VIRGINIA WATER, England – Jean Van de Velde and Thomas Levet believe bringing the Ryder Cup to France in 2018 will push French golf to new heights.
The two ex-Ryder Cup competitors played important roles in bringing the match to the Le Golf National outside Paris. They think it will spawn a new generation of good, young French players.
“This is something special for myself and Thomas, who had careers on the European Tour,” said Van de Velde, a member of the 1999 European Ryder Cup team. “I remember when I started and people doubted me when I said I would win on tour. So this will be a huge inspirational factor for French golf.
“It’s a dream come true for France. This is the biggest event there is in golf, one of the three biggest in sport. There’s the 100 meters in the Olympics and the (soccer) World Cup, and then there’s the Ryder Cup.
“There are a lot of good, young French kids coming through the French ranks, and this will push them harder. They are ready for it. So is the French Golf Federation, and I am, too.”
Levet was a member of the 2004 European Cup team at Oakland Hills, where he posted a 1-1 won-lost record, seeing off Fred Funk in singles play. The effervescent Frenchman could hardly contain his excitement.
“It’s crazy. It’s bigger than any individual win for French golf,” Levet said, noting Arnaud Massy’s victory in the 1907 British Open as perhaps the only comparison. “That was huge, but in modern golf it’s second to none. It’s like getting the Olympics for us.
“For the development of golf, for all the kids that are playing golf in France, it’s unreal. France is already world champions in amateur golf (France won the Eisenhower Trophy last year), and this will be a bigger help.”
Van de Velde and Levet are the only two Frenchmen to play in the Ryder Cup. Spanish golfers, meanwhile, have played an integral part in the match, mostly through contributions from the late Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. That was one reason why Spain might have been seen as the favorite. Another was the number of European Tour events held in Spain each year (seven in 2011). Then there was the Seve factor. The Ballesteros family, in the days after the man regarded as the father of the modern European Tour died, made a very public plea to stage the match in Spain in Seve’s honor.
Five factors were used to determine the 2018 site: a world-class venue, infrastructure, government support, commercial opportunities and development of the game. France met all five, especially the fifth.
Part of the French bid is a commitment to build 100 public golf courses throughout the country to attract new players. Levet thinks that factor alone will help grow the game in France.
“We will have 100 small golf courses inside the cities, and that will bring a lot of people to the game. If we can get one million people playing the game, then I will be so happy.”
The French Federation has levied club golfers €3 per year toward their annual subscription until the Ryder Cup to help pay for the match. With 420,000 golfers in France, this will cover the cost of staging the match.
“It covers the cost of the Ryder Cup,” Levet said. “So without any sponsors, the French Golf Federation can pay for and host a Ryder Cup. That’s how safe the French bid was. It’s only €3 per person for 10 years and the match is paid for.”
Paul McGinley joined his French compatriots in praising the decision. The three-time Ryder Cup player said the European Tour couldn’t have picked a better venue.
“To stage the match in Versailles will be a huge showcase for the European Tour. You couldn’t ask for a better city than Paris to stage the match. And using the Versailles Palace will bring some magic to the match. It will be brilliant for the Ryder Cup and the European Tour. Paris is such a huge city, and they will have no problems with corporate sales, attracting fans, and making it a success.”
Van de Velde has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to stage the match in his homeland. He played only one match in the 1999 Ryder Cup, losing, 6 and 5, in singles to Davis Love III. It wasn’t a great experience for the Frenchman, but he has put his heart and soul into getting the 2018 match. He says the effort has been worth it.
“I couldn’t tell you how many hours I’ve put into this. Put it this way: I’ve put 23 years into it. It’s been worth every penny. This is a great day for French golf and for the future of French players.”