• Alistair Tait

So much for France’s Ryder Cup legacy

So much for France’s Ryder Cup legacy. Just over two years since those victorious scenes near Versailles, the French Open has disappeared off the European Tour schedule.

That wasn’t part of the narrative when France was awarded the match in May 2011. The Ryder Cup was painted as the key to delivering French golf to the land of milk and honey.

The French contingent was jubilant in the Wentworth Club Ballroom nine years ago when France beat out bids from Germany, Holland, Portugal and Spain. The French bid team could have been forgiven if they’d broken into the "La Marseillaise."

Jean Van de Velde was part of the bid team. He was in no doubt about what the match would bring to French golf. The 1999 Ryder Cup player said:

“This will be a huge inspirational factor for French golf. It’s a dream come true for France. There are a lot of good young French kids coming through the French ranks and this will push them harder.”

Fellow Ryder Cupper Thomas Levet was equally ebullient:

“It’s like getting the Olympics for us,” Levet said. “For the development of golf, for all the kids that are playing golf in France, it’s unreal. If we can get one million people playing the game, then I will be so happy.”

That one million figure was perhaps a wee bit optimistic. According to KPMG’s Golf Participation Report, there were 410,377 registered golfers (golf club members) in 2010. One year before the match, the same Participation Report showed a slightly lower figure of 410,171. Last year, KPMG reported a French participation figure of 412,726, a 0.62% growth year on year.

It might be a wee while before Levet realises his one million golfers dream.

There was talk of a plethora of new courses opening thanks to the successful Ryder Cup bid. Latest figures show there are 607 courses in France. There were 574 in 2010. An increase, but hardly a golf course construction boom.

What does this have to do with the French Open? Good question, but I would have thought Ryder Cup success would have had companies queueing up to sponsor the French Open. The tournament, one of the oldest on the European Tour calendar, wasn’t played this year for obvious reasons. Perhaps it’s not surprising it isn’t on the 2021 schedule considering its fall down the European pecking order last year.

After two years as a $7 million Rolex Series tournament, it came with a $1.78 million prize fund last year. The 2018 French Open featured Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Graeme McDowell, Tommy Fleetwood, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matt Wallace, Lee Westwood and winner Alex Noren. It had a strength of field rating of 288, fifth strongest European event outside the majors and WGCs. Last year that rating fell to 51, joint sixth lowest on the schedule, as Nicolas Colsaerts won in a field short name players.

There are gaps in the ambitious 2021 schedule the European Tour announced yesterday, with five tournaments and/or venues yet to be confirmed. Perhaps the French Open is one of them. Or maybe the French Golf Federation has decided its National Golf Week April 1-3 next year at Le Golf National is a better way to grow the game.

Maybe so. However, it’s sad day when a great tournament dating back to 1906 with illustrious winners like Arnaud Massy, J.H. Taylor, James Braid, Walter Hagen, Sir Henry Cotton, Bobby Locke, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle, Sir Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, McDowell, Fleetwood and Noren drops off the European Tour schedule

So much for France’s Ryder Cup legacy.

#JustSaying: ““We are committed to keeping the Open de France as part of the Rolex Series for 2019 and beyond.” European Tour CEO Keith Pelley in 2018

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