for a minority sport.

Four years later, events at Celtic Manor benefited the Welsh economy to the extent of £82.4m. And the fact that the venue's owner, Terry Matthews, estimated his own costs at £25m, could have been viewed as simply the price of vanity.

Against the background of all this cash, it was perhaps predictable that the players would eventually want a share of the action. Europe's representatives remained satisfied with the status quo in the knowledge that they were directly assisting the survival of their own tour. For American players, however, the main beneficiary was the PGA of America which caters for club rather than tournament professionals, thereby imposing no moral duty on them.

So it was that O'Meara, who had Tiger Woods as an ally, addressed journalists at a press conference at Brookline with the proposition: "You should come and donate your salary to a charity that [Ryder Cup] week, too. You guys don't mind doing that, do you? Either that or they shouldn't charge the spectators to come and watch."

By way of compromise, it was agreed that the PGA of America would, in future, donate $200,000 per player, half of it going to an individual's charity of choice and the other half to a college development programme in each American player's name.

But it didn't end there. During the Valhalla staging which, incidentally, marked the lone American victory since Brookline, Hunter Mahan belatedly sprinkled a little more fuel on dying embers when likening the American players to "slaves". He added: "At some point the players might say, 'You know what? We're not doing this anymore, because this is ridiculous'. Mickelson and Tiger - their time is worth money [ironically, Woods was an absentee on that occasion]. Is it an honour to play? Yes, it is. But time is valuable. This is a business."

Against this background, one can imagine the sort of sympathy PGA officials felt towards Mahan when he lost very tamely to Graeme McDowell in the key singles at Celtic Manor.

And what of the respective captains? No specific figures are available but it has been estimated that the role could be worth up to £1.5m for the European leader. Officially, the captain is paid "all reasonable expenses," but I can recall Nick Faldo, the 2008 European skipper, having a series of televised duels, including fishing, with his counterpart, Paul Azinger, prior to the Valhalla staging.

Faldo also became a brand ambassador for adidas/Taylormade and luxury car-maker, Maybach, along with having newspaper and magazine deals. By way of reaction, the European Tour are understood to have tightened the situation significantly before Colin Montgomerie took command for 2010. For his part, Europe's most successful captain, Tony Jacklin, famously claimed to have received no more than £50,000 "and a crate of Johnnie Walker whisky" for his splendid endeavours.

Meanwhile, the European Tour's financial philosophy towards the Ryder Cup was framed memorably by its former Executive Director, Ken Schofield. While discussing the decision to award the 2006 staging to The K Club, he told me: "Let's be clear about this, we're talking commercialism, unashamedly as far as I'm concerned."

Then, regarding the choice of venue, he said: "Many traditionalists argued that, surely, Portmarnock should be the place [for the Irish staging]. But we had witnessed not only the development of The K Club and their sponsorship of the European Open; we had seen what Tim Mahony had done at Mount Juliet."

Which explains the choice this week of the Centenary Course, designed by Jack Nicklaus at Gleneagles, rather than on one of the renowned Scottish links of the Open Championship rota. In fact, not since Royal Lytham in 1977 has the Ryder Cup been played on links terrain, a fact regretted, ironically, by US skipper Tom Watson.

All of which emphasises the unfairness of criticism levelled at this country for having the event on an American-style parkland layout. One particular American journalist roundly slated the choice in an article published by The Irish Times and the piece subsequently appeared in The Scotsman who welcomed, no doubt, the opportunity of taking a swipe at a perceived rival in golf tourism.

At 7,243 yards with a par of 72, the Centenary is a fine course which should be well suited to matchplay, given two, reachable par-fives in the last four holes. After the testing, 463-yard 15th, the 16th, at 518 yards, is an eminently reachable par five, though a pond has to be negotiated with the second shot, albeit well short of the green.

The 194-yard par three 17th demands a slightly downhill tee-shot to a heavily bunkered green. And one can imagine nerve-ends being seriously stretched if matches go to the 18th, a 513-yard par five known evocatively as 'Dun Roamin'. According to Nicklaus: "I think the players will take a run at this one. But if they are too aggressive and go through the green to the left, they will leave themselves a very awkward chip shot from a deep valley. The hole is well bunkered short of the green. It's a great viewing hole and hopefully many of the matches will reach this far."

The weather will probably be chilly and possibly damp, which means the course may play some way beyond its yardage. One thing certain is that the greens will be appreciably slower than the Americans are familiar with. Which, of course, will also demand adjustment from the leading Europeans used to playing on the PGA Tour.

In the wake of the 1993 matches, when the US had their last victory on this side of the pond, European skipper Bernard Gallacher made observations rendered rather interesting 21 years on. Like his assertion that the American college system meant they could produce golfers "far more experienced than ours". He added: "I don't think you can turn professional [there] at 17 as I did and Seve did." He wasn't to know that Rory McIlroy, the current world number one, would be only a little older when joining paid ranks.

Gallacher went on: "My own nephew has to work in a hospital in the winter to pay for his golf in the summer." Which didn't seem to do Stephen Gallacher much harm, given a tournament career which has delivered more than €9m in tournament earnings and a place as the lone Scot on this week's European team.

Can the skipper determine the outcome of this coming conflict? It is interesting that some of the most celebrated captains on either side, as in Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Curtis Strange for the US, and Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros for Europe, were the least successful: it is widely acknowledged that in 1997 at Valderrama, Europe won in spite of having Seve as leader.

The problem seems to stem from an inability to empathise with lesser talents; to be lacking the pragmatism so crucial in such matters. In this regard, I believe Paul McGinley can out-think a more distinguished opponent in Watson, so edging matters once more in Europe's favour.

Under the heading, 'It's Dying Fast', the editorial of Irish Golf in December 1967 predicted a bleak future for the Ryder Cup. Almost 50 years on, the event has never been stronger. Which proves that the naked pursuit of loot, can cause wondrous things to happen.

Sunday Indo Sport