This article was first published in Andalucia Magazine and is preserved here for its historical value.
The countdown begins..
The most important golf event in the world, played out between Europe and the USA will be held for the first time outside of Great Britain. The golf course in Valderrama, Spain will host the upcoming tournament of the Ryder Cup. From now until the celebration of this tournament which will take place in 1997, Andalucía Magazine will be publishing interviews with various personalities from the PGA European Tour, Ryder Cup Limited, Amen Corner S.A. and the golf club in Valderrama, in order to inform you about the Ryder Cup preparation.
On this page Interviews with:
Jaime Ortíz - Patiño. President of the Valderrama Golf Club
James Stewart, Director of the Valderrama Golf Club
Richard Hills, Director of the Ryder Cup '97
Juan Zumaquero, Golfpro in Valderrama
The History of the Ryder Cup
The origins of the Ryder Cup go back to the year 1858 in Preston, England, the town where Samuel Ryder was born. Ryder was a seed merchant who made his fortune in the seed trade. When Ryder was in his fifties a friend advised him to work less and take up a sport to improve his health. He discovered golf and almost immediately became one of its chief promoters.
Ryder began to actively work for the development of the sport, being especially concerned with improving the situation of professional golfers in Great Britain. One of his greatest achievements was the introduction of an annual trophy for a competition between a North American and a British team of golfers. This was called the Ryder Cup.
Since 1927 when the tournament was officially created, it has gone through many changes, the most important, perhaps, the inclusion of European players in the British team in 1979. The first to participate were Severiano Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido, followed by other excellent players, such as the German, Bernhard Langer; the Spaniards, Manuel Piñero and Olazábal and the Italian, Constantino Rocca.
Today, the Ryder Cup is a competition held every two years between Europe and the USA. Each team comprises twelve players and a captain (who does not play). The tournament lasts three days. On the first and second day, eight doubles, four foursomes and four matches are played and on the third day twelve individual matches are played.
The winners get to keep the original trophy, a gold cup with the image of Abe Mitchell, a professional player and Samuel Ryder's teacher, before risking it again in the next tournament. Until 1995, the Ryder Cup was played alternatively in the USA or Great Britain but next year it will be held for the first time out of the UK. Valderrama, Spain will host the Ryder Cup tournament in 1997.
"Personally, it gives me great pride to be able to offer Spain and Andalucía the Ryder Cup."
Even before the decision that the Ryder Cup was going to be held in Spain, Jaime Ortíz - Patiño offered Valderrama as host to this prestigious event. In 1993 when it was officially decided that Spain would indeed hold the Ryder Cup 1n 1997, Ortíz - Patiñ was more than prepared to fight to make his dream come true. There were four other candidates, but in May the decision was unanimous; Valderrama would host the Ryder Cup in 1997.
AC- Valderrama is an unconventional golf course. What is so special about this course compared to others of its kind?
JO- It is a course that is well cared for, well designed, very difficult to play and requires lots of attention and financing. I have two maintenance crews who work on alternating weeks which means that it is attended to every day. There are a total of forty people responsible for maintaining the perfection of this course.
Just a few hours ago I received a team of technicians from the committee of the American PGA who came to examine the course and they were duly impressed at the excellent condition.
AC- What kind of grass is planted at Valderrama?
JO- Planted on the tees is a variety of grass known as 'Bermuda' which originates in warm climates like Asia and East Africa. It doesn't require much water and is heat and damp resistant. The leaves are scarce but strong and grow from the roots which affects the direction the ball takes on the greens.
On the greens and approaches we have a grass which is typical of cooler climates, a bent type grass which has small, wide, flat leaves. It is susceptible to heat, needs lots of water, lots of attention and little wear. It's considered a luxury to have this grass. For me it's just a fanciful craze and I wouldn't recommend it as it needs a lot of care and attention.
AC- Being such an exclusive club, don't you think that the idea could be forming that golf is an elitist sport?
JO- When establishing this private club, I immediately had the idea of doing something for the public. That is why I was so interested in and insistent upon the creation of the nine hole La Cañada Public Golf Course which was designed by Trent Jones when he came to Valderrama. This was my gift to the village and what is more, on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, twelve players from La Cañada are allowed to practise at Valderrama. We charge them a symbolic sum which we subsequently hand over to their own club.
