Seve puts the shine back on Sunningdale

Tim Glover says Ballesteros is creating an event in his own image
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The Independent Online

Whatever else Seve Ballesteros does this week, he will not be taking a multi-bogey nine at the 15th hole on the Old Course at Sunningdale. For one thing, there is no turquoise pond in front of the green and for another, it's a par three not a par five. The Seve Ballesteros Trophy is unlikely to be as harsh on its eponymous hero as the Masters, where he finished in last place.

Whether this latest addition to the European Tour remains a significant event on the calendar or merely a one-off, remains to be seen. A 10-man team representing the Continent of Europe, captained by Ballesteros, will play Great Britain and Ireland, led by Colin Montgomerie, in three days of match play from Friday in a format not dissimilar to the Ryder Cup.

The idea for the Seve Ballesteros Trophy came from, er, Seve. "The first event will be played in England," the Spanish maestro said, "because I wish to repay the British people for making Spain the host for the 1997 Ryder Cup. I have also received fantastic support from the British public, whose love for the game is second to none."

Europe, captained by Ballesteros, won the Ryder Cup at Valderrama three years ago but lost it under Mark James in a near meltdown at Brookline last year when the Americans apologised for forgetting theetiquette of the game.

In Spain, Ballesteros was the non-playing captain; at Sunningdale he will be a member of the team, which may not be the greatest news for Europe. He hasn't won anything for five years and from being No 1 in the Order of Merit in 1991, had slumped to 143rd last season. The teams will comprise seven players aside from the top of the Order of Merit from last year, one from the current money list and one wild card plus the captain.

The most notable omission from the match is Nick Faldo, the greatest golfer ever produced by these islands. The word on the grapevine was that Faldo would captain GB and Ireland and the tournament would be played at Chart Hills in Kent, a course he designed. At least that was the word heard by John Simpson, Faldo's manager. The Faldo camp were told to expect a phone call from Seve. They are still waiting.

Instead Faldo was invited to be a mere team member. Last week he declined the offer, announcing he had a prior engagement on the US Tour, the MCI Heritage Classic on Hilton Head Island. Sergio Garcia, Europe's answer to Tiger Woods, had also intimated he would be in America - until he received a call from Seve.

If the event is to have a future as a genuinely competitive fixture rather than an old pals' act, it needs the best players and venues. It also needs a big prize fund and media coverage.

The purse is £1.5m with each member of the winning team receiving £92,000 and the runners-up £55,000 apiece. Amen Corner, the management company owned by Ballesteros and Media Pro, a Spanish-based company that sells TV rights, are jointly promoting the tournament which will be covered by Sky. Europe will be sponsored by Amen Corner and GB and Ireland by Eurobet, an on-line betting concern.

For Sunningdale, celebrating its centenary, the trophy is something of a godsend. The centre piece of their 100th anniversary was to have been the Solheim Cup but the club was jilted at the altar by the ladies who received a better offer from Loch Lomond.

Sunningdale, who have had only seven weeks to prepare, are expecting crowds of up to 30,000 over three days. "Golf is very much an individual sport but everyone knows how passionate I am about team events," Ballesteros said. In his current form perhaps this is just as well.

Ballesteros for one, is taking it very seriously. When it was suggested that players from both teams would share a room in the clubhouse, he insisted on separate facilities. Thus it's Seve, the face that once launched a thousand chips, against Monty, the face that once ate a thousand chips.

The format: Friday 14 April: morning four foursomes matches, afternoon four four- balls. Saturday: morning four greensomes, afternoon four four-balls. Sunday: 10 singles.