A Ryder Cup in Paris?

Five nations are hoping to host the 2018 Ryder Cup. Our Matt Cooper talks to the team behind the French bid.

Asked what Paris could bring to the Ryder Cup, Pascal Grizot, the Chairman of the Ryder Cup 2018 France bid, peers out across the city landscape with a twinkle in his eye. Following his gaze I’m drawn to one iconic image.

“Imagine it,” says Pascal. “The two captains hitting shots from the Eiffel Tower, with thousands below cheering them on.”

It’s a captivating image, no less alluring than the idea of the two teams dining in the grand setting of the Chateau de Versailles ahead of the match.

Yet whilst the French team is not afraid of utilising the city of Paris as a dramatic location, they are also keen that their project is not seen as one dimensional.

They want to make the most of Paris without making the bid all about the great city; to use that majestic setting to enhance the Ryder Cup.

For example, the Eiffel Tower would not merely represent one good photo opportunity early in the week. Instead a fan’s village would be created around it.

Already the host course, Golf National, can be accessed from the Tower in just 15 minutes, but plans are already in place to speed that connection up.

Where at previous matches fans would drift away at the end of the day’s play, the Paris 2018 plan is to replicate what other big sporting occasions have done in recent years. A fan zone would allow them to congregate, to interact and to discuss the action.

At previous Ryder Cups this coming together would be impossible with fans drifting off in different directions to far-flung accommodation.

Paris would be different because it can cope comfortably with tens of thousands of visitors: the infrastructure is already in place after years of being one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations (indeed it is the most visited city in the world).

Just as Grizot is proud of Paris as a cultural backdrop to the event, he is also confident that the course can provide the perfect stage for the golf itself and with some justification.

A regular venue for the European Tour’s Open de France it is visually dramatic, spectator friendly and proven as a regular European Tour venue. It is viewed by the players themselves as an ideal Ryder Cup venue.

“It is a strength of our bid and many players have offered support in video interviews on our website,” Grizot explains, before adding: “But we also know the entire bid has to be credible. You cannot focus on one or two aspects.”

In the current economic climate the financing of the 2018 event is of paramount importance: the winning host needs to convince the European Tour that it has the financial and government backing to deliver what it promises.

The French feel confident that their approach offers that stability. “The bid team is proud that we approached every licence holder in France,” says Grizot (each golfer in France requires a license). “83% of them supported a rise in the fee to accommodate a contribution to the Paris bid. It raises a significant amount of money that we can guarantee and it proves we have the support of our nation’s golfers.

“We also have private backing but that is not exclusive and that is important. The bid is not dependent on private funding, indeed in addition to the guaranteed fund from French golfers we have the support of the Ministries of Sport and Tourism.

“We also have the government with us. President Sarkozy launched the Grand Paris project which will improve city transportation between now and 2018.

“The journey from Charles De Gaulle Airport to the course will be less than 30 minutes, the course to the Eiffel Tower less than 15 minutes.”

Next day, having dwelt on the possibilities of a Paris Ryder Cup, I travelled south to the city of Tours.

Part of a group of British journalists, I was there to witness what the Paris bid will create as a legacy for French golf – and, indeed, golf beyond French borders since they hope to influence the growth of the sport all around the continent of Europe.

A bequest to the future of their nation’s golf is one of the six criteria set out by the Evaluation Panel (see the link at the bottom of this article for more details) and the French are determined to accomplish this in style.

They want golf to become more accessible to the people and their legacy takes inspiration from a simple theory: instead of (trying to) take the people to the golf courses, they want to take the golf courses to the people.

To appreciate the full implication of this we need to understand that when the greatest spike of enthusiasm for golf in France arose (in the 1980s) investment (almost all of it private) was largely misdirected.

This was a pattern repeated all around the world, but in France it manifested itself quickly and profoundly because the country had fewer courses to begin with: between 1985 and 1995 around 400 courses were built in France which represents over half the current number in the country.

This was a huge boom and although golfer participation increased (and has continued to do so), a deep problem remains: the courses are in the country and the vast majority of the French population is urban.

Not only is any potential golfer required to undertake an average one hour drive to a course, the obvious consequence is that any one round of golf becomes a long drawn out experience, effectively an entire day.

The equation is simple: Distance + cost + time = diminished enthusiasm to start in the first place.

The bid answer is to flip the situation, a bit like Mohammed and the mountain. If it’s tough for the people to go to the golf, the golf must go to the people. So the Paris legacy involves the promise of at least 100 urban golf facilities.

There are numerous advantages to the idea: the immediate one is that the sport becomes more available to people who don’t fit the current demographic of a French golfer (male, middle aged, mid to upper income).

Two other major problems the sport faces are time and difficulty. Potential participants want to play quickly and gain immediate enjoyment rather than spend months learning the ropes.

The urban golf scheme seeks to solve this problem: with a mixture of short courses, pitch and putt courses, nine hole courses, putting greens and driving ranges, players can play quickly and learn fast.

The scheme is focussed. Potential catchment areas have been identified and structures are in place to make the process smooth: the French Golf Federation and – crucially – all levels of government in France are committed to funding the initiative, sometimes alongside private investment.

The plan has anticipated would-be objections and addressed them: for example, the sites will be those which clearly need enhancing (flood areas, dumps and industrial wasteland). More importantly they will be environmentally aware, economically viable and create jobs.

The Federation plans to complete this legacy regardless of the success of the Ryder Cup bid, but if they are successful