AC- Since Valderrama was announced host to the Ryder Cup, what changes have been made to the course?
JO- The only significant changes were carried out on hole 17. Trent Jones had already done a sketch but as he is 85 years old he couldn't expand it further so recommended that Severiano Ballesteros take over the final design phase.
AC- Regarding the actual facility and infrastructure, is it sufficiently spacious for an event of this kind?
JO- The course has adequate space to hold a tournament such as this. There is enough room for tents, the public, press, various services, a car park for twelve thousand cars, etc. However the Ryder Cup faces serious logistic problems. On the first day there are only four games in the morning and four in the afternoon, contrary to normal tournaments where there are games from eight o'clock in the morning until two o'clock in the afternoon and when the spectators can follow the player of their choice. Here at the Ryder Cup, the 27,000 spectators will want to be present at the first tee to witness the very first game and exactly the same will happen in the afternoon.
AC- How do you anticipate the Ryder Cup will affect Valderrama in the long term?
JO- As a golf club, the main result will be that of prestige. For me it's a source of great pride and pleasure. It's a great achievement for the golf club as it will be the first time that the tournament is not held in Great Britain. At the same time, it won't result in new members as it's not a club which is open to the public and there«ll be no financial rewards, as such. The results will be mainly of a private nature.
AC- What about Spain and Andalucía?
JO- In both cases it is a unique opportunity because it will be held in a touristic area, just as Turespaña wanted. Thus, it will attract quality tourism, such as golfers. Millions of spectators will follow the event on television and will witness the beauty of Andalucía. Those who come will act as ambassadors for the Costa del Sol to the rest of the world. We have good hotels, formidable golf courses, high class restaurants .... They will be spreading the word, saying: 'we've played golf, we've had fun, the climate is wonderful!'
Yes, I am very happy to be able to offer Spain and Andalucía this unique opportunity for promotion and success.
AC- Do you think golf will become a more popular sport in Spain?
JO- I am sure it will inspire the Spanish; however until there are more public courses available there will never be a mass appeal. In the USA there are ten thousand such courses, in Great Britain more than two thousand, in Ireland nearly all are public. We can do the same here. At present there are lots of golf clubs but most are private and, clearly, if golf is to be a popular sport in Spain, we have to introduce more public golf courses.
James Stewart came to Sotogrande fourteen years ago and his first contact with Valderama was was as a member of the club. In 1991 Ortíz - Patiño asked him for help in organising the Ryder cup campaign. Finally last year he was appointed Director of the Valderrama Golf Club.
AC- How many members are there in the club and what conditions must be fulfilled to play on the course?
JS- At the moment we have 330 members with the capacity for 500. Apart from the members, we receive non-members from midday to 2 pm every day. Men must have a handicap of 24 and women 30. The minimum age is sixteen but we tend to be flexible because we want to promote golf among young people.
AC- Which tournaments take place in the club?
JS- The club has hosted the Volvo Masters every October since 1988. And there are also private competitions at the club level, such as our Annual Championship.
AC- The Ryder Cup will be celebrated in Valderrama in about one year. Let's talk about your role in the organisation of this event?
JS- I am in charge of everything related to the club house, such as setting up the rooms that are going to be used by players during the tournament. Although they will be living at the San Roque Club, which is the official hotel of the Ryder Cup, the European team will have the TV room available and the American team will be able to use the bridge room. Furthermore, I am a member of the Valderrama Ryder Cup committee so I am involved in everything. We are not the organisers of the tournament, but are helping Ryder Cup Limited in every way we can.
AC- The tournament will begin on the 26th September. When are the teams expected to arrive?
JS- The Ryder Cup will be inaugurated on Friday and both teams are expected to arrive on Monday, as Tuesday will be the first day of play.
With regards the future of Valderrama, James Stewart says that after the Ryder Cup he will concentrate on improving the course at all levels so that it continues to be amongst the very best in Europe.
Richard hills is in charge of the organisation of the Ryder Cup and during a recent trip to Valderrama was interviewed by the Andalucía Magazine about his important role in the planning phase of this prestegious golf tournament.
