NEWPORT, WALES | The high point of the biggest week in Wales’s history came in Cardiff, the capital, soon after 9 p.m. last Wednesday evening. The Europe and U.S. teams had eaten dinner in the nearby castle, the earliest parts of which date back a cool 1000 years or so, and then moved across the road to the Millennium Stadium, an icon for modern Wales. There, the host country’s own Catherine Zeta Jones, wife of Michael Douglas and thus one half of, arguably, the most powerful couple in Hollywood, was followed on to the stage by the Prince of Wales. The future King of England twiddled with his bow tie before speaking a few sentences in Welsh, a few more in English and making his Royal exit.
After a start like that the gala dinner for the Ryder Cup, at which both teams and their partners were introduced on stage to an audience of 10,000, was likely to be special. It turned out to be exceptional. “I’ve seen 18 of these,” Ken Schofield, formerly the executive director of the European Tour, said. “That was the best.”
Sadly, the pride of Wednesday was followed by the embarrassment of Friday. On Thursday night and the following morning one third of a month’s rainfall fell in 12 hours – and it didn’t stop falling. Remarkably, organisers got all four four-ball matches onto the course for the first session’s play of the Ryder Cup but two hours later they were brought in and it was another seven hours before play recommenced.
Wales has grown in self-confidence in recent years, boosted by the arrival of the Welsh Assembly, a local Parliament, the erection of the Millennium Centre and by winning the Ryder Cup bid, which was expected to generate £70 million for the local economy and to showcase Wales to 700 million television viewers in more than 100 countries. Wales, a country the size of Massachusetts or Israel with a population of 2.9 million, was confident that despite being smaller in size and in number of inhabitants than England, Scotland, Spain and Ireland, previous hosts on this side of the Atlantic, it would stage an outstanding Ryder Cup.
There is a warmness about the Welsh people. They are very hospitable, wanting to welcome visitors to their country, keen for an excuse to celebrate. “I likes a party, I does,” is a saying heard quite often in Wales. The Ryder Cup gave them the opportunity for one. Just as the Irish are known for their “craic” so the Welsh are known for their “hwyl.”
The sadness for them on that wet Friday was the fear that their first Ryder Cup would be remembered as the rain-sodden Ryder Cup. There was a pop song a few years ago called “Lost in France.” Gloomy Celts, and there are many of those, worried that the biennial event would become known as “Waterlogged in Wales” or “Wet in Wales.”
What went wrong, what cast a dampener on the Ryder Cup was the realisation that the PGA Tour in the U.S., the PGA of America and the European Tour had all contrived to allow the event to be held at a time of year when bad weather was more likely than good. It was originally scheduled for a date two weeks earlier.
“These atrocious conditions could have been avoided,” Tony Jacklin, the former Open champion and captain of Europe in the 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1989 matches, said. “They are a direct result of the decision to push the Ryder Cup back into the first week of October to accommodate the FedEx Cup.”
A friend, whose identity would be startling were it revealed, e-mailed me on Friday night. “This was a balloon waiting to meet a pin. When money determines the choice of venue, combined with the postponement of dates in order to satisfy Comm. Finchem’s FedEx “play-offs” playing in Wales on an inland course was an insane pushing of luck. How very, very sad.”
The feeling in Wales last week was one of sympathy for Sir Terry Matthews, the Welsh-born billionaire who put so much money into building Celtic Manor as a showcase for the third biggest sporting event in the world, as well as for Wales itself and then found that weather that might have been avoided was not.
The exact dates for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles have not yet been settled. They must be moved forward for the match to have a better chance of more daylight each day and decent weather overall. It is arrogant, greedy and improper of the authorities to fail to do this. Wales deserved better. Samuel Ryder, the founder of what has become a magnificent competition, deserved better. Sir Terry Matthews deserved better. The players, pawns in the proceedings, deserved better. In Wales, they got what they didn’t deserve.