Golf: Right men, wrong place

Bruce Critchley bemoans a short European stay for three golf kings
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The Independent Online
YOU COULD say there are two golf events taking place in Germany this weekend. The first is the pounds 1.2m Deutsche Bank TPC of Europe, the latest in a rich run of important tournaments offering much gold and a five-year Tour exemption to the winner, vital Ryder Cup points to those with ambitions for glory this September and lots of financial nuts to be squirreled away for all who annually struggle to retain their playing privileges.

The other is more of an exhibition affair involving three of the biggest names of the United States Tour. Of course, Tiger Woods, Mark O'Meara and Nick Price are playing in the main event but how they do will have little impact on their golfing year; their main pressure is to put on a good show for their hosts.

All three have been enticed over by the sponsors to add lustre to what is already a most impressive field. Woods is reputedly on something approaching 50 per cent of the total purse and the others shouldn't come away with much less than the eventual winner plus anything they may gather by way of prize money.

Ernie Els is excluded from this list as he is a Tour member, is playing here as one of the 11 events he must compete in to keep his membership and makes no bones about his enthusiasm for golf in Europe. True, like Colin Montgomerie and several other top European players, he will be having more than a little help with the onerous expenses, but they are committed home tour supporters.

There was a time in the early days when buying in a big name made sense. We didn't have the clutch of world-class players we have today and the presence of a Trevino or a Watson certainly gave a tournament a lift.

Now with the array of talent, diversity of national character, plenty of young bucks taking on old stags and the sheer quality of golf being played, even Woods, O'Meara and Price may struggle to be little more than a sideshow.

On the plus side, if you are going to welcome foreign invaders this triumvirate could not be rivalled. O'Meara and Price represent all the class and style you could wish for and Woods guarantees a full house all four days.

It would somehow have been different had all three been here for a couple of weeks instead of making this quick commercial dash. Despite its grand name and huge prize fund, this tournament has not yet the status of its equivalent in the United States, the Players' Championship at Sawgrass.

On the other hand, the upcoming Volvo PGA Championship is the jewel in the crown of European Tour golf. Woods, O'Meara and Price at the PGA at Wentworth, the leading championship venue after the great links courses of the Open rota, would have done much to enhance the kudos of all concerned.

Of the mix that goes to make up a great event, too often the importance of the venue is ignored. The history that accompanies so many of the older courses washes down and enhances modern events. Comparisons are made, memories revived and today's new outing imbued with the spirit of deeds past.

This weekend and last we have had great players in pursuit of massive rewards and worthy titles but both events have suffered from being played out on new and dispiriting courses. The questions asked are obvious and all too often more length is the monotonous answer.

Germany may not be able to boast a Wentworth, Sunningdale or Walton Heath, but there are old dowager duchesses of courses here that would match up pretty well, given a nip and tuck here and there. Falkenstein in Hamburg comes to mind, as does Baden Baden.

In the meantime we should just enjoy the fact that more of the world's top 10 are playing here than in America and take note that if the Mastercard Colonial over there draws more world ranking points than this event, then we have yet another legitimate moan about the imbalance of that particular system.

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