Ryder Cup 2022 bids are in, and Seve Ballesteros' legacy should carry on in Spain
The bids are in. The race to host the Ryder Cup in 2022 boils down to a beauty contest between Spain, Germany, Italy and Austria.
A delegation of European Tour officials have eaten at the finest tables in Barcelona, Berlin, Rome and Vienna, cities that would feature on any bucket list.
Portugal would have been on their itinerary too, had the bill not climbed so steep. The Ryder Cup is big business. It costs heaps to put a bid together in all that soft-focus allure, cash you might argue would be better spent on grass-roots golf. The calculation is, obviously, that money spent will come back 1,000-fold should the circus come to town.
The Ryder Cup is following a direction of travel that sees events linking to major cities and driving big revenues. The Ryder Cup is contested by 24 blokes, but it will be watched by 50,000 a day across the week, with cash in their pockets.
Aside from the technical merits of each bid – and all have their selling points – there is another, deeper thread that ought to carry weight with the decision-makers. The 2022 event coincides with the 25th anniversary of the first and only time Europe has hosted a Ryder Cup outside the British Isles. If history still means something in this commercially driven environment then surely the Ryder Cup has to return to Spain in honour of the late, great Severiano Ballesteros, who led the continent’s first assignment in 1979 and captained Europe to victory in 1997.
Ballesteros, you will remember, was central to the European concept, the colossus around whom the shift from Great Britain & Ireland to a pan-European team was made at a time when American broadcasters would not give tuppence to screen an event that had become so one-sided as to render it meaningless.
Ballesteros changed all that, winning five times as player and captain. He holds the record for points scored by a European and his partnership with fellow Spaniard Jose-Maria Olazabal formed the backbone of Europe’s early successes. But more than the numbers assembled, Ballesteros changed the way golf was seen; he entered our imaginations, a kind of fairway Elvis, all hips and glossy black hair, giving the ball a rip off the tee and rescuing impossible situations.
He broadened horizons, enabled the European Tour to grow geographically and commercially. He laid the groundwork, making possible the exotic bids we see today from parts of Europe where golf has not traditionally been uppermost in people’s minds. It is entirely right that the Ryder Cup is spread far and wide. The focus has been on Britain for far too long. With due respect to Gleneagles, Celtic Manor and The Belfry, who would not want to head to Berlin, Vienna or Rome for a week? And all should have a crack in turn, but not, perhaps, in 2022.
If the bids are good enough to go forward for 2022, surely they would hold in the years that follow. Maybe the European Tour should begin a rota, starting with Spain. No continental country has hosted more tournaments during these years of European Tour expansion.
As I write, the final day of the Open de Espana comes to a conclusion in Barcelona at the Real Golf de Club El Prat, not far from the PGA Catalunya course bidding to bring the Ryder Cup to the city. From Cadiz to Almeria, the Andalucian coastline appears like a golfing tattoo from the air, such is the proliferation of courses.
Spain spent big to bring the Ryder Cup to Madrid in 2018 at a new, purpose-built venue but lost out to Paris in uncertain economic times on the grounds that the Golf National course was a proven venue. This bid is lighter on outlay but more substantial in content, focusing on an established site, legacy, with a commitment to grass-roots development and staging European Tour events through to 2028, infrastructure, commerce and, not least, tradition.
In conversation last week with Gonzaga Escauriaza, president of the Royal Spanish Golf Federation, it was clear the 2022 bid was about more than securing the Ryder Cup, it was about the relationship between Spain and the game, and its connectivity to the European concept began through Ballesteros.
“We have contributed as a country to golf in mainland Europe, with 183 European Tour events. We have contributed in terms of great players,” Escauriaza said.
“We like to say our bid is Ryder Cup plus. We want to remain a beacon of golf for continental Europe.
“We accept absolutely the excellence of the other bids but believe our history and relationship with the European Tour makes ours a standout bid. Severiano was a turning point in the creation of the European team, and we are immensely proud of that.”
The decision is expected in the autumn. Vamos.