Golf: Cup goes back to Belfry

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The Independent Online
The Ryder Cup match between Europe and the United States in 2001 will be held at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, it was announced yesterday. It will be the fourth time in five home matches that the Brabazon course has hosted an event that has become one of the most absorbing - and lucrative - in sport.

In a pre-emptive strike that will dismay other clubs who had ambitions of staging the match, the cup committee voted unanimously for The Belfry. Twenty-four clubs throughout Europe had expressed an interest and that was narrowed down to six, although it was effectively a one-horse race. Europe won at The Belfry in 1985, igniting interest in a competition that had been dominated by the Americans; they retained the cup with a tie at the same venue in 1989 and lost it there three years ago, 15-13.

The decision to hold the match at The Belfry in 1993 was reached after a furious argument between the European Tour and the PGA. The three Tour representatives on the committee voted for Club de Campo in Madrid and the three PGA men went for The Belfry. The stalemate was resolved by the casting vote of Lord Derby, the committee chairman and PGA president.

The Belfry is by no means the finest course in Britain, let alone Europe, but it became the natural choice for 2001 on the grounds that the PGA, which has its headquarters there, celebrates its centenary that year. That was the key. Ireland, which has never hosted the match, will have to wait until 2005 at the earliest to throw its hat into the ring.

There was also controversy over the selection of Valderrama in southern Spain for the next match, in September 1997. Seven clubs vied for the honour and Seve Ballesteros campaigned for a public course in Spain. "Valderrama is one of the most exclusive clubs in the world," Ballesteros said. "I think it would be fatal for golf in Spain to send the cup to a private club." Since then, of course, Ballesteros has agreed to captain the team in Valderrama.

"No one can deny that The Belfry has staged three very successful matches," Sandy Jones, the executive director of the PGA, said."With the proposed development and refurbishment of the Brabazon course coupled with our centenary in 2001, we believe The Belfry is an ideal venue." He said that "stringent demands" had been made on De Vere Hotels, owners of The Belfry, to improve the course. Last Saturday, Prince Andrew opened a pounds 5m National Training Academy at the Midlands complex.