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Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07808, in the name of Shona Robison, on one year to go until the Ryder cup. I ask members who wish to take part in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now. Before I call the minister to speak, I say to members that we will be extremely generous in terms of your speaking times today. We will also be quite generous in terms of scope, so if you want to talk about your favourite golf courses, feel free to do so.
I call Shona Robison. Minister—you have a generous 14 minutes.
There is no doubt that the miracle of Medinah in 2012 will be talked about for many years to come. Whether people were cheering for Europe or for America, I think that everyone will agree that the golf was spectacular and that the excitement was almost unbearable at times.
Medinah should—and always will be—remembered for the golf, but when the Ryder cup comes to Scotland in September next year, I want it to be remembered for much more than just the golf. I proposed the timing of the debate to coincide with our “year to go” celebrations, which took place earlier this week. As members may have seen from the media coverage, staging an event of this magnitude presents many opportunities for Scotland, for Scottish businesses, for our tourism industry, for schools and for charities, not to mention our own golfers of all abilities as well as golf fans—of whom, of course, we have many, here in the home of golf. I therefore thank the members who agreed to take part in the debate today—the one and only opportunity for members to discuss the opportunities that are afforded to Scotland by our hosting the Ryder cup next year.
Scotland is, of course, a country with rich traditions and year-round attractions. However, 2014 will be a special year, when we will welcome the world and showcase Scotland’s assets on the global stage. It will not only be the year when the Ryder cup comes back to Scotland for the first time in more than 40 years; 2014 will also see our second year of homecoming, which will be a year-long programme of events and activities to showcase all that is great about Scotland. Another great sporting event will also, of course, take place—the Commonwealth games.
With those important events on the horizon, it is vital not only that Scotland meet the world’s expectations, but that we as a Government and as a people use those opportunities to promote Scotland and to demonstrate once more that Scotland is a perfect stage for major events, whether they are sporting, cultural, local or international.
The success of 2014 will rely on a great many people and on many years of planning. The Ryder cup alone has been being planned for since the success of Scotland’s bid in 2001 under the leadership of the Rt Hon Henry McLeish. Since I was appointed as Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport in 2011, I have worked closely with Ryder Cup Europe and the Gleneagles hotel as well as VisitScotland, which have led on the planning and preparations for what I am absolutely sure will be the best-ever Ryder cup.
My priority, which I feel very strongly about, is to ensure that any major sporting event that is held in Scotland benefits the people of Scotland. The Ryder cup will do that in many ways; I will touch on some of them today. I am delighted to be able to announce that, in partnership with Ryder Cup Europe, the Scottish Government will be offering up to 50 young people from all over Scotland the opportunity and financial support to volunteer at the 2014 Ryder cup.
As we saw from the Olympics last year, volunteers play a crucial role in the success of major events. The training and experience that will be gained by volunteers is one of the many legacy benefits for individuals and for Scotland as a whole. However, we know that not everyone is in a position to meet the additional costs that are associated with volunteering. Our volunteering support scheme, which will run alongside the wider “Scotland’s best” initiative, will mean that up to 50 young people who face financial barriers to volunteering will receive structured training and financial support and, on completion of the training, a qualification that will boost their future volunteering and employment opportunities.
For the Ryder cup, there will be 1,800 volunteers in total from around the world—more than half those volunteers will come from Scotland. They will gain invaluable experience of working at a major event, but the experience that Ryder cup volunteers will gain is only part of the legacy that the 2014 Ryder cup will leave for Scotland.
For children and young people at school, the event will present an opportunity to learn about and to be inspired by golf and the Ryder cup. Earlier this week I joined the European and American Ryder cup captains—which was a pleasure—to launch an education e-resource that is made up of learning and teaching materials that cover everything from the history of golf to how hospitality and media are delivered at major events. The learning materials, which are in line with curriculum for excellence and were developed by Perth and Kinross Council in partnership with Education Scotland and Stirling Council, are openly available to all and can be used to inspire children from three to 18 years of age.
