Golf: Faldo contemplates exile in Hebrides or America: Lack of progress on the European Tour and unhappiness with course standards has prompted a search for new challenges

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The Independent Online
THE reason for Nick Faldo's controversial absence from the European Open at East Sussex last week was because he was prospecting in the Hebrides. He is sold on the idea of buying, for around pounds 700,000, Machrie golf club on Islay, an ideal spot, apparently, to enjoy retirement.

Not that Faldo is thinking of putting his feet up just yet. He simply gives that impression. Indeed, while he was playing the laird in the Hebrides he had time to reflect on the European Tour and came to the conclusion that there was so much rotten in the state of Denmark, and virtually everywhere else, that next year he would almost certainly join the US Tour.

'It is unfortunate we have not made as much progress as America over the last 10 years,' Faldo said yesterday. 'The interest in golf in Europe has been phenomenal since the 1985 Ryder Cup, but we have never had a major injection of cash from the big companies. We'll have to review the golf courses, discuss the quality and degree of difficulty.

'It is important to play where I feel best. The thing of going backwards and forwards is the difficulty of playing their greens and our greens. Ours are much slower and it makes a big difference. We can't do much about the weather here, but we can about the courses.' In the pro-am here yesterday he played only three holes before rain washed out play.

If Faldo joins the US Tour he will have to play a minimum of 15 tournaments. 'I will look at the schedule and see how it works. The golf season is now 12 months and you have to see what is a priority. I got things wrong this year.' By getting it wrong he means he did not add to his total of five major victories, and susbequently lost his status as world No 1 to Nick Price, who won the Open and the US PGA.

'If I take a card for the States then Europe is going to suffer,' Faldo said. But Europe is already suffering. His appearance here for the Dunhill British Masters, which starts today, is only his eighth out of 33 on the European Tour. 'If I give America a go it will be for a year and I'll see what happens,' he said. 'I'm not going to uproot my family to live out there.'

Of all the courses in Europe, Faldo could only single out Mount Juliet in Ireland, Valderrama in Spain and the French National near Paris as being 'great tournament venues'. Yet he chose not to play in the French Open, and a couple of weeks ago played on a converted ski slope up the Swiss Alps.

On the question of courses, Faldo said: 'We are struggling. The Tour has been involved in golf development, but it has not come off. It is difficult to get a golf course going. I have been trying since 1990 to get a place of my own off the board. Councils are involved, and I am still nowhere near.

'Through the 1980s and early 1990s in Europe the golf was more exciting. We had better names and proved that in the Ryder Cup. But we are all getting a bit older and are not performing as consistently as we were. That's why we need something to rejuvenate us.'

What seems to have rejuvenated Faldo for this week, at a venue he once criticised for not having creche facilities, is the prospect of holding a coaching clinic here tomorrow with Bernhard Langer. This is one of the ways IMG, who run this event, can justify paying 'appearance' money.

'The business approach of the Tour needs addressing,' Faldo, who has won nearly pounds 4m in prize money in Europe in the last seven seasons, said. 'When you have a great event like the European Open and have not got a sponsor, that is a worry. If they can make courses we can't resist we'll be out there playing them. It's money . . . money grows grass. That's the bottom line.'

During the European Open last week, Ken Schofield, executive director of the Tour, replying to criticism voiced by Seve Ballesteros, said: 'We play in 16 countries. We play up mountains, sometimes on islands and in all kinds of conditions. The US Tour has one language and is generally played in good weather.' On Faldo's infrequent appearances, Schofield said: 'The Tour remains strong with assets like that in hibernation.'

Faldo was in hibernation in the Hebrides and if he does not make it as a golf course owner he could become an estate agent. Of Machrie he said: 'Beautiful. Ideal for people with stresses and strains to get away from it . . . a nice family run hotel . . . a very good historic course . . . a wonderful setting . . . a classic links . . . two rivers . . . fishing.' The deadline for offers is next week. 'The boys are doing some number-crunching,' Faldo said. Islay has an airport but Faldo omitted to mention that it is the one where Prince Charles crash-landed a few months ago.