Golf: Storm over Valderrama: Spain has the Ryder Cup

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The Independent Online
WHEN Valderrama predictably landed the plum job of staging the 1997 Ryder Cup perhaps the most telling comment came from Emma Villacieros, the president of the Royal Spanish Golf Federation. Ken Schofield, executive director of the European Tour, put the profit from the last match at pounds 2.5m. In an aside to John O'Leary, Villacieros said: 'That's nothing. That's peanuts.'

O'Leary smiled. There would be no discordant note on the top table and in any case the Irishman, the chairman of the tournament committee, had just been appointed to the Ryder Cup committee in place of Seve Ballesteros, the man who was absent from the Spanish feast. The vote for Valderrama at Wentworth yesterday was unanimous: 6-0.

Had Ballesteros remained on the committee - he was appointed in place of Tony Jacklin last December and resigned in high dudgeon three weeks ago - the vote would have been 5-1. A low dungeon was where the committee wanted to incarcerate Ballesteros after his subsequent comments. When told of the vote Ballesteros, who was practising for the Volvo PGA Championship which starts at Wentworth tomorrow, could not feign surprise. 'I told you it would be,' he said.

From an original list of nine contenders, five warranted discussion: Valderrama, La Manga, La Moraleja, El Saler and Novo Sancti Petri. The last was designed and promoted by Ballesteros who, after resigning from the committee, revealed that he had been offered dollars 1m by Valderrama as a 'sweetener' to support its bid. Jaime Ortiz-Patino, the owner of Valderrama, said it was a business offer and part payment for work Ballesteros had done in re-designing the 17th hole.

What, Ballesteros has persistently asked, has Valderrama done for golf? In his tirade from Madrid two weeks ago he complained that Valderrama, an exclusive club with a small membership, did not meet the necessary criteria.

Schofield, who said a decision was only reached after the 'most exhaustive study in the 67-year history of the matches', thought the club 'fitted the bill' in every way: the preparation and quality of the course; the locality; accessibility for 25,000 spectators each day and accommodation. 'The Costa del Sol is a famous part of Spain and from a golfing point of view our American friends will identify with it,' Schofield said. 'When Seve Ballesteros supported one course so strongly we thought we should ask other players from the Tour. Their feeling was that Valderrama was not only one of the best courses in Spain but in Europe.' Financial success, although important, was 'not an influencing factor,' he said.

'The important thing is that it's in Spain,' Villacieros said. 'The venue is irrelevant.'

Try telling that to Ballesteros, who by 1997 is expected to be Europe's Ryder Cup captain.

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