Golf: Sunningdale gazumped

Tim Glover finds the Solheim Cup has ditched a golfing institution
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DO NOT, under any circumstances, mention the Solheim Cup in the salubrious surroundings of Sunningdale. The two appeared to be a perfect match but then last week something alarming happened. Sunningdale's agreement to stage the event was in effect gazumped.

"It is a very sad situation," Chris Needham, the Sunningdale captain said. He was being diplomatic. The classic heathland course near Ascot was to be the venue for the biennial match between the leading lady professionals of Europe and the United States in the year 2000, until Loch Lomond stepped in with a better offer.

As a private members' club, Sunningdale, which celebrates its centenary in the millennium year, was to charge the European Ladies' Professional Golf Association a sum in the region of pounds 70,000. However, Loch Lomond, American owned and designed, offered to host the event for nothing and the ELPGA decided this was an offer they could not refuse.

"Given the commercial realities, the option to stage the event at Loch Lomond emerged as the most attractive open to us," Tim Howland, the new chief executive of the ELPGA, said. "We are more than grateful to Sunningdale for all the support it has given and we look forward to continuing our relationship with the club and staging another Tour championship there." They may have a long wait.

The cup was to be the centrepiece of Sunningdale's centenary celebrations. In associ- ation with IMG, who ran the first cup in 1990, the club had spent two years making preparations. A delegation attended the Solheim Cup at Muirfield Village in Ohio last autumn, when the interested parties expected to sign a contract. "As a gesture we had agreed to reduce the fee," Needham said. "Everything had been verbally agreed."

It wasn't until a member of the Solheim family - they own the Ping Corporation and lent their name to the cup nine years ago - rang the club that Sunningdale realised it had lost the event. "There were no discussions," Needham said. "It was a fait accompli."

To make matters worse, this is the second time Sunningdale has been jilted. The club was earmarked for the cup in 1996 by Terry Coates, then chief executive of the tour, but a deal with a hotel chain meant it was switched to St Pierre near Chepstow.

"In the light of that the tour came back to us and told us that Sunningdale would be the ideal venue for 2000," Stewart Zuill, the club secretary, said. "Since then a huge amount of work has gone into this. We have letters of intent but when the Ladies Tour changed officers it was difficult formalising a contract. There is no way we could expect our members to finance such a showpiece. To move to Loch Lomond is a very bold decision."

Sunningdale wanted the cup to be held in August, although they agreed to switch to October. The later start means an amendment to the format of foursomes and fourballs in order for play to finish before dusk. Needham, for one, believes the ladies are taking a huge risk. Two summers ago Sunningdale, which used to host the European Open on the men's tour, staged the women's British Open in high summer. "It was such a success," Needham said. "The weather was glorious, the course was at its best and we had huge crowds. Playing in October has inherent dangers."

Loch Lomond, designed by Tom Weiskopf, opened in 1995 and hosts the Standard Life Tournament on the men's tour. The Solheim Cup was played in Scotland at Dalmahoy, near Edinburgh, in 1992 but has never been held in England.

Lyle Anderson, the American developer who owns Loch Lomond, said he was "honoured and excited" to get the millennium Solheim Cup. "The theme and values of this fine event are ones which we share and aspire to," Anderson said. "We will do our utmost to ensure that the match will be the one against which all others will be measured."

A spokesman for IMG described the change of venues as "hugely disappointing".