9 Things To Know About the Ry­der Cup

Golf Digest Middle East - - Contents - by ryan her­ring­ton

It’s go­ing to be a big party . . . for some­body.

An un­usual dis­or­der seems to over­come tour pro­fes­sion­als who have played the Al­ba­tros Course at Le Golf Na­tional, site of the 42nd Ry­der Cup Sept. 28-30 in France. Call it tem­po­rary am­ne­sia, for the lack of a more clin­i­cal di­ag­no­sis.

When dis­cussing the Hu­bert Ch­es­neau/Robert von Hagge de­sign in gen­eral terms, the early re­views are typ­i­cally com­pli­men­tary. The con­sen­sus among play­ers is that you don’t have to be long off the tee to score. And though the need for solid shot­mak­ing to ma­neu­ver around the nu­mer­ous lakes, humps and bumps is real, in sev­eral spots the course af­fords the chance to make amends for mis­takes.

“It’s a great test of golf,” Justin Thomas said when he got his first glimpse in July while play­ing the French Open. “It’s not like there are any hid­den tricks or any­thing like that.” How­ever . . . Grab the pros af­ter they’ve walked off the course, and they men­tion what they seem to have for­got­ten: The place plays harder than it looks, par­tic­u­larly the four claus­tro­pho­bic clos­ing holes lo­cals re­fer to as The Loop of Doom.

“It’s a golf course that can re­ally beat you up if you’re not on your guard,” says Thomas Levet, one of three French­men, with Jean Van de Velde and Vic­tor Dubuis­son, to have com­peted in the Ry­der Cup. “You don’t nec­es­sar­ily think about it

like that. It’s a bit crafty that way, al­most diabolical.”

Con­sider the dev­il­ish end to July’s French Open. A par 4 on the 18th would have given Ju­lian Suri the win, but the Amer­i­can’s ap­proach found the wa­ter guard­ing the green and led to a dou­ble bo­gey. Eng­land’s Chris Wood also dropped shots on the 15th and 17th, and Jon Rahm didn’t even last that long, mak­ing a triple-bo­gey 7 on the 12th hole. Alex Noren fin­ished more than a half-hour ahead of the fi­nal pair­ing and played the last four holes in two un­der to win.

Still, if the Al­ba­tros Ail­ment holds, all will be for­got­ten come September, the adren­a­line of the bi­en­nial com­pe­ti­tion fu­el­ing both teams. For the Amer­i­cans, the goal is to win away from the United States, some­thing that hasn’t hap­pened since 1993. The Euro­peans are try­ing to keep from los­ing two straight matches for the first time in that 25-year span.

This is just the sec­ond time the Ry­der Cup will be played in con­ti­nen­tal Europe, the other com­ing in 1997 at Valder­rama in Spain. Le Golf Na­tional of­fers nu­mer­ous riskre­ward op­por­tu­ni­ties, pre­sent­ing op­tions that should make it an in­trigu­ing match-play venue. Com­bined with the lo­ca­tion—20 miles south­west of cen­tral Paris and five miles from his­toric Ver­sailles—and the not- so- small fact that sev­eral play­ers oc­cu­py­ing both ros­ters seem to have their games in peak form, there’s the po­ten­tial for a dra­matic three days out­side the City of Lights.

To get you fully pre­pared, here are nine things to know about the Ry­der Cup venue.

IT’S NOT A NEW COURSE

The Al­ba­tros opened on Oct. 5, 1990; the in­au­gu­ral four­some fea­tured ma­jor cham­pi­ons Greg Nor­man, Jeff Sluman and Ray­mond Floyd join­ing French pro­fes­sional Marc Farry. It was the cul­mi­na­tion of a nearly decade-long en­deavor by Claude-Roger Cartier, the pres­i­dent of the French Golf Fed­er­a­tion and a quiet, be­hindthe-scenes pres­ence in the rise of the Euro­pean Tour.

Cartier’s idea was to cre­ate a per­ma­nent home for the French Open—the old­est na­tional Open in con­ti­nen­tal Europe, played since 1906—and es­tab­lish a per­for­mance cen­ter for France’s na­tional teams in hopes of in­creas­ing the pro­file of golf within the coun­try. To carry it out, he found roughly 340 acres of state-owned land in the Paris sub­urb of Saint- Quentin-en-Yve­lines and ne­go­ti­ated a 99-year lease with the government.

The mas­ter plan in­cluded 45 holes—Le Golf Na­tional has a sec­ond 18-hole course, the Aigle (French for ea­gle), and the nine­hole Oise­let (birdie)—and a teach­ing academy for golfers of all lev­els. Of course, it was not an en­tirely phil­an­thropic mis­sion—the prop­erty in­cludes a 131-room re­sort.

