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How MASSIVE 18th hole grandstand will ensure Ryder Cup will be heard around the world

 

Greenkeepers work ahead of the 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National Course at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, south-west of Paris.
Greenkeepers work ahead of the 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National Course at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, south-west of Paris.
Le Golf National Course at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, south-west of Paris

Vincent Hogan

Le Golf National is fantasy cut from cornfields, a topography contoured by wind, sun, rain, phosphates, nitrogen and a sadist's eye.

It will be a beautiful and wicked Ryder Cup host, a place sculpted for theatre and mined with unapologetic treachery. And it will be loud. Historically so.

A grandstand stretching from the first tee to the 18th green will seat 6,800 souls. Think about that. The main stand at Gleneagles in 2014 housed 2,300. Hazeltine last time? 1,200.

The French aren't simply looking to turn Europe vs America into opera. They want it to be heard around the world.

So, for now, journalists arrive in gentle expeditions, hungry to explore a venue that was granted Ryder Cup status in 2011 on the back of a French promise to build 100 new golf courses, a staggering 93 of which have already opened.

This won't be an event hosted by any wealthy private benefactor, you see. It is the French Golf Federation's baby and one slowly capturing the imagination of their national media ever since Thomas Bjorn and Jim Furyk mimicked the late, great Arnold Palmer by driving golf balls off a platform on the Eiffel Tower last October.

General manager of Le Golf National, Paul Armitage, explained: "It's been a slow start because, obviously, France is not a golfing nation.

"We have 420,000 registered golfers, maybe 700,000 people who play golf on a regular basis, and about 750 courses or 'facilities', but it's still got that general attitude of being reserved for a certain social strata.

"So mass media don't really get into it very big over here. But that one-year-to-go event on the Eiffel Tower and the fact that Bjorn and Furyk had breakfast with President [Emmanuel] Macron in the Elysee Palace created a real buzz."

Attendance demographics will be tilted in a fashion that ensures a uniquely Gallic flavour, with 40% of general ticket sales reserved for the French public.

Given there were no more than 500 French in Gleneagles and less than half of that at Hazeltine, this represents an obvious gamble for Ryder Cup Europe and the federation.

With a huge hospitality market to service as well, it means roughly a third of the daily 61,000 attendance should be made up of French people.

"That's huge and, after that, the UK and Ireland will make up 15-20%," Armitage confirmed.

"Then we've tripled the number of American sales compared to Gleneagles, largely because they won the last time.

"And the rest of the sales are made up by Europe and the rest of the world."

Water comes into play on 10 of the 18 holes and any match going down the last is sure to toss butterflies into rib cages with a narrow fairway protected by a lake down the left, hidden bunkers on the right and tightening towards an island green that, as this writer discovered, is almost impossible to hold with anything but a short iron.

And did I mention the rough?

When we played it in April, it remained Amazonian in depth, the challenge not simply to hit from a challenging lie, but to find your ball in the first place.

It remains to be seen what Bjorn's plans are for that come lift-off but, back then, the focus was on hosting the French Open in June (won by Alex Noren).

The local hope (forlorn as it happens), of course, was that Frenchman Alexander Levy would make Bjorn's team, thereby strengthening local passion for the event.

Bjorn picked him for this year's EurAsia Cup in Malaysia last January and it was hoped at the time that a tournament win could make Levy an automatic election.

When that didn't happen, and with five rookies in the automatic places, Levy's hopes simply didn't hold any credibility in the end.

A pity too, according to Armitage who believes that Levy's inclusion would really have captured the imagination of the French public.

"He's exactly the type of player the Ryder Cup needs, swashbuckling and takes risks," he said.

"And, obviously with the French crowd, that would mean a lot of noise. But Bjorn's always been very open and candid about the fact that he would never pick a Frenchman just because the event was in France. He was always very clear on that."

Vice-chairman of the French Federation Pascal Grizot is the man whose almost evangelistic zeal has brought the Ryder Cup to France, working with eight different ministers for sport (they change every year) along the way.

"He's given 10 years of his life to this basically," Armitage said.

"He's made it a national priority, as big as the Olympic Games in 2024 (the golf event will be held at Le Golf National) and as big as Euro 2016 in soccer. It's thanks to his tenacity that the Ryder Cup is coming here."

An adjacent nine-hole golf course has been shut down completely to facilitate a huge TV compound and a 1,200-seat media centre has been erected on the driving range.

Canal Plus, a subscription sports channel, have sold restricted rights to French national television, which means a two-hour highlights programme will be freely available to the public every evening.

There will also be two separate entrances to the venue, facilitating separate park-and-ride facilities on different sides of the course.

All seems in place then for this 28-year-old course on the outskirts of Paris to become centre stage to the golfing world.

Armitage certainly believes so. "I think it's going to be one of the best Ryder Cups we've seen, I really do."

  • Brittany Ferries is an approved operator of Ryder Cup Travel Services, offering a programme that includes a five-day official Ryder Cup package. Full details of the above and all other Brittany Ferries golf packages in France are available at www.brittanyferries.ie/golf or from the Brittany Ferries Golf Desk by emailing golfdesk@brittanyferries.com.

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