Leading players threaten Cup breakaway

As Belfry battle looms, off-course power struggle is undermining the future of Samuel Ryder's legacy
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The Independent Online

The Ryder Cup could be renamed and relaunched as a new event if the continental players on the European team continue to feel their efforts are not being recognised by the British Professional Golfers' Association, according to the European Tour, the PGA's Ryder Cup partner.

Ken Schofield, the executive director of the Tour, has been approached on the subject by some of Europe's senior Ryder Cup players. "Their feelings are that the value is in the match, the value is in the players," he said. "The Ryder Cup could be the King's Cup or whatever and it would still command television rights and be a success."

With just three weeks to go before this year's fight for the Ryder Cup is played out at The Belfry and the venue for the 2009 event is announced after a contentious bidding procedure, gaping divisions have appeared between the co-administrators of the match – the Tour and the PGA – over the future of the event and the division of the ever-growing spoils.

"I think there are quite a number of guys on Tour, younger players, who feel, 'This is our Tour, we are the value in this match, we are the show, we should have all of [the profits] or a bigger chunk than 50 per cent'," says Schofield. "And when you have players of the experience and stature of Jose Maria Olazabal and Bernhard Langer sharing that view, that shows the strength of feeling. If that's what it takes to get justice in the eyes of the players, then clearly that route would have to be considered."

With the focus on today's announcement of Sam Torrance's team to take on the Americans, the row between the two organisations has gone all but unnoticed. Issues such as the financial arrangement between the PGA and the De Vere-owned Belfry, where the PGA has its headquarters, and the distribution of money to PGAs on the continent have come under increasingly hostile scrutiny from players, many of whom are unable to see why the British PGA should retain its half share in the match when the Tour and continental PGAs provide the players and the Tour raises up to 90 per cent of the sponsorship money needed to host it. "The continentals feel very strongly that the Tour possibly has done, or is doing, as much as it can with its 50 per cent," Schofield says. "The other partner isn't."

In the past, when questions have been raised about what the PGA has been doing with its share of the Ryder Cup proceeds, Sandy Jones, the PGA's chief executive, has insisted that there has been very little money to distribute. Schofield disagrees. "Now, if you're adding in that a large part of that is running the Belfry offices, you might have made a loss. But I don't think that's the issue here. It's not the issue for the players. It might be the issue for the PGA."

With regard to this year's match, he is curious about the relationship between the PGA and De Vere which has led to the building of a third course at The Belfry, PGA National, and a fourth Ryder Cup being held there. The original agreement was for just two matches, 1985 and 1989.

"How much would [the PGA] be making from this Belfry match if they then put their surplus in from the PGA National?" he asks. "And would they have got that if the Ryder Cup hadn't gone there? What's their percentage on the green fees or whatever they've got? Do you think they'd have an involvement with the PGA National at The Belfry if they hadn't guaranteed them a fourth Ryder Cup? Do you think De Vere would have given it to them?"

Jones is astounded by these questions and insists that the PGA's arrangements with De Vere, which has helped them build new offices, a training centre and the PGA National course are not, and have never been, conditional on the Ryder Cup.

In return, he poses some questions for Schofield. "What value does the Ryder Cup have in the whole TV contract?" he asks, referring to the Sky deal that includes the Ryder Cup as part of a package of European golf events. "I could ask the Tour what value a tournament like the Madeira Open would have if Sky did not have the Ryder Cup?" Jones maintains that he and his shareholders have been comfortable with the share they receive through Ryder Cup Ltd. At the same time, he resents the intrusion into the PGA's business and the implication that it is conducting deals on the back of the Ryder Cup without informing its partner.

However, the biggest potential cause for division is the 2009 venue, due to be announced at The Belfry. "The rotation of venues will be as huge a political thing as the money," Schofield says. "The guys want to see that both shareholders will address that issue and not just one of them." The PGA, which has the casting vote, is said to favour Scotland. The Tour has been open in its support of the Welsh course, Celtic Manor. Schofield, who wants the match to rotate throughout Europe, is somewhat disparaging about Scotland, which he feels has done little to support the Tour in comparison to Spain, Ireland and Wales.

"We've never, to date, had a penny of Scottish governmental money. Not one penny. Now whether their money will be dependent on a winning bid and if they win they will do X, Y, Z, I'm sure they probably would. But if they lose, I don't think we're holding our breath."

The administration is not the only place where there are rumblings of discontent. Everyone else is making money out of the cup, and Nick Faldo, who has played in 11 matches, does not see why the golfers should lose out. "In this day and age, I think we probably should be rewarded with a fee for making the team. Now it's getting very serious sums, it's only fair that the guys out there who are creating the event... well, if they weren't there, there wouldn't be an event, simple as that."

Among European Tour players, it is a minority view, but then so is that of Schofield, whose personal feeling is that the PGA does deserve a share of the match Samuel Ryder bequeathed to it. He admits, though: "I think there's a feeling that the Tour has done as much as it possibly could in splitting half the Ryder Cup cake and it should be splitting all of it."