May 24, 2013 11:44 pm

Gleneagles gets into swing for Europe v US Ryder Cup golf challenge

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Gleneagles: the par 72 PGA Centenary course

Gleneagles: the par 72 PGA Centenary course has been extensively modified for the Ryder Cup, which is expected to attract 45,000 spectators a day

With 16 months to go until Europe’s best golfers defend their hold on the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Perthshire, it is too early to predict whether the US team will win the trophy for only the second time this century.

Bookmakers have installed the home team as odds-on favourites, perhaps unexpectedly given the US team’s domination of the first two days’ play at Medinah near Chicago in the 2012 Ryder Cup. Then the European team needed the miracle performance late on the Saturday night from England’s Ian Poulter to turn the match on its head.

It may seem surprising that anyone would bet on the outcome so far in advance of the tournament. There are still many questions to be resolved that will be critical in September 2014, such as the make-up of teams, the set-up of the course and the weather.

But the Ryder Cup is more than just a biennial three-day challenge between the two most powerful golfing forces in the world – the PGA of America and the European Tour.

It is a multimillion-pound, self-contained industry and since Gleneagles was announced as the venue in 2006, a vast area of central Scotland has been gearing up to cash in on the potential profits generated in the week of the event, and on the legacy of increased golf tourism in the years to follow.

Work is under way to prepare Gleneagles’s 7,296-yard, par 72 PGA Centenary course designed by Jack Nicklaus in 1993, for the event. Extensive modifications completed in 2012 involved the movement of 50,000 tonnes of earth, the laying of 30,000 square metres of new turf and replacing 1,000 tonnes of sand in the bunkers.

Bernard Murphy, general manager of Gleneagles, has a good reason to avoid forecasts of the nature of the challenges that the course will present next year. “The course is not the longest and its biggest defence is the rough,” he says. “But how the course is set up will be the choice of Europe’s captain, Paul McGinley, and we have not reached that stage yet.”

The last two Ryder Cups in Europe were affected by heavy rain – at the K Club in Ireland in 2006 and Celtic Manor in Wales four years later. Showcasing golf’s biggest event in Scotland at the end of September could be a nightmare.

Murphy says plans are in place to cope with a wet week. “We have put the sub-air system into all the greens so we can control the moisture levels as far as possible and over the last five years a lot of drainage work has been done on the fairways.”

The slopes around many holes will provide good grandstand seats for 15,000 spectators every day, compared with 10,000 at Medinah last year.

“We will have 45,000 spectators every day and the TV audience that week, with the Ryder Cup shown in about 180 countries, should be about 500m. From a business point of view it will give us a wide profile.”

Businesses beyond the confines of the 850-acre Gleneagles estate are hoping to enjoy a boom, with an anticipated total income from the tournament of about £100m, Gleneagles research shows. The 2010 Ryder Cup in Newport in Wales was worth more than £82m to the local economy.

Robbie Clyde, Ryder Cup project director at EventScotland, a promotional body, says with limited accommodation available in the nearby towns of Auchterarder, Perth and Stirling, 6,000 hotel beds have been put aside in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Both are more than an hour away from Gleneagles.

Local businesses, he says, will not miss out. “We had a meeting with business representatives of Auchterarder recently and pointed out to them that while the Ryder Cup is just three days in September, they will see a lot of benefits over a longer period. “The build-up to the event will start in July with hundreds of contractors staying locally, and the breakdown of the infrastructure will continue well into November. There will be a lot of business for the shops and hotels.”

Clyde says EventScotland has signed deals for Scotland’s courses to host major tournaments until 2020, including the Open Championships, the professional ladies’ Solheim Cup and the amateur Walker Cup.

Local businesses are bracing themselves. Lionel Foucart, manager of the 14-room Cairn Lodge hotel, about a mile from the course, says: “We have been fully booked for Ryder Cup week for more than a month. But every day we are still getting phone calls.

“I am thinking of asking some of the householders surrounding the hotel whether they want to let out their homes for the week,” says Foucart. “It’s all very exciting, amazing ... but scary at the same time.”


Gleneagles event

Fact file

£100m – expected boost to the Scottish economy

2,000 – jobs sustained by Gleneagles

183 – countries will watch with a daily global audience of 500m

250,000 – spectators to attend

3,000 – corporate hospitality places available each day

7,000 – staff and volunteer marshals will work at the course

£1m – spent on a sub-air system to control moisture

BMW, Diageo, Rolex, Ernst & Young and Standard Life Investments have signed as sponsors/partners

Source: Gleneagles

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