Golf: Valderrama makes its pitch and stands to win: The venue for the 1997 Ryder Cup match will be announced today. Tim Glover reports on an intriguing affair

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The Independent Online
AND THE winner is . . . all we know for sure is that Spain will host the 1997 Ryder Cup and it will be a major surprise if Valderrama in Sotogrande on the south coast is not named today as the venue. The Ryder Cup committee, under the chairmanship of Neil Coles, is expected to reach a conclusion at Wentworth but whatever the decision, the committee is already painfully aware it will not get the support of Seve Ballesteros.

In theory, Novo Sancti Petri, the course designed and endorsed by Ballesteros, is one of seven contenders to stage the biennial match between Europe and the United States, but it can be assumed from his behaviour in recent weeks that it will not get the vote. Valderrama, La Moraleja and La Manga head the shortlist.

Valderrama, owned by the Bolivian billionaire, Jaime Ortiz- Patino, has been the leader in the clubhouse since he pre-empted the decision confirming that the match would be held in Spain. Two years ago, Valderrama launched its bid despite the fact that at the time Ortiz-Patino was undergoing heart surgery. A presentation went ahead at Claridge's Hotel in London with Sir Ian MacLaurin, chairman of Tesco and an influential member at Valderrama, filling in for the owner. Sir Ian (annual salary pounds 1m- plus) even poured the wine.

In a statement in 1992, Ortiz- Patino, whose mind, since he bought Valderrama in 1985, has been set on one goal, said: 'For Spanish and European golfers this will be a great occasion. Indeed, for Severiano Ballesteros who, by his prowess, has done more than anyone else to bring this about, it will even be a joyful one.' Two years is a long time in golf and the committee is probably beginning to regret its decision to take the cup outside Great Britain and Ireland.

Having resolved its differences with the Professional Golf Association, differences which led to the cup returning to The Belfry, the European Tour now finds itself at odds with Ballesteros. In part, the Tour, which made pounds 1.4m from last year's Ryder Cup, has itself to blame. Knowing that Ballesteros has a vested interest in a particular course, it still offered him a place on the committee.

Out went Tony Jacklin, the former captain of the team and the flavour of the decade, and in came Ballesteros. The Spaniard attended one meeting and subsequently resigned. He said he should not have been appointed and should not have accepted. Before the Benson and Hedges International at St Mellion, which he went on to win, Ballesteros announced his resignation and began a cat and mouse game which could have taught Tom and Jerry a few lessons.

'I know nothing,' Ballesteros said. Asked about the timing of his decision to leave the committee, he replied: 'It makes it much easier for them to make a decision. I don't want to talk about this any more.' Making it easier for the committee was not at the top of his agenda. If Valderrama was chosen, he said he would respect the decision. 'Sure. What can I do? I may say something later.'

On the final day of the Spanish Open in Madrid, a tournament his company is heavily involved in, he issued a statement. Here are the extracts: 'I feel in the same position as I was in 1991 when I proposed Club de Campo as the venue for the 1993 Ryder Cup. I did that with only the support of the Royal Spanish Golf Federation. It was rejected. As in '91, I feel lonely. Now not even the Spanish Federation is supporting me. Why Valderrama? No doubt because it has the votes of Neil Coles who rejected me from the '81 Ryder Cup; Bernard Gallacher, whom I encouraged to remain as captain against opposition; three members of the British PGA whose maximum interest is economic and Ken Schofield, who even though he does not vote has a decisive influence . . . the venue is designated by a group of foreigners to the only club on Spanish land owned by just a few shareholders, all of them foreigners.'

Novo Sancti Petri, on the other hand, is not only a Spanish seaside course but anybody travelling there would go via a Spanish airport, whereas Valderrama, according to Ballesteros, will be serviced by a 'foreign' airport. Presumably he means Gibraltar. If the Tour made a mistake in appointing him to the committee, Ballesteros made a mistake by keeping his bombshell until last: Valderrama offered him pounds 1m last year, principally to get him on its side but also in part reward for helping to re-design the 17th hole.

Ballesteros's stance would have been firmer had he, a: not got involved in a course that he does not think is fit to hold the Ryder Cup; b: not taken six months to reject the offer; c: not taken another six months to reveal details of the offer; and d: if he supported the cause of Club de Campo in Madrid in 1991, why is he not doing so now?

As for Valderrama, it, too, has erred. The proposal to Ballesteros may have been, as it maintains, a straightforward business deal, but it left itself open to misinterpretation. Ballesteros misinterpreted it and, in his last-ditch bid to influence the committee, made enemies of probably every member.

That would have been OK if it had not had it in mind to offer the most charismatic player in Europe the captaincy of the Ryder Cup team. Gallacher will not go on beyond next year's match in Rochester, New York. Therefore, a post is open for 1997. The captain? Perhaps Seve. The venue? Perhaps Valderrama. Will the twain ever meet? Having already tried to make Ballesteros an offer he could not refuse, in his present mood he could well tell Valderrama where to stick the captaincy.

----------------------------------------------------------------- THE SEVEN VENUES CHASING THE RYDER CUP ----------------------------------------------------------------- Valderrama . . . . . . . (Costa del Sol) La Moraleja . . . . . . .(Madrid) La Manga . . . . . . . . (Murcia) Seville El Saler . . . . . . . . (Valenica) Montecastillo . . . . . .(Jerez) Novo Sancti Petri . . . .(Cadiz) -----------------------------------------------------------------