2001: Euro Ryder Cup sites a matter of money

If the Sept. 28 Ryder Cup announcement signaled anything, it is that the matches are for sale. If you have the money, then you can buy golf’s most prized asset, and Celtic Manor owner Terry Matthews has some pretty deep pockets.

Matthews’ success in attaining the Ryder Cup for Wales, and more importantly his Celtic Manor Resort, in 2010 is no surprise to most people in golf. The Ryder Cup has been bought before, and it will be bought again. Matthews simply has followed in the footsteps of Jaime Ortiz Patiño and Michael Smurfit.

Patiño is the Bolivian billionaire who owns Valderrama in southern Spain. Patiño has spent a fortune on his Robert Trent Jones course near Gibraltar. He also spent a fortune wooing the PGA European Tour. For nine years the European Tour’s season-ending Volvo Masters was staged at Valderrama. Patiño spared no expense in making the tournament a success. His reward was the 1997 Ryder Cup. Most people expected the match to go to Ireland before it went to continental Europe. Patiño’s money put him ahead of the Irish.

Smurfit picked up where Patiño left off. The millionaire Irishman has invested lavishly on The K Club near Dublin. For the past seven years the European Open has been held there. Purists felt the Ryder Cup Matches should have gone to Portmarnock, venue for 18 Irish Open Championships and a far superior course than the Arnold Palmer-designed K Club. As with Valderrama, though, money proved to be overpowering, and Smurfit was rewarded with the Ryder Cup. The match will be held at The K Club in 2006.

Like Patiño and Smurfit, Matthews has gone to great expense on Celtic Manor. Some £50 million ($73.5 million) of Matthews’ telecommunications fortune has been spent on the three courses and the 400-bedroom hotel on site. Another £12 million ($17.6 million) has been slated for a new clubhouse.

Matthews stayed in the background during the bidding process for the matches. On the rare occasions he has spoken, he has let it be known that he would do everything it took to acquire the event.

“I don’t give up,” Matthews said when asked if he thought his bid would be successful. He also let it be known that he had money to burn on getting the matches. When told it would cost more than £10 million ($14.7 million) to make a bid that ultimately might not be successful, Matthews replied bullishly. “It’s just pocket money. The value of bringing Samuel Ryder’s legacy to Celtic Manor and Wales is incalculable, and I am going to do it regardless of what it costs, or how long it takes.”

Doing what it takes effectively means handing the European Tour a blank check. Matthews has pledged a long-term commitment to staging the Welsh Open at Celtic Manor. He also has promised to make whatever course alterations the tour deems necessary to make the layout ready for the Ryder Cup. For example, seven new holes are being built and two redesigned to bring the venue up to scratch.

Celtic Manor’s selection as the 2010 Ryder Cup venue had been virtually a done deal since May when Ken Schofield, executive director of the European Tour, publicly announced his preference for the Welsh course over bids from Slaley Hall in England, and Gleneagles, Loch Lomond, Carnoustie and Turnberry in Scotland.

“Wales have shown what they can do with the Millennium Stadium (in Cardiff) and in golf terms, Celtic Manor is the equivalent,” Schofield told a tabloid newspaper during the Volvo PGA Championship in May.

Schofield’s public preference for Celtic Manor broke a long-held understanding between the PGA European Tour and the British Professional Golfer’s Association. It also signaled the start of a bitter power struggle between the two bodies over the Cup, a struggle the tour seems to have won.

The Cup has grown into a huge cash cow, with earnings for this year’s postponed matches expected to reach £10 million. The money-over-tradition scenario has played itself out in most all other sports. And golf, which likes to consider itself above the fray, is no different.

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