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On to Valhalla

Courtesy of the PGA of America

Photo: Courtesy of the PGA of America

The decision about where to play Ryder Cup matches isn’t always logical, and it’s difficult to judge how the site selection will affect the outcome. This year’s pick, Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, doesn’t seem to present an advantage to either side, but we’ll see how it turns out.

It can be a bit strange how Ryder Cup venues are chosen. In the 1950s, Great Britain and Ireland hosted the tournament at Lindrick Golf Club because it was the home course of the industrialist who wrote a check to keep the matches from being canceled. In the 1980s and ’90s, our side was looking for any possible advantage against the U.S., but in 1993 we foolishly passed up all our great seaside links and chose the Belfry, a parkland course any American would take to easily.

The truth is, though, the venue can be quite secondary. The competition comes down to the guys playing each other; the surroundings melt away as each match progresses. Now, if there was a big discrepancy between the two sides, you could set up a course to exploit that, but usually only a handful of players are super long or super straight compared with everyone else.

One year that the surroundings did matter was in 1979, at the Greenbrier. We’d never seen a hotel like that, and it was overwhelming. In those days we were still playing Tour events at places with rotted old practice balls and a car park to warm up on. Then we crossed over to America to find ourselves at a big, grand place like the Greenbrier, where every detail is flawless.

The venue I look back on as being a major advantage for Europe was Valderrama, in 1997. We felt like the course would have Tiger by the throat. You really had to thread your drives through the trees there, which at the time wasn’t his game. We felt Valderrama nullified him, and that gave us a big lift.

The only time the golf course was as dramatic as the actual competition was Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, which in 1991 was basically brand-new. Pete Dye built a heck of a course, and he did it while leaving the site raw and natural—walk twenty feet from the cup and you could be in pure wilderness. The bunkers were brutal; the wind was a beast. After thirty-six holes, we would collapse in chairs someplace and not want to get up.

Nick Faldo on the Air

Nick Faldo’s witty insights about golf and candid assessments of fellow Tour professionals can be heard on the following scheduled telecasts:

September 25–28, The Tour Championship, East Lake (Golf Channel)

October 23–26, Frys.com Open, Grayhawk (Golf Channel)

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