Golf: K Club wins Ryder race

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AMERICA'S RYDER CUP team will arrive at the K Club in Ireland, chosen yesterday for the 36th staging of the biennial event in 2005, to find a course designed by one of their greatest players. Arnold Palmer was the man called by Dr Michael Smurfit, head of the international packaging company Jefferson Smurfit, when he decided to build a venue fit for one the game's greatest tournaments a decade ago.

Smurfit once climbed over the wall as a schoolboy to pinch apples from the Straffan House estate but later bought the site, 18 miles south-west of Dublin, and developed it into the luxurious Kildare Hotel and Country Club.

Although designed by an American, Europe's players know the K Club well as the venue since 1995 for the Smurfit European Open, an event that boasted record prize- money of pounds 1.25m in 1998. Club officials expect the course to accommodate 35-40,000 spectators a day.

With such credentials, and helped by recent improvements in the motorway network around Dublin and its airport, the race to host the first Ryder Cup in Ireland proved anticlimactic. The sentimental favourite, Portmarnock, the revered links that dates back to 1894 and staged the 1991 Walker Cup, had not expected a decision until after the Masters in April, while others hoping to be in the running included Druids Glen, home of the Irish Open, and the Jack Nicklaus- designed Mount Juliet.

"It has been our ambition at the K Club since 1990 to bring the event to Ireland and build a complex worthy of hosting the most prestigious golfing competition in the world," said Smurfit. "The importance of this event for Irish sport, Irish tourism and for the country as a whole cannot be overstated. It will attract large numbers of visitors and will put Ireland at the front of the world sporting stage for an entire week.

Palmer, twice the US Ryder Cup captain, added: "There can be no higher accolade than to have our creation played by the elite of world golf."