Choosing the next Ryder Cup site? Here’s why it’s complicated
With the close of this year’s Ryder Cup comes discussions of the ones yet to come. Rory McIlroy has already called his shot that Europe will win the next one, at Bethpage in 2025. Keegan Bradley is desperate to be involved there, too. Heck, everyone wants to be involved. But ask Francesco Molinari if he imagined his undefeated Ryder Cup performance in 2018 would likely be his last Ryder Cup as a player. Two years is a long time. A lot can happen.
Amid the hypothetical talk that unsurprisingly arrived last week was something slightly less hypothetical: Tommy Fleetwood tossed his name into the ring as an official ambassador for a proposed Ryder Cup venue in Bolton, England — just outside Manchester — about an hour from where he grew up.
“It would be a dream,” Fleetwood said last week at the Dunhill Links in St. Andrews. “I’ve played three Ryder Cups now and hopefully I’m going to play a lot more. And honestly, there’s nothing quite like playing a Ryder Cup at home in Europe. It’s very, very cool. I’ve never had the experience to play one in England, let alone the opportunity to play one from where I’m from in the northwest. Being involved in a project like that is very cool for me and what it can — the opportunities that it will bring not just for golf but anyone. Jobs, housing around the area, I think it’s much, much needed, and along with that, growing the game and introducing more people to the game that are from my area will be great.”
But then he said one more thing: “We’ll see how it goes.”
On paper, it’s fantastic that Fleetwood wants to bring a Ryder Cup to his home. But in reality, it is much more complicated. So far, it’s merely a bid — for England’s first Ryder Cup since 2002, back when the event was routinely played at The Belfry — and far from England’s only one. Luton Hoo, a luxury hotel in Bedfordshire, near London, is also in the running for a future Cup. The London Club, near Kent, has reportedly been linked to a bid as well. One seeming advantage both of those places have over the Bolton property? An actual golf course. The Bolton bid requires actually building a new, 18-hole track.
But oddly, that may improve its chances. Hosting a modern Ryder Cup, at least in Europe, is a bit like hosting the Olympics, an event from which venues erect out of thin air. There’s the bidding process, for starters. But there are also procedures that involve local governments, planning councils, etc. Bolton’s bid was only recently approved by the local council after initially getting rejected. The Ryder Cup has a complex web of needs, beginning with an endless stream of accommodations. When Germany put forth a serious bid to host the Cup that Rome ultimately won, it promised 7,500 hotel rooms and cooperation from 75 different hotels in the Berlin area. And that was simply one of Germany’s two accommodation concepts. No event in golf requires a greater footprint than the Ryder Cup, which is probably why Fleetwood spoke the way he did in the initial press release, promising that the proposal will bring jobs, housing, investment and tourists to northwest England. He’s not just convincing Ryder Cup Europe, but the surrounding town-folk as well.
Fleetwood as an ambassador makes perfect sense. He is already proving to be bit of a Ryder Cup stalwart, even if he’s the first to remind you that his partners have been peak-Francesco Molinari and Rory McIlroy. And he’ll be the ripe playing age of 40 by the time the 2031 Ryder Cup — the next one up for grabs — comes around. Young enough to still be playing, old enough to be a captain, spry enough to lead Team Europe’s efforts in any department.
But decisions made eight years in advance don’t always last in this finicky sport. The Italian bid for the Cup in 2015 was tied, in some fashion, to Rome’s concurrent bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games. Italian youngster Matteo Manassero was an official golf ambassador in 2009 when the sport was re-added as an Olympic competition. It all made plenty of sense — the Italian phenom leading the game back onto a global stage. But Manassero’s form plummeted in 2015, right before Rome won the RC bid. (Its Olympics bid died a year later.) He dropped from being a top 50 player in the world to hovering outside the top 300, where he has spent much of the last decade.
Instead of Manassero, Italy had the Molinari brothers to cheer for: Edoardo and Francesco. Those two were involved in Team Europe’s 16.5-11.5 victory earlier this month as vice captains. But it’s still slightly disappointing that no Italians were able to play for Europe. The event took place just days after Spain’s Carlotta Ciganda lit up the golf world, hitting two of the best shots of her life to steal the Solheim Cup from the Americans. With the King of Spain paying witness, and locals chanting Ciganda’s name into the night across nearby towns, it would be difficult to imagine a greater advertisement for the sport. And its now difficult to imagine Italy earning the same sort of national pride from its Ryder Cup.
When the Italian bid was selected eight years ago, director Marco Durante pointed out that there were just 100,000 golfers in the country, but that potential was high and interest was growing. Six years later, a report from the R&A revealed that Italy now boasted just 87,000 golfers. There was no bump in numbers from Molinari’s win at Carnoustie, arguably the greatest Italian golfing achievement ever. There was no direct pandemic-related bump in golfers, as was seen in other countries. Italy got its Ryder Cup — and one helluva Ryder Cup indeed — but Italy still may not be primed for any sort of golf boom.
Thankfully for Fleetwood, England is. Unfortunately for him, it still needs ultimate approval from Ryder Cup Europe. According to project directors, Bolton is not likely to be ready for the 2031 bid. And if Bolton is out of the running for 2031, perhaps making London Club or Luton Hoo a more attractive venue, would Ryder Cup Europe move in the direction of another country for 2035? Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal and Austria have all had bids denied in the most recent two campaign cycles.
Then there’s Spain, which was Rome’s greatest competition in 2015. Running adjacent to three English bids is one from Spain’s northeast, in Costa Brava. The Telegraph reported in January that Catalonia was the frontrunner for 2031, with the courses at Camiral Golf & Wellness (formerly PGA Catalunya) in Girona playing host. But then this summer the bid was amended, according to local outlets, to increase the property size by about 370 acres, adding 185 villas and a brand new golf course. Two months ago, that adjustment was denied by the Catalan government. If Spain’s current bid wins hosting rights to the 2031 Ryder Cup, it’ll have to be on the two courses already in place at Camiral Golf & Wellness.
Is that fine — it has hosted numerous DP World Tour events in the past — or is that a serious blip on the Ryder Cup Europe radar? Choosing a site means blending what’s there with what could be there.
Either way, we can expect an answer soon. Past bids have taken place eight years in advance, which means the decision on 2031 is already running a bit tardy.