One in­ter­est­ing wrin­kle in Le Golf Na­tional’s cre­ation: Be­cause the prop­erty had been used for agriculture pur­poses, it was de­cid­edly flat. Cartier, who died in 2014 at 93, worked with lo­cal author­i­ties to have soil ex­ca­vated from build­ing projects in Paris and trans­ported out of the city. An es­ti­mated 56.5 mil­lion cu­bic feet of dirt was trucked in and used to shape the cour­ses.

Since its open­ing, Le Golf Na­tional has hosted the na­tional Open ev­ery year ex­cept 1999 and 2001; no­table win­ners in­clude Colin Mont­gomerie, Retief Goosen, Graeme McDow­ell (twice), Martin Kaymer and Tommy Fleet­wood.

IT’S ALSO A “NEW” COURSE

Af­ter the Euro­pean PGA Tour awarded it the Ry­der Cup in May 2011, the French Golf Fed­er­a­tion made good on its prom­ise to up­grade the Al­ba­tros. Ac­cord­ing to Paul Ar­mitage, gen­eral man­ager of Le Golf Na­tional, nearly €8 mil­lion was spent on course ren­o­va­tions, mostly done in 2014 and 2015.

Chief among the changes was length­en­ing sev­eral holes, in­clud­ing the three par 5s. The course is listed at 7,234 yards for the Ry­der Cup with a par of 71. Other no­table up­dates:

Cre­ation of a lake, in­tended as part of the orig­i­nal de­sign, in front of the par-3 11th hole, re­plac­ing marsh­land that had dried up.

Re­designed greens on the first and 16th holes to al­low for more pin po­si­tions.

En­hanced drainage to meet the re­quire­ment that the course can open within three hours af­ter any sig­nif­i­cant rain. That’s an at­tempt to pre­vent a re­peat of the Mon­day fin­ish at Celtic Manor in Wales in 2010.

Re­con­struc­tion of all bunkers to in­clude con­crete bases.

Cos­metic al­ter­ations also were made through­out the sur­rounds of the course. Fes­cue was added on sev­eral holes, and wood rail­road ties were in­stalled around sev­eral lakes. “The greens were sort of fall­ing into the wa­ter pre­vi­ously,” Ar­mitage says.

Tra­di­tion­al­ists might balk, say­ing the changes have made the course a bit more “Amer­i­can­ized.” Ar­mitage in­sists the es­sen­tial char­ac­ter of the orig­i­nal de­sign re­mains.

“It’s now not quite so rough around the edges,” says Levet, who won the French Open at Le Golf Na­tional in 2011 (one of six Euro­pean Tour wins, the most of any French golfer) and cel­e­brated by jump­ing into the wa­ter be­side the 18th green—only to break his leg.

THE COURSE IS BUILT TO HOLD A PARTY

Land around sev­eral of the clos­ing holes was re­shaped to make for bet­ter—and big­ger—ar­eas to build cor­po­rate hos­pi­tal­ity chalets in an­tic­i­pa­tion of 60,000 fans and vol­un­teers each day.

Those ea­ger to watch the start of any match will ap­pre­ci­ate the mas­sive grand­stand sur­round­ing the first tee. The largest of its kind in Ry­der Cup his­tory, its ca­pac­ity is 6,500, com­pared to 2,148 seats at Gle­nea­gles in 2014 and 1,668 at Hazel­tine Na­tional in 2016. Many of the seats also of­fer a view of the 18th green.

To make sure this party is seen world­wide, fiberop­tic ca­bles were laid around the course, all feed­ing into the three sep­a­rate TV com­pounds in use dur­ing the matches: one for NBC/Golf Chan­nel in the United States, one for Sky Sports in the United King­dom, and a sep­a­rate world feed.

THE COURSE HASN’T GOT­TEN HARDER AF­TER THE REN­O­VA­TION

At least if you’re us­ing the French Open’s win­ning score as a barom­e­ter. Noren’s seven-un­der 277 in July was the first time since the bulk of the ren­o­va­tion was com­pleted in 2015 that the champ didn’t shoot dou­ble dig­its un­der par. The av­er­age win­ning score the past four years has been 10.75 un­der par; the av­er­age win­ning score in the 13 years be­fore was 10.6 un­der par.

THE COURSE WON’T FAVOUR ONE TEAM OVER AN­OTHER (WINK! WINK!)

The not-so-well-kept se­cret of the Ry­der Cup is the in­flu­ence the home cap­tains have in course set­ups, the as­sump­tion be­ing that they’ll cater con­di­tions to ben­e­fit their 12-man side. In 2016, the vis­it­ing Euro­peans howled about how wide open Hazel­tine Na­tional played and the easy hole lo­ca­tions that set up a birdie-fest.