Through schools, in a once-in-a-lifetime competition, we will give every child and young person in Scotland an opportunity to be part of this exciting event, to learn from the experiences of those who are involved in organising every aspect of the event, and to have better links to getting started with the sport. The education resource has also been developed to have strong links with clubgolf, which is the Scottish Government’s junior golf initiative, so that those who are inspired by the 2014 Ryder cup will be able to forge links easily with local golf clubs and existing junior golf programmes.
I want to put on the record my thanks to the Auchterarder community school and its children, who hosted the launch of the education resource this week. They did a fantastic job and the two captains were very inspired by the children and what they saw.
Clubgolf is already a major legacy benefit of the Ryder cup and is an excellent example of how we can benefit from the opportunity that the Ryder cup presents. Since 2003, the Scottish Executive and Scottish Government have committed £500,000 annually to ensure that all children in Scotland are introduced to golf by the time they reach nine years of age. To date, almost 300,000 schoolchildren have been introduced to golf through clubgolf, and we expect that by 2018, 500,000 schoolchildren will have benefited from clubgolf. More than half of new junior golf club members last year joined through the clubgolf pathway, including a higher proportion of girls, which is fantastic.
The vast number of legacy benefits means that there is not enough time to mention them all just now, but I will return to those when we talk about our work with charities later in the debate.
I also take this opportunity to draw members’ attention to another golf event that will take place during Ryder cup week. The junior Ryder cup will take place on 22 and 23 September, also in Perthshire, at Blairgowrie golf club at Rosemount. The junior Ryder cup contest is designed to build international friendships between top junior golfers from Europe and the United States, and it features mixed teams of boys and girls who are under 18 years of age. The junior Ryder cup in 2010 was held at Gleneagles and we aim to build on the success of 2010 to get even more children attending. I am sure that this free event, which will be attended by many local schoolchildren, will inspire young golfers.
In addition to the great legacy benefits, the 2014 Ryder cup will bring great economic benefit. With match-day tickets already heavily oversubscribed—up by 38 per cent on the 2010 event at Celtic Manor in Wales—the 2014 Ryder cup is expected to see 45,000 spectators each day, and around 250,000 over the course of the week. To date, one in three tickets has been purchased by someone in Scotland, but we will have visitors attending from 75 countries, which is more than ever before.
In addition to the spectators, the extra staff who have been employed to build the event infrastructure will be on site from June until November, and many event volunteers are already seeking local accommodation for the week of the event. In total, the local area will play host to an additional 7,000 staff and volunteers during the peak period. That will translate into direct benefits not only to golf tourism but to the wider tourism industry. Although the benefits will be seen specifically across the accommodation sector, they will extend far beyond it to Scottish food and drink suppliers, travel and transport, other tourist attractions and the wide range of businesses that supply the tourism industry.
Encouraging our international and domestic visitors to take the opportunity, in attending the Ryder cup, to extend their visit to Scotland and see the great assets that we have to offer will be key to maximising the benefits from the event. Whether that involves their seeing more of Scotland’s amazing natural environment, visiting our great cities or playing some of the hundreds of other great golf courses in Scotland, we want to ensure that we seize the opportunity to showcase Scotland at its best. To that end, VisitScotland is scaling up its existing golf tourism marketing campaigns to use the Ryder cup to promote Scotland as the home of golf, in key domestic and international markets.
The Ryder cup will offer opportunities to drive increased inward investment. To achieve that, a business engagement programme is being prepared that will target senior business events and tourism contacts. In addition, we have worked with Ryder Cup Europe to ensure that procurement contracts are advertised to all Scottish companies through public contracts Scotland, the public sector procurement portal. That is the first time in Ryder cup history that such an approach has been taken, and it ensures that the event’s procurement opportunities are communicated to Scottish companies, which can then bid for contracts.
