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A New Dawn
Jaime Diaz
September 22, 1997
There are no more mañanas for Valderrama, where all is ready for the first Ryder Cup in Continental Europe
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September 22, 1997

A New Dawn

There are no more mañanas for Valderrama, where all is ready for the first Ryder Cup in Continental Europe

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Since then Ortíz-Patiño's maniacal attention to detail has produced what is arguably the best-conditioned course in the world. Three weeks before the event Valderrama was in tournament condition, with the corporate and merchandise tents already up and the phone and electrical lines going in on schedule. "From here on, everything is fine-tuning," Ortíz-Patiño says. "Basically, we've done all we can do."

That, unfortunately, may be the problem. For all of Ortíz-Patiño's efforts, skeptics foresee this Ryder Cup as a disaster of traffic jams and gallery gridlock in a country and culture so unaware of golf that Ballesteros and José María Olazábal could conceivably walk arm in arm down Las Ramblas in Barcelona without causing a stir. The line among cynics is that the whole unwieldy, displaced vessel is destined to founder on the Rock of Gibraltar, which looms a few miles away.

Then there's the golf course, which, while immaculately manicured, is widely dismissed by golfheads as a tricky test with annoyingly narrow corners and overhanging cork tree branches that make some holes close to unplayable in a strong wind. The players almost universally despise the 17th hole, a par-5 redesigned by Ballesteros. The hole features a humped band of rough in the middle of the fairway and a water hazard fronting the green with banks so steep and slick that wedge shots with too much backspin routinely funnel into the drink. Although most pros are loath to offend Ortíz-Patiño, one member of the U.S. team says, "The course gives us the advantage because we've only played it enough to dislike it. They've played it enough to hate it."

Meanwhile, the same low-hanging tree limbs that impinge on the players will make spectating difficult. With 27,000 tickets sold and only four matches being played at a time on the first two days, the four holes without natural amphitheaters or grandstands will be impossibly overloaded.

Traffic coming to the course may he even worse. Although Ortíz-Patiño persuaded Spanish officials to widen the coastal highway west of Sotogrande from two to four lanes, he was unsuccessful in getting the same done to a 15-mile segment that runs east of the course. That means that the several thousand spectators who will be housed in the hotel-rich area around Marbella will almost surely run into bottlenecks. Some estimate that a journey of 45 miles might take three hours. To mitigate the situation, Ortíz-Patiño has gotten officials to create three lanes on a narrow stretch of the road, allowing two lanes to be used to handle the morning and evening rush. He has also arranged for 9.000 ticket holders to be shuttled in air-conditioned buses.

Such contingency plans wouldn't be scoffed at if they were being formulated in any European country other than Spain. The "can't do" stereotype is particularly prevalent in southern Spain and the province of Andalusia. At once the most festive and most poverty-stricken region of the country, Andalusia is a laid-back land of sun, water and sand in the overbuilt tourist towns along the Costa del Sol, yet a parched and primitive place in the inland agrarian villages. It is Spain's greatest stronghold of the ancient arts of the bullfight and flamenco, a region where the afternoon siesta and the late-night dinner are more prolonged than anywhere else. It is a wonderful place to soak in a rich culture but not a natural fit for 30,000 people all winking on a precise schedule.

"Perhaps it would be best not to discuss that," says Edward Kitson of the Ryder Cup Ltd., the European PGAs administrative arm in charge of managing the event, when asked about the inevitable culture clash that occurred when golf's irresistible force met Spain's seemingly immovable object. "Things got done, but it wasn't easy. Suffice it to say, there will be tremendous pressure on the infrastructure."

No one doubts that the Costa del Sol will show well in panorama. The blend of deep Mediterranean blue against the Sierra Ronda mountains dotted with glistening whitewashed houses—pueblos blancos—will be spectacular. "When they get up in that blimp and show that coastline, people are going to say, 'Where is that? I want to go there,' " says Dave Wallaby, a transplanted Englishman who runs a store named Planet Golf on the coastal highway near Valderrama.

The country that brought the archer to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, in 1992 in Barcelona, will provide other grace notes, especially for high rollers. Perhaps the most exclusive viewing area in the history of tournament golf will be constructed on a hill to the right of the 17th green. At $8,000 a head and limited to only 200 people (including Bush and Prince Andrew), the President's Suite will offer catered gourmet meals, a business center, valet parking and a clear view of the top of Gibraltar and what are sure to be some of the most crucial shots of the Ryder Cup. Although the second shots to the green will be difficult to see, they will be shown, along with action from all over the course, on a Jumbotron screen (one of three that will be, for the first time at a major golf event, located on the field of play) placed across the fairway for clear viewing by those in the suite as well as the 5,000 expected to sit in the amphitheater behind the green. Among the high-end accommodations oil' the course will be cabins in five ocean liners, including the QE2, luxury compartments in a passenger train, the Al Andalus, and rooms in a 17th-century convent. Tenor José Carreras is scheduled to entertain in concert during the week, while Andalusian horses will dress up the opening ceremonies.

"There is so much passion in this country, it's just a question of channeling it," says Ross Berlin, a 41-year-old American event marketer who has lived in Spain for two years while closely assisting Ortíz-Patiño in organizing the Ryder Cup. "Yes, the pace is slower, but not when things absolutely have to get done. Then the people have this tremendous capacity for effective work. I was panicking in April, but since then the push from the local area has been so great that I see a tremendously presented event."

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