Welsh suspect Ryder Cup bid is stymied

Even allowing for the Welsh love of conspiracy theories, the whole process appears to be much less than the simple, straightforward procedure it should be
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This is the weekend when the Welsh thought they would be celebrating a great victory; if not in the Millennium Stadium then in the battle to stage the 2009 Ryder Cup between Europe and America. Instead, they are consumed by the growing suspicion that they have been led on a £1 million walk up the garden path.

This is the weekend when the Welsh thought they would be celebrating a great victory; if not in the Millennium Stadium then in the battle to stage the 2009 Ryder Cup between Europe and America. Instead, they are consumed by the growing suspicion that they have been led on a £1 million walk up the garden path.

Their bid, which gathered support of unprecedented enthusiasm from all over Wales, was mounted in the expectation that the decision by the Ryder Cup committee would be announced last Wednesday.

They were confident that the exhaustive way in which they had met the stringent Ryder Cup requirements - their bid would bring £50m worth of development to golf in Wales - was far superior to those of their two rivals, Scotland and the North-east of England.

Two weeks ago, however, they learned that the decision was going to be delayed. For how long it will be delayed has been as difficult to discover as the reason why.

That is likely to be the first question of many that Sandy Jones, the chief executive of the Professional Golfers Association and the chairman of the Ryder Cup Committee, will face when he visits the Welsh Assembly on Friday for discussions with the First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, and the chairman of the Wales bid, Tony Lewis.

But I suspect they already fear the worst, that Scotland has always been the preferred choice and that the delay is to allow the Scots to catch up with what is generally acknowledged to be an excellent and more advanced Welsh bid. It appears to be not so much a case of moving the goalposts as hiding the pins behind the trees. Even allowing for the Welsh love of conspiracy theories, even allowing for our affection for a whinge, the whole process appears to be much less than the simple and straightforward procedure it should be.

Nor is it a case of the Welsh getting their sour grapes in first. Had Scotland been declared the winners last week after a contest conducted strictly in accordance with the terms of the briefing, Wales would have had to hide their disappointment behind a brave face. After all, who could deny Scotland's strong claims to be Ryder Cup hosts 36 years after the event's one and only appearance there, at Muirfield in 1973?

The gripe is not with Scotland but with a system of selection that seems blatantly tilted in their favour. The feeling in the Welsh camp that theirs was destined to be a forlorn hope is not new. There have been niggling doubts both before and after the bid documents were officially handed in on 31 October.

Rumours that had swirled around many informed sources took shape in November when a Scottish newspaper reported that the Ryder Cup 2009 would take place at Gleneagles' Monarch course. The story was denied, but the rumours have gained strength and will not be dissipated by the news expected later this week that the Monarch course will be named as the PGA Centenary Course, no doubt celebrating the PGA's long association with Scotland.

There have been other instances which demolished the idea that the bidders were in a fair fight. One of the Scottish bid officials told a friend of mine over two months ago that the result was a "foregone conclusion", a phrase that crops up continually whenever the decision is discussed in top golfing circles.

Again, this is fair enough, but if that has been the intention, why put the other runners through this very costly, time-consuming and false-hope-raising rigmarole; especially when the bids, the Welsh one in particular, involve a great deal of public money? I have more than a professional onlooker's interest in this. As a patriot, I know what the Ryder Cup would mean to Welsh golf and have advised the Welsh bid committee on some publicity matters in a voluntary capacity. That doesn't debar me from commenting on matters I have observed very closely over the last few months.

I tend to agree with a disgruntled member of the Welsh bid committee who complained last week: "I have this horrible feeling that we've been sucking on the hind tit right from the start."

The bid process wasn't right from the outset. For some reason, it was decided to make the bidding process country-led and not venue-led. A host country would be selected first, and only then a venue.

In the case of Wales and the North-east this seemed pointless, because only Celtic Manor in Wales and Slaley Hall in the North-east were suitable venues. Scotland, on the other hand, were able to say that they would make their choice from courses like St Andrews, Gleneagles, Loch Lomond, Carnoustie and Turnberry. When you can hurl names of that golfing quality into the ring it is not likely to weaken your cause. However, the fact that these fabled courses, with the exception of Loch Lomond, were around long before the Ryder Cup was invented and have not hitherto been called upon weakens that particular argument.

The fact that all but one of the home Ryder Cup matches since 1985 have been held at The Belfry would have been another comfort to Scotland's rivals. The Belfry, now vastly improved and well worthy, is the host to this year's Ryder Cup.

The next home match is in Ireland, where the venue in 2005 is the K Club. This another example of a new course taking precedence over long-established courses of far more prestige and, some would say, quality. This encouraged Dr Terry Matthews to think that his mighty resort at Celtic Manor would not be dismissed out of hand, particularly as he plans a fourth course at the complex and has offered the PGA a free hand, and as much money as they need, to piece together their own Ryder Cup course.

Since the bid is country-led, Matthews has taken what must be an uncomfortable back seat and let Wales get on with it. They have done that in commendable fashion. The Welsh Assembly recognised the impetus and identity the Ryder Cup could bring to Wales and set up an impressive amalgamation of just about every organisation in the country under the chairmanship of Lewis, one of the nation's best-known sporting figures. They also supplied the bulk of the £1.25m already spent on the bid.

The Ryder Cup bid document is a complicated affair that demands the creation of new tournaments, development programmes, moves towards equality of opportunity for both sexes and all ages and the commitment of millions of pounds over the next eight years.

Wales have answered every demand, apart from final details on such matters as the 5,000 hotel rooms at cost that have to be supplied, even to the extent of amalgamating the men's and ladies' golf unions, and what's more can lay claim to European Union help via their Objective One status. It all amounts to the opportunity to invest £50m into the golfing infrastructure of Wales.

They politely point out that Scotland, as the home of golf, can hardly develop much more while Wales, by far the poorest of the four home golf countries, can emerge as strong as the others with the help of the Ryder Cup. Since they delivered their bid the Welsh have strictly adhered to a set of deadlines for delivering their promises; deadlines that now seem obsolete.

Scotland, who apparently have seen the details of the Welsh bid, announced their latest "initiative" last Wednesday, the day the decision should have been made. The Scots now have an unspecified period to catch up on all the other facets of the bid they are behind on. Only now are the Scottish Parliament taking a financial interest.

The Welsh have fired all their ammunition in the allotted time. Now they wait for their big guns to be spiked, one by one.