IT’S only a game. No, not really if it’s the Ryder Cup you’re talking about.
In 1999, the biennial match was dubbed “The War on the Shore.” Eight years later “The Battle of Brookline” dominated the sports pages of the national press.
So, what can we expect at Gleneagles?
I can’t help feeling the Ryder Cup is a monster out of control; a once proud sporting occasion that has grown into an over-hyped commercial venture which generates millions of pounds in revenue.
Back in the days when the United States dominated the event to the extent that it was virtually unheard of for Great Britain to win, the top players from both sides of the Atlantic met up once every two years, played a series of matches, shook hands, and moved on.
Even when Ireland’s best golfers were introduced into the equation the last time the match was staged in Scotland – at Muirfield in 1973 – the mood – and the results – remained the same.
Then, in 1979, a hugely significant change happened. GB & Ireland morphed into Europe and the sporting aspect began to be overtaken by commercialism.
Initially, the United States continued to dominate, as they had done almost without fail since the matches’ inception in 1927.
But in 1985, at the Belfry, the United States’ stranglehold was broken. Europe ended a losing run stretching back over seven matches to 1971.
Then, lo and behold, for the first time ever the United States were beaten on home soil two years later, and again two years after that back at the Belfry.
It is a measure of how the tide has turned in favour of Europe that the once wholly dominant Americans have won just four of the past 14 matches.
We were reliably informed a few years ago that the American players had all but lost interest in the Ryder Cup and that the future of the event was in doubt due to their growing apathy.
That was nonsense, of course. While some on the opposite side of the pond did indeed express disillusionment at the prospect of representing their nation, and in the case of Tom Weiskopf, decline an invitation to do so, preferring to go huntin’ and fishin’, the majority craved the chance to restore US pride.
And so to Gleneagles 2014 and the 40th Ryder Cup match.
It is said that the latest staging will generate £80million for the Scottish economy; no small sum. It will also fill golf’s coffers to the tune of at least £12million.
But at what price to the man in the street; locals who are currently being inconvenienced to a large extent and who will continue to be for some time to come without recompense?
Glasgow was placed in “lock down” for 11 days earlier this summer to accommodate the Commonwealth Games, and thousands of its citizens were prevented from going about their daily business without the need to “plan ahead” – an expression I find both slightly bewildering and a tad arrogant in the name of sport.
The other night, driving from Inverness to Glasgow, I was confronted by flashing road signs informing users that the A9 – a major artery of the road network – was closed at Aberuthven.
Those responsible did not feel a need to inform road users that diversions were in place via Auchterarder until, that is, they ran out of carriageway!
It transpired that major road works were being carried out to facilitate the staging of the Ryder Cup. Thousands of travellers, meanwhile, were treated almost with disdain.
Gleneagles was always the wrong choice of venue, of course. The PGA Centenary Course – venue for the match – is, in the words of an esteemed colleague, the fourth best course in Auchterarder after the Kings, Queens and the local golf club!
Why is the Ryder Cup not being played at St Andrews, Turnberry, Troon or Muirfield, venues used to staging major golfing events without major upheaval?
The answer is simple, it comes down to money and the owners of the five star Gleneagles Hotel have plenty of it, more than enough to “buy” one of the world’s premier sporting events.
That’s just the way it is in the modern world. Money talks louder than it ever did previously.
Those of us with a passion for sport will lap up the occasion and revel in the drama. But, once the grandstands have come down and the 2014 match is confined to history, there are many who will breathe a sigh of relief that normal service has been resumed.
One suspects that the majority of the good folk of Auchterarder and its surrounding area can’t wait for the Ryder Cup to be over.
CUP PICTURE COURTESY OF: Brent Flanders