Another lasting legacy benefit of the Ryder cup is improved public transport access and amenities for communities in Perth and Kinross. Gleneagles rail station will play a crucial role in the transport plan for next year’s event, so in order to ensure that visitors receive the best possible welcome, and to leave a lasting legacy for the people of Perthshire, the station will be upgraded with a number of improvement works ahead of September next year. From the images, it looks absolutely amazing. The plans include a new link road to the station to improve safety and access, increased car parking, installation of new lifts to improve platform access, and refurbishment and reopening of waiting rooms and toilet facilities.
I am aware that some media attention has been given to the impact of the event on local residents and businesses and, in particular, to the local transport plans. I want to offer reassurance to members and constituents on two points. First, there is on-going engagement with local communities. Only last week, a series of community forums took place in several locations, which provided people with the opportunity to meet the event organisers and discuss any issues. Secondly, I offer reassurance that concerns are being listened to and addressed.
Members will appreciate the planning that is required for an event of such scale, and that complex risks are involved in moving large numbers of people safely to and from event venues. Transport planning for the Ryder cup is no exception and has been on-going for some time. Ryder Cup Europe, Transport Scotland, ScotRail, Police Scotland, local councils and others are engaged in a multi-agency approach to ensure that the transport plan for the 2014 Ryder cup is not only designed for the Ryder cup spectator, but will ensure the least possible disruption to local residents who might not wish to be part of the event but who want to go about their daily business.
As a result of concerns that have been raised, local residents and businesses have received information about special transport arrangements that will, without compromising the safety and security of the event, ensure that they will not be inconvenienced.
The face-to-face engagement process is on-going, with another set of forums planned for next year, and there will be other communications, such as targeted newsletters, to fill the gaps in between. In addition, anyone can visit the Perth and Kinross Council website for information, or speak to the dedicated Police Scotland Ryder cup community liaison officer. I pay tribute to Perth and Kinross Council, which has been extremely helpful and has taken the opportunity to make the most of the Ryder cup coming to its area.
I look forward to hearing members’ views during the debate, which is perhaps an opportunity for members to highlight some of the legacy benefits and what is going on in their areas. I am happy to accept the Labour amendment, because we really do not want to divide on such an issue if we can avoid it.
That the Parliament notes Scotland’s preparedness for the 2014 Ryder Cup, which will take place in one year’s time; commits to supporting a lasting legacy in terms of education, volunteering, infrastructure, tourism and sport; notes the initiative from the Scottish Government and previous Scottish administrations for the successful bid and the investment in Clubgolf and golf tournaments, and believes that such cross-party and cross-administration support firmly sets Scotland as the home of golf.
I think that this is the first time that a Parliament debate on golf will not be graced by the knowledge and passion of our late colleague David McLetchie. David’s enthusiasm for golf and skill in playing were well known—especially to those who sometimes competed against him. I was, unfortunately, not able to be present when Parliament paid tribute to him, so today I express my regret at his passing and offer my condolences to his family and his many friends, particularly those on the Conservative benches.
This time next year, Scotland will be in a state of high excitement as we watch the enthralling competition that is the Ryder cup. I watched with interest this week the events that took place to recognise and publicise the competition, with one year to go. I am sure that the minister found those to be an interesting experience. Who says that being the sports minister is not the best job in Government?
Colleagues will recall the thrilling finale to the 2012 Ryder cup, when Europe defeated the United States by 14 and a half points to 13 and a half points—an outcome that has set the stage beautifully for 2014. As the motion points out, Scotland is “the home of golf”, and it is fitting that the tournament will return to this country next year, having not been played in Scotland since 1973. That competition was, of course, played at Muirfield and was won by the USA with a score of 19 points to 13.
Until 1973, the teams that took part were the USA and Great Britain. Although Northern Irish players had taken part since 1947 and Republic of Ireland players since 1953, it was only in 1973 that the team name was changed to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Presiding Officer and colleagues may notice that I had anticipated that I might have longer to speak than I originally thought I would have.