In charge this time, the Euro­peans would seem­ingly de­sire thicker rough and nar­row land­ing ar­eas off the tee to counter the Amer­i­cans’ per­ceived length ad­van­tage off the tee. Euro­pean Ry­der Cup cap­tain Thomas Bjorn in­sists that he does not en­vi­sion seek­ing many changes com­pared to how the course played in July.

“It’s not a big driver’s golf course, but we know that,” Bjorn says. “It’s not like you’re go­ing to hit 14 drivers. There are go­ing to be a lot of irons. That’s the way the golf course has al­ways been.”

Per­haps, al­though the wispy fes­cue was plenty thick and the fair­ways nar­rower than some ob­servers re­mem­bered from years past. And by some ob­servers, we’ll in­clude McDow­ell, one of Bjorn’s vice cap­tains. “We al­ways like to set it up a lit­tle tighter and a lit­tle tougher and maybe not hav­ing the greens quite as fast,” McDow­ell says. “Does it favour our guys more than theirs? We think it does.”

We won’t call Bjorn a liar, but we will call the Euro­peans’ bluff. Don’t be sur­prised if the rough is rougher and the fair­ways thin­ner when Amer­i­can cap­tain Jim Furyk ar­rives with his boys.

WA­TER WILL PLAY A FAC­TOR

Ten of the Al­ba­tros’ 18 holes have wa­ter at least par­tially in play, in­clud­ing six on the back nine. The greens on the 15th, 16th and 18th holes all have wa­ter guard­ing the ap­proach shots. This could be­come par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing in four­somes matches, when play­ers who tee off on the odd holes will face the daunt­ing sec­ond shot into 18 hav­ing po­ten­tially hit their last ap­proach shot on the 12th hole.

THE COURSE ROUT­ING ISN’T CHANG­ING FOR THE RY­DER CUP

A trend at team match-play events— Hard­ing Park and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club for Pres­i­dents Cups, and Hazel­tine Na­tional for the 2016 Ry­der Cup—has been to re­con­fig­ure the rout­ing so tra­di­tional clos­ing holes will see ac­tion re­gard­less of whether matches end early. But what play­ers en­counter each year at the French Open will be the same for the Ry­der Cup.

THE COURSE WILL GET MORE IN­TER­NA­TIONAL AT­TEN­TION

When the Olympics come to Paris in 2024, Le Golf Na­tional will be the site of the men’s and women’s golf com­pe­ti­tions.

THE FRENCH ARE BE­HIND THE EVENT (CON­TRARY TO SOME RE­PORTS)

Michael Lorenzo-Vera, a 33-year- old Euro­pean Tour pro, sur­prised some with his out­spo­ken com­ments this sum­mer about Ry­der Cup prepa­ra­tions in his home coun­try. He told The New York Times there is lit­tle ex­cite­ment lo­cally for the event and that golf’s neg­a­tive rep­u­ta­tion in France was un­der­min­ing the matches.

Not sur­pris­ingly, event or­gan­is­ers dis­puted that. Euro­pean Tour CEO Keith Pel­ley stated that through June, French fans have pur­chased 43 per­cent of the 51,000 daily Ry­der Cup tick­ets sold. That, he said, sur­passes the 37 per­cent of the daily tick­ets sold to Scot­tish fans in 2014 at Gle­nea­gles.

“The sup­port we have had from ev­ery­one in France, the government, the French Golf Fed­er­a­tion and the fans has been su­perb, and th­ese num­bers bear that out,” Pel­ley said.

The French Golf Fed­er­a­tion re­ports that the event has al­ready boosted in­ter­est in the game do­mes­ti­cally. As a con­di­tion of host­ing the event, the fed­er­a­tion com­mit­ted to build­ing 100 short-course train­ing fa­cil­i­ties through­out the coun­try. Nearly all are com­pleted, and the fed­er­a­tion says 30,000 new golfers have taken up the game, sig­nif­i­cant for a coun­try with roughly 410,000 reg­is­tered golfers.

“We be­lieve the event can have a last­ing im­pact on golf in France no mat­ter what hap­pens that week,” Ar­mitage says.

Of course, golf fans ev­ery­where are long­ing to see some­thing spe­cial take place the last week of September.

‘IT’S NOT LIKE YOU’RE GO­ING TO HIT 14 DRIVERS. THERE ARE GO­ING TO BE A LOT OF IRONS. THAT’S THE WAY THE GOLF COURSE HAS AL­WAYS BEEN.’

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