Comment: Don't forget the founding grandfather

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE QUAINT notion that the world's leading players would get out of bed, let alone play serious golf, without remuneration was bound to be questioned sooner or later but what has irritated many over the Ryder Cup money row is the status of those demanding payment.

It was Mark O'Meara, on the back of his double major triumph last season, who first suggested that the players should be financially rewarded for appearing in the Ryder Cup. Tiger Woods and David Duval took up the cause and even Nick Faldo (who is worth an estimated pounds 50m) came up with a ballpark figure of pounds 100,000 per man as being commensurate for a week's work in the Cup.

Ben Crenshaw, who captains the US team against Europe at Brookline, near Boston, next month, took the traditionalist line during the US PGA Championship at Medinah a few days ago: "If playing for your country is not reward enough," Gentle Ben said: "Then that's when my heart bleeds for the game of golf. It's sick."

What would Samuel Ryder, the seed merchant from St Albans in Hertfordshire who put up pounds 150 for the Cup 72 years ago and inaugurated the biennial competition, have thought about the commercialisation of his friendly match?

"It saddens me and I am sure it would have saddened him," Mary Moore, Sam's granddaughter, told First Tee. "It's grown so big it's moved away from its original intention. My grandfather founded the Ryder Cup on his terms and, whilst it provided a shot in the arm for the whole golf scene, his primary motive was to promote friendship between Britain and the United States. I know he never had any intention of money coming into it at any stage. I'm not being unrealistic and I appreciate that nothing stands still but if the Ryder Cup becomes simply a money-making exercise with players getting paid and other interested parties making a fortune, then I for one would lose interest. People are getting further and further away from the whole point of the exercise."

Mrs Moore, a successful artist in Norfolk, added: "Samuel would never have founded the Ryder Cup if he wasn't a successful businessman but he was very ethical. He wouldn't have tolerated sharp practices. He would be deeply unhappy at what is happening."

Others are less circumspect. David Jones, a senior professional who is on the PGA European Tour Board of Directors, said: "I think somebody should kidnap the Cup, melt it down into a small gold ingot, drop it into the Mariana Trench, which happens to be the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, and say, `We've had 70 wonderful years of playing the Ryder Cup in the proper spirit. If a few money-grabbing, overdressed multi-millionaire golfers just want to use it to siphon off another fat fee, then we'll lay it quietly to rest'."

The Americans would never have been playing in the Ryder Cup had Sam's health been as robust as his business. "His first love was cricket," Moore said, "and he turned to golf because it was physically easier."

Mind your Manors

THE RYDER CUP has only become one of the hottest tickets in sport since the 1980s when Great Britain and Ireland - the home pros who played in the inaugural match in 1927 barely had two pennies to rub together - embraced Europe, making it a real match against the Americans. Despite the unseemly financial squabble (Johnnie Walker, who used to sponsor the event, withdrew after being asked for a top-up) clubs queue up to host the cup.

Celtic Manor in Wales has already thrown its hat into the ring to stage the Ryder Cup in 2009 - even Sergio Garcia will be a veteran by then - and this week, from 18-21 August, has a minor dress rehearsal with the European Amateur Championship.

However, no money-grabbing multi-millionaire golfers to worry about there. Unfortunately Terry Matthews, the billionaire owner of Celtic Manor, will not be at Wentwood Hills, his new championship course (at 7,403 yards, two yards longer than Medinah) to witness the event. After alighting from a lorry during a photo session on the course he broke a bone in his foot and has now returned to his base in Canada.

So, apart from crutches, where does Matthews stand on the Ryder Cup debate? "In Europe profits from the Ryder Cup, as I understand it, are ploughed back into golf," Matthews told us from Ottawa. "It's not just a matter of sentiment or tradition but a practical issue. Golfers are quite rightly paid well for what they do. This is one event where they have the opportunity to give something back to the game."

Extracting the Mickey

CELTIC MANOR is one of 10 courses in Wales being used for an open tournament in conjunction with the Rugby World Cup. Players of all ages and handicaps are eligible to compete in the event, which will have a grand finale at St Pierre on 3 November.

Former rugby greats, including David Campese, Michael Lynagh and Gareth Edwards, will play for their own trophy. Joel Stransky has already accepted an invitation. Last winter Stransky, who kicked South Africa to World Cup triumph over the All Blacks in Johannesburg in 1995, was being courted by England, on the grounds of his Leicester connection, as a stand-off for this autumn's World Cup. Instead he will be reunited with Francois Pienaar, the former Springboks captain, on the courses of Wales.

According to Jonathan Davies, the tournament director, this is no Mickey Mouse event. "Everywhere I go I find myself battling on golf courses with players I used to face on the rugby pitch," Davies said. "The rivalry may be a bit less physical but it is just as intense. Rugby players never lose their hunger for a contest and it is amazing how many have found that there is no better game than golf to satisfy it. I shall personally be vetting the handicaps to make sure there are no bandits among the seriously good golfers."

Davies has just had his handicap cut by two strokes to 16 following victory in a celebrity event in Euro-Disney. The trophy he won was a golden statuette of Mickey Mouse. Anybody interested in playing in World Cup golf, which will have qualifying rounds between 4-29 October, should ring Activity Wales on 01437 766888.