Column One: And a few have even come to watch the golf

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The Independent Online
WHEN THE first golfers drive off on the opening hole of the 33rd Ryder Cup at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, today, their shots will land under the eyes of the tenants of a row of white tents carefully aligned on a grassy bank above the fairway. Set behind white picket fences, their patios shaded by an oak grove and decorated with beds of bright flowers and ornamental grasses, the tents bear gold-lettered signs announcing the names of their occupants - the great names of American capitalism.

The fight for places inside these tents - and for those bordering the 12th, 17th and 18th fairways - has been almost as fierce as the struggle to qualify for the teams. For the Ryder Cup, inaugurated in 1927 as a vehicle for the gentlemanly rivalry between the golfers of Britain and America, has became an intercontinental bare-knuckle fight in which the world of business finds an appropriate metaphor for itself.

In a letter to this month's Golf World, a London man complained that he and his father had been unable to buy tickets to the event. They can blame IBM, Pepsi-Cola, Lehman Brothers, Johnnie Walker, Gillette and Oldsmobile, which are among the companies taking the opportunity to entertain their star employees and preferred clients in 59 tents costing from $150,000 (pounds 95,000) to $500,000 (pounds 315,000) for the week. At the lower end, they can curse the smaller firms that have paid $50,000 for one of 300 tables, each set for 10 people, including admission to the practice and match days, parking and shuttle rides, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Inside the tents, guests will nibble grilled salmon and sip chardonnay in environments designed to replicate the atmosphere of gentlemen's clubs.

BankBoston requested mahogany panels and leather armchairs in its $500,000 tent, which represents less than half of its investment in the week, since the bank has also rented another nearby country club in which to lodge its favoured clients.

Some insurance salesmen at New England Financial reportedly increased their takings by 300 per cent during the year in the race to win tickets to the company's tent. Their half-yearly figures were officially rechristened "the front nine" and "the back nine".

About 40,000 people will line the course on each of the three days of the competition, but no tickets were put on general sale. After the majority had been allocated to corporate hospitality, the remainder were divided between the local golf community and a lottery. Of the predicted gross income of $63m, a mere $5m will come from ticket sales. After expenses have been deducted, the Professional Golfers' Association of America will be left with a profit of around $17m, while the Country Club will benefit to the tune of around $6m. The club, founded in 1882, sits on 258 acres of top-of-the-range real estate, barely three miles from downtown Boston and surrounded by the ivy-clad homes of the ultimate winners of corporate warfare. Paul Fireman, the Reebok chairman, has a 40-room, $20m chateau hidden away beyond the ninth fairway, and a $5m palace overlooking the 12th hole is being rented to Michael Jordan, the retired basketball star and pal of Tiger Woods, for a reported $250,000. The club has 1,300 members, who pay a joining fee of $25,000 and an annual subscription of $5,000. It admitted its first woman member in 1989, and its first black person - an assistant US attorney general - in 1994. It now has two black members, so Woods and Jordan will not feel lonely should they need to use the facilities in the colonial-style clubhouse. Since golf is the game of corporate America, no consumption can be too conspicuous. The US team's wives are being outfitted with outfits by the designers Badgley-Mischka, operating to a specification defined by Julie Crenshaw, the captain's wife: "We sort of wanted a Jackie O look. It's very elegant, very New England, conservative and traditional." The European team arrived by Concorde at Boston's Logan Airport, from which the aircraft is banned on environmental grounds - a reminder of the words of a Brookline resident: "The Country Club controls the power structure of Boston." Such conspicuous excess has prompted a few cosmetic gestures. Groups of schoolchildren answering to names like Jamal and Tiffene were allowed to watch some of the practice sessions this week, while the Mayor of Boston is sponsoring an hour's instruction for 250 children at another course on Saturday. The PGA of America has promised $10m to fund a golf-outreach programme in the inner cities. But among the crowds lining the fairways, the talk will be of this deal and that promotion. And as they wait for the players to come by, one of the guys - Chip or Trip, Biff or Buff - will duck inside the tent to check the Wall Street prices on the electronic ticker. Life is a game, and nice guys finish second.