Aside from being the director of the Ryder Cup, Richard Hills works as the Assistant Manager of the PGA European Tour; a well earned promotion after working in all areas and departments over the past twelve years. In 1989, Richard devoted himself to the Ryder Cup and, since then, has been engaged in the promotion of golf tournaments organised by the PGA. He is an expert on both the tour and the Ryder Cup and this year is taking up the directorship of the latter once again.
AC- We understand that the Ryder Cup is a venture between the British Professional Golfers Association and the PGA European Tour?
RH- The PGA and the European Tour are equally represented on the Ryder Cup committee. I work on the European Tour but, at the same time, am dedicated to the Ryder Cup. We have succeeded in building up a team of highly qualified people in all areas related to the tournament, ranging from Valderrama and the actual golf course grounds to the rules governing the matches and the conditions the teams will have to fulfil. In simple terms, we can say that the Ryder Cup will have twenty-eight basic golf rules but, at the same time, I always tell to people working with me that the most important thing is the actual game and we must concentrate above all on the players themselves.
AC- What is the relationship between Ryder Cup Limited as the organiser of this event and the Valderrama Golf Course as the host?
RH- We are working together in close collaboration. If I could describe what we are doing, I would say that we are actually setting up an open air five star hotel that will be in operation for exactly five days. This includes tents, infrastructure, electricity and water supply; essentially all the services necessary to run a tournament.
AC- We understad that about six hundred marshals will control the play and oversee the crowds. Are the Spanish and the Andalusian Golf Federation already working together with the various clubs within the organisation?
RH- Emma Villacieros, President of the Spanish Golf Federation and her team are working hand in hand with the Valderrama Club. The standards are truly international with the engagement of British, North American and especially Spanish clubs. For example, eighteen clubs, eleven of which are Spanish, are providing between twenty and thirty people to inspect every hole on the course.
AC- What is the role of the state authorities?
RH- We are in direct contact with the Andalusian authorities. The Andalusian government has set up an entrance area for the public which will be located in the region of hole four, together with a parking lot for cars and coaches.
AC- So, twenty-seven thousand spectators will come 'en masse' to see the first stroke everyday!
RH- Yes, but I have learned a lot since my first experience at the Ryder Cup in 1985. And one of the most important things to realise is that everyone will be there early in the morning to see the beginning of the match. In other words, all the people will come at the same time so we have to be prepared to attend to them. This is our main focus of attention at the moment.
Richard Hills has a difficult task ahead, but is evidently keeping calm. "It is just another tournament like all the others that take place in Europe. We have to plan it carefully and take the right steps, it is only a question of planning ahead.
Despite the burden of his responsibility, Richard Hills retains his sense of humour. To him, mobile phones are mere 'backswing chaos', and they are not allowed on the course. A rule which will remain in force throughout the Ryder Cup tournament.
AC- Why is Valderrama considered to be the 'Augusta' of Europe?
JZ- I know the course and think that it is very good. Unlike other courses it has the advantage of closing for five months of the year. It employs a full maintenance crew, has very few bunkers (45) and is well designed. In certain ways, Valderrama is even better than Augusta because here we have different textures in the fairways, rough and semi-rough. We cut around the green with different machines. There is actually one cut for the fairways, another for the greens and yet another for the tees.
AC- What makes Valderrama so special?
JZ- It's different because it is more difficult than other courses. It's constantly being changed and improved. There are six tee offs at different levels of play which should accommodate all types of players. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the visitors who play here are delighted because they can enjoy their game under magnificent conditions, surrounded by wonderful scenery and foliage.
AC- What changes are being planned prior to the start of the Ryder Cup?
JZ- From November to May, following the Volvo Masters, we shall be remodelling the 13th, 16th and 18th holes.
AC- Is it true that at there is a strong emphasis on conservation at Valderrama?
JZ- Yes, at this course, the conservation of greenery is of utmost importance. Since Sr. Ortiz Patino acquired Valderrama, five thousand trees have been planted, several of outstanding beauty. There are also many cork oaks; a species that is prevalent in very few areas. We have some species that are 250 to 300 years old. We have great respect for the surrounding countryside.
AC- After working here for so many years, what does the Ryder Cup mean to you?
JZ- Personally, it is a great source of pride that the Ryder Cup is to be held here. It's the third most important sporting event in the world after the Olympics and the World Cup. It is estimated that between five hundred and six hundred million people will watch it. I predict that the positive repercussions for Spain and Andalucía will be tremendous.