Golf: Gloves off in Ryder Cup fight: Valderrama heading the race to stage 1997 contest. Tim Glover reports QBY: TIM GLOVER

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The Independent Online
IT IS no use asking Robert Trent Jones, the octogenarian golf course architect, to cast his vote on the venue for the 1997 Ryder Cup. It could come down to Valderrama, in the province of Cadiz, or Las Brisas, in the province of Malaga, and Trent Jones can hardly favour one or the other. He designed both.

The only thing we know for certain is that the Ryder Cup will be staged in Spain in four years' time. Even before that was officially announced, Valderrama, the pride and joy of Jaime Ortiz-Patino, had put in an official bid with almost indecent haste. Not even the fact that Patino, a Bolivian billionaire, had to be rushed into hospital for a heart by-pass operation, could stop Valderrama from making the running. The presentation went ahead at Claridge's in London with Sir Ian MacLaurin, the chairman of Tesco and a member at Valderrama, making the sales pitch.

Valderrama - exclusive, expensive and extremely punishing - was chosen by Volvo, the corporate sponsor of the European Tour, as the venue for its end-of-season showpiece, the Volvo Masters. It has been held here since 1988. The club membership fee is dollars 45,000 ( pounds 30,000) and there are fewer than 300 members. Patino, a man accustomed to getting his way, oversees everything. They call him Jim and Jim'll fix it. When a cow wandered on to one of his immaculate fairways prior to the first Volvo Masters he shot the animal and had it dragged from the course.

Patino's dream of hosting the Ryder Cup was born in South Carolina two years ago when he watched Europe lose to the United States at Kiawah Island. The Pete Dye-designed course there was a rushed job and Patino came away with the conviction that Valderrama would be a perfect site for the biennial match. The European Tour and the PGA will not entertain a bid that does not meet certain criteria. The course, of course, should have a touch of class; it has to accommodate crowds of up to 30,000 a day; it should not be too far from an airport and a host of hotels; it should have the infrastructure to absorb a huge hospitality operation, etc, etc.

Valderrama says it can do all this. And in any case Patino has the muscle and the money to meet any fresh demands. However, if Valderrama was the first to throw its hat into the ring, it is not the last. Madrid has made a bid on behalf of three of its clubs: the RACE, which staged the Spanish Open, Club de Campo and La Moraleja. Tenerife, La Manga and Novo Sancti Petri, a course designed by Seve Ballesteros, are also interested, but next to Valderrama, the most professional approach has come from Las Brisas, a well-heeled club in Marbella.

Antonio de Fortuny, president of Las Brisas, believes it will be a two- horse race between his club and Patino's. 'Why go to Madrid?' de Fortuny said. 'The Costa del Sol is committed to success in golf. We have the course, we have the facilities. Everything is in Marbella. Our club is run by Spaniards and it is important that the event has a Spanish flavour. It should not be Mr Patino's Ryder Cup. It should not be something that can be bought with a chequebook. At Valderrama you pay in dollars not pesetas. We will compete on excellency but we will not enter a race on money. A fat chequebook should not decide the venue for the Ryder Cup. That's not the spirit.'

Las Brisas (the breeze) was built in 1968 and is owned by its 1,400 members. Although they are drawn from 32 countries, nearly half are British. Sean Connery and Bruce Forsyth are members. The club has hosted two World Cups and two Spanish Opens. Keith Boyson, the captain, has a house on the course. He emigrated to Marbella from Brighton after selling his clothes manufacturing business to Marks and Spencer. 'I want the Ryder Cup for the prestige,' Boyson said. 'Yes, it's partly an ego thing. It would be a great thrill.' It would also be a boost to the economy, which is showing signs of strain. 'Prices slashed,' cried a Wimpey sign in Marbella.

The annual match between Las Brisas and Valderrama is off and Boyson, who used to enjoy courtesy of Patino's course, has found that that concession has been withdrawn. The gloves are off.