Scotland’s 41-year wait to stage the match is almost over - and, fittingly, it’s returning to its spiritual birthplace.
THE countdown has been long. Thirteen years, 156 months, 678 weeks, 4,746 days - by whichever unit of measurement you look at it, the time between the announcement of the Ryder Cup’s return to Scotland and the match actually getting underway has been a long time coming.
The only previous time the iconic gold trophy was contested on these shores was at Muirfield in 1973. It’s about time, then, that it returned to the home of golf.
Gleneagles, of course, will play host to the 40th edition of the biennial match, where Paul McGinley’s European side will take on Tom Watson’s Americans.
The 2014 Ryder Cup is more than just a three-day competition, though; it’s an opportunity for Scotland to remind a watching global audience of 500 million, in 183 countries, just what makes it such a special place for golf. Its status as the game’s spiritual birthplace is well established. But it cannot hope to get by on history and heritage alone. It needs to demonstrate that it has courses outside of Open Championship venues that are enticing to play, as well as people who are friendly and accommodating, a landscape that is inspiring, and much more besides. And in Gleneagles, it has arguably the perfect destination to achieve all of those aims.
Nestling within 850 acres of beautiful Perthshire countryside, the Gleneagles Resort is deeply entrenched in the history of the Ryder Cup. It was there, in 1921, that the foundations of the match as we have come to recognise it were laid, when a team of American golfers took on a side representing Great Britain over the King’s Course. The seeds of that first match resulted in the Ryder Cup as we know it and love it today. It is, therefore, appropriate, that the return of the match to Scotland should coincide with its return to its spiritual birthplace.
When the Scottish Government led by the then First Minister Henry McLeish, started to investigate the possibility of Scotland bidding to host the match at the turn of the 21st century, several venues were under consideration for the hosting rights. Turnberry, Carnoustie and Loch Lomond all expressed an interest. However, it was Gleneagles, with its Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course, which won the nod.
Staging the event is expected to be worth in the region of £100m to the Scottish economy - around five times the £20m that has been spent staging it.
Just as important as the financial rewards, however, is the potential for the match to leave a long-lasting golfing legacy in its wake.
Several steps have already been taken to that effect. The formation, in 2003, of ClubGolf has resulted in golf clubs being put in the hands of tens of thousands of schoolchildren, whilst high-value tournaments, such as the Scottish Open, Scottish Senior Open, Ladies Scottish Open and Scottish Hydro Challenge, have been either established or preserved. That is part of a commitment to provide opportunities for Scottish fans to see live golf close to home, as well as events for up-and-coming Scottish golfers to play in.
Captains McGinley and Watson will lead their respective 12-man teams into battle at the end of September and waiting for them will be a crowd of up to 45,000 spectators per day.
For a significant proportion of them, this year’s will be their first experience of the Ryder Cup at close quarters and how they will hope to witness the kind of magic that previous matches have produced. You can’t fault them for being optimistic, either. Few sporting events do drama quite like the Ryder Cup.
It is a spectacle that feels different, sounds different, looks different and is different. And at long, long last it’s coming home.
The wait is almost over, the countdown is almost up. The 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles is upon us, and not a moment too soon.