Even now, the bagpipes are warming up for the next home Ryder Cup which was last week confirmed for Gleneagles from 26-28 September, 2014. In other words, a week earlier than the 2010 contest at Celtic Manor. There will be a Ryder Cup tartan, Ryder Cup shortbread, Ryder Cup whisky and, assuming Alex Salmond remains in his post, a Scottish First Minister who will add to the spectacle and spin.
“It’s only November 2011 and here I am looking forward to September 2014,” mused the politician.
Listening to Salmond is a bit like listening to Colin Montgomerie. He is a big presence and someone who knows his golf. He talked of Scotland’s proud past in the game and how Gleneagles was home to an unofficial Ryder Cup match in 1921. And he talked of what the 2014 contest means to Scotland’s future, not least in terms of the 40,000 9-year-olds who will by next year have been introduced to the sport as part of the Ryder Cup campaign.
When he had finished a dozen or so TV interviews, each of them laced with an equal measure of enthusiasm, he answered this correspondent’s question about Monty.
What did he feel about the suggestion – it came from Callum Macaulay, one of Scotland’s main hopes for the side of 2014 – that he be given another shot at the captaincy.
Salmond is far too wily a politician to risk anything too controversial in such a context. Though he had seen Monty in action in 2010 and thought he was outstanding, he contented himself with a humorous, “If it were up to me, I would have a Scottish captain and 12 Scottish players.”
That said, he admitted that it was not up to him. “It’s up to the Players Committee on the European Tour. We need to leave it to them and they’ve made a pretty good job of things in recent years.” Across the room, the photographers were calling for Carly Booth, one of Scotland’s top up-and-coming women professionals, to be pictured holding the Ryder Cup Trophy aloft.
Salmond’s light-hearted observation? “She could be a player by the time the match comes round again.”
Away from the date and at the news that Diageo will be the official event partner, the main announcements of last week centered around the 18th hole and the time-span of the match. The former is to be shortened, while the match itself will remain a three-day affair.
Both decisions are for the better. The 18th has always been a long and uninviting slog up the hill. Jack Nicklaus, the original designer, has been called upon to put things to rights and is making a good fist of it. An elevated teeing area will get the hole off to a more uplifting start, while its current length of 533 will be reduced by 20 yards to make it a more reachable par 5. If it is not a contradiction in terms, the green will become a cozier cauldron for the all-important final putts as it takes a shift to the right and dips down 1.6 meters (5.25 feet) into the surrounding hillocks.
“What Jack has come up with is a grand solution that doesn’t require a substantial change to the ground around the hole,” said Patrick Elsmie, managing director of Gleneagles Hotel.
At Celtic Manor, the match went into a fourth day because of the weather – a state of affairs which set people thinking that if it were to start out as a four-day contest, there would be more room for maneuver.
Here, Richard Hills, from the European Tour, explained that they were sticking with the status quo. “We did not consider the four-day option and, at the moment, it’s not on the radar … An element of that is commercial but there’s no desire from the players to change things.”
After consulting with both Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal, next year’s captains, Hills and Co., also decided against Monty’s suggestion that all the players should be involved all the time. That, of course, is the way things went in Wales as they hit on a solution which would permit the completion of the usual 28 matches in the limited time frame.
Love, though he will presumably be as every other captain in finding it tough to leave people out when the time comes, commented on how the business of choosing who and who not to play adds an interesting twist to the captain’s role.
Provision has been made for an extra day in 2014 should it be required but, by the time Salmond had finished, people were thinking of sunshine and shirt sleeves – and that in spite of the fact that the bunkers outside were being transformed into water hazards as he spoke. “We are comfortable with the date we have,” said the First Minister reassuringly. “The weather statistics here have been great for September over the last 20 years.”
Then, like some proud professional telling of his scoring average, he added that had the match been played from 26-28 September of this year, the median temperature would have been a balmy 23 degrees (Celsius/73 degrees Fahrenheit).