There was a time when the Spanish Open attracted the best that Europe could muster. There was a time, too, when it was played on courses that merited the attention of the best, that could readily claim to be venues worthy of a national open championship. But times have changed and it would appear that money more than merit dictates the venue, which very much governs the field.
If the Spanish Open field was undistinguished, the venue did not even attain the level of mediocrity. Seeing it only through the eye of the TV camera it had more in common with a building site than a golf course. Its vegetation and presentation were on a par with a public park. It came as no surprise to see that the gallery appeared to be made up of package tour holidaymakers.
The European Tour is ultimately responsible for sanctioning the venue of tournaments and must therefore carry the can for siting this event where it did. The fact that a new golf course on Gran Canaria was the venue for this year's Spanish Open rather suggests that the Tour is more interested in revenue rather than a good test of golf. It would appear that the venue goes to the highest bidder irrespective of the state of the course or the degree of test that it imposes.
Ironically, even with the Las Palmas government coming up with the readies to tempt Sergio Garcia (pictured) to pop over from the States to contest his national open, his winning presence failed to stimulate even the slightest local or international interest. It is a further delicious irony that Ballesteros owned Amen Corner Organisation, which ran the event, failed to induce the lad to visit Druids Glen for the Seve Trophy.
Like El Cortijo on Gran Canaria, Druids Glen may be a fun place to play but is it really a suitable venue to host a Ryder Cup? It certainly compares with The Belfry but so too do many other municipal parks.
There can be no doubting that Druids Glen provides facilities that compare with the best in the world and that the lads will be able to slip into their matching attire and other golfing irrelevancies in some comfort. Facilities apart, our American friends will be delighted with the Tour's venue choices. Druids, and The Belfry, are as American as apple pie. It is lush and lovely, tractably soft and long made to measure for the Tiger and his friends. The game played on such places is about as exciting as watching baseball while sitting on a wet plastic seat. Americans love that sort of thing.
With the evolving monotony of golf course design and consequently in the limitations in shots that have to be executed, is it any wonder that TV ratings and galleries are shrinking for all but the major events? The mantras of management schools and corporate architecture are being applied willy-nilly without any consequential thought. It is almost inevitable that the recruitment of the young to the game will suffer and that the middle-aged nuveau arrives to golf will approach it with the same commitment that they have to ten-pin bowling. It is surely only a matter of time before some armchair entrepreneur twigs to the possibility of indoor target golf with electronic scoring with soft drinks and sandwiches served to soft seating. It could attract a big viewing audience until another novel idea to entertain the armchair bound comes along.
Golf will happily survive the Tours' accountants and the corporate golf investors' attempts to rob it of all its character and values. One only has to play art Kingsbarns with a full tide running and a little wind from the west to appreciate that the real thing will persist.
On a real golf course it is not simply a matter of hitting a fairway and then hitting the ball a requisite number of yards to a receptive green before stroking a putt up to or hopefully, into the hole. On a real golf course the yardage is secondary to the accuracy of the shot's placement, combined with a judgement of how far the ball will run and where it will run. The game becomes one of concentrated thought and consideration. It becomes a challenge not about how far the ball can be struck but about where it is struck. It becomes a game of strategy, particularly with the approach shot for the greens on a great golf course require an application to study that in other circumstances might merit a cum laude degree.
The Las Palmas money must have been marvellous to induce Garcia to the Gran Canaria course. He could not have considered it inspiring far less challenging. Ennui seemed to overtake him eventually and he uncharacteristically squandered a comfortable five-stroke lead to a single stroke victory. It is amazing that he persisted at all!
One thing that did come out of this year's Spanish Open was the promise of another great Spanish talent in the form of Rafael Cabrerea, a 17-year-old local amateur who finished in fourth place. He is down for the St Andrews Links Trophy in May and for the Amateur Championship. He could be the next in the lengthening Spanish line of champions.
|| 2 - MAY 2002