VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) — France will host its first Ryder Cup after being awarded the 2018 tournament, beating out sentimental favorite Spain as the popular choice following the death of Seve Ballesteros.
The European Ryder Cup committee voted unanimously in favor of the French bid, which centers on the Le Golf National course near Paris – the headquarters of the French federation and venue for all but two French Opens in the last 20 years.
Spain, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands also entered bids, but tournament committee members said the security of having a course and infrastructure already in place was the key factor in the final decision.
“They have a first-class tournament venue already built, it is a stadium course with plenty of parking nearby and the capital city of Paris and Versailles is the hinterland,” said George O’Grady, chief executive of the European Tour. “In these tough economic times, we can see where we’re going. We’re leaving nothing to chance on building a new course. You could say, in that sense, we’ve gone for the certainty.”
Of France’s rivals, only the Netherlands had a course already built.
Spain had gone from being a long-shot to sentimental favorite following the outpouring of support after the death of Ballesteros this month. The Spanish great helped transform the Ryder Cup and was the patron of Spain’s bid team. Some thought the committee should honor his memory by awarding his country the 2018 event.
However, organizers ruled with their heads rather than their hearts.
“Seve has been part of their team, we have been well aware of it and we feel the emotion,” O’Grady said. “But we have evaluated the whole bid on its merits.”
It’s only the second time the biennial match between Europe and the United States will be played on mainland Europe – the first was in 1997, when Ballesteros captained Europe to a single-point win at Valderrama in Spain.
In what may have been an attempt to stave off criticism, the European Tour released a statement before the announcement saying it was looking at ways to honor Ballesteros, including the possibility of changing its logo to incorporate an image of the Spanish golfer.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy congratulated the French bid team and the country’s federation for their victory.
“The practice of golf and the sport’s development in France will now enjoy a new boom and take a new dimension, something the president is sincerely rejoicing with,” Sarkozy’s office said in a statement.
There was strong backing for the 2018 Ryder Cup by the French government, with President Sarkozy making it a priority among French sports this decade. France will host soccer’s European Championships in 2016, while Annecy is one of three bidders for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Pascal Grizot, chief of France’s bid team, said all registered golfers in the country will help fund the bid by giving $4.25 a year for 13 years. That effort has been ongoing for two years, when the 2018 bidding process began.
A legacy commitment, targeting the building of up to 100 6- or 9-hole courses in urban areas, also impressed the tournament committee.
“We had a very well-balanced bid and, in the end, the (small) details made the difference,” said Grizot, who heads the Ryder Cup commission at the French federation. “The decision … is a real honor for our country. Above all, it’s a huge accolade for all French golfers who have contributed to this project.”
Spanish bid chief Gonzaga Escauriaza praised France for the victory.
“We thought we had an excellent bid,” Escauriaza said. “But France presented a fantastic bid. We have to congratulate the French.”
However, he criticized rival candidates for making the death of Ballesteros an issue in the campaign. Escauriaza said he was disappointed to see some opponents claim that awarding the tournament to Spain as a fitting tribute to Ballesteros would be unfair.
“I saw some comments from some of the bids that they shouldn’t give it to Spain because of Severiano,” Escauriaza said. “I don’t think that was fair because there wasn’t a single press release from me mixing anything Ryder Cup with Severiano.”
Ballesteros was a patron of Spain’s bid. His family was among those suggesting that awarding the tournament to Spain would be an ideal way to honor him.
“It would have made my brother very happy, for it was one of his dreams,” Baldomero Ballesteros said at his brother’s funeral last week.
The European Tour’s current logo features a silhouette of Harry Vardon, a six-time winner of the British Open between 1896 and 1914. But many high-profile golfers want it changed to honor Ballesteros.