For those with an interest in golf, being able to attend the Ryder cup on home soil will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, for all those with a love of sport it will be the culmination of a very special year that will be full of excitement and opportunity, and—if it is anything like Medinah—high drama, too.
As we have heard, clubgolf was established as part of the legacy of the Ryder cup and as a major component of the bid. It is a real opportunity for young people to have the chance to experience golf and, one hopes, to develop a love of the game that they will take with them into their later lives. All 32 local authorities are—to their credit—now involved, and some 73 per cent of primary schools are involved, which is excellent news. If I have one criticism, it is that I would be interested to hear what we can do to encourage the other 27 per cent of schools that do not seem to be involved to become involved and to take that opportunity for their school community.
It is particularly good to hear about the number of girls who are becoming involved in golf. We all know—we have debated it in the chamber before—the difficulty that exists in encouraging young women and girls to remain involved in sport. At a time when we are recognising that challenge, and when the women’s game is becoming so professional and so strong, it seems to be appropriate for us to reflect on the fact that girls are becoming more involved in golf than was perhaps the case previously.
I was interested to note that Ted Bishop, the president of the Professional Golfers’ Association in America, has indicated that he is envious of clubgolf. I think that he was right when he said:
“in 10, 15, 20 years from now, Scotland will have a Ryder Cup player that was part of this”
—“this”, of course, being clubgolf.
I was pleased to hear of the opportunities to attend Ryder cup practice days and the junior Ryder cup, as well as the other events in which many clubgolf players are taking part. I was also pleased that the Ryder cup organisers have been very supportive of the project. I recalled visiting the open championship a few years ago and hearing some of the players talking about clubgolf in extremely glowing terms.
It was absolutely correct for the First Minister to attend the Ryder cup last year; I would have expected him to be there to support the European team and to encourage people to come to Scotland in 2014. However, the part that I really cannot accept is that it cost £460,000 for him to do so. That is, after all, only a little less than clubgolf costs for one year. In my view, paring down the costs of that trip and spending a little more money on clubgolf would have struck a better balance, but I will leave that where it stands.
According to experience and research, the more sports a person tries out when he or she is young, the more likely he or she is to continue playing at least one of them into adulthood, so clubgolf also makes an important contribution to our healthy living agenda. Of course, clubgolf does not simply happen; it requires volunteers—parents and teachers—to encourage young people to become involved, and the active schools network is vital to making clubgolf a success and making links with local golf clubs possible.
In the recent past, golf enthusiasts would often tell of the length of time they had wait to join their local club and often measured their club’s prestige in terms of the years they had to wait to join. However, long waiting times do not seem to be such a feature of today’s golf club scene; indeed, evidence suggests that golf club membership has declined in recent years; my colleague Neil Findlay will say more about that in his speech. That is why Scottish Labour’s amendment suggests that the Ryder cup should be a catalyst to encourage players of all ages to take up the game and join a club, so I hope that the minister will be able to tell us a bit more about how the Scottish Government and its agencies plan to harness the great deal of enthusiasm that I hope will be generated next year to achieve that aim.
In my constituency, local people led by John McVicar organised and campaigned to bring a former municipal golf course back into use, and a couple of years ago successfully opened up the nine-hole Ruchill golf course. Such projects are very important to the local communities, but they need support and encouragement, which is where they tend to struggle. Funding to start such projects can be found quite readily, but finding the money that will enable them to keep going is a harder ask.
Although we on this side of the chamber welcome the Scottish Government’s sentiments about the Ryder cup’s potential legacy, we also have a number of concerns. Progress towards the 50 per cent tourism target has to date been a little disappointing, and although the Ryder cup and the Commonwealth games will undoubtedly increase the 2014 figures, there is no real guarantee that the 50 per cent target will be hit or that next year’s growth will be maintained in subsequent years. I know that earlier this month the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism launched a new golf tourism strategy that aims to capitalise on next year’s events and the open championships in 2015 and 2016, but as far as tourism planning is concerned it seems to have come a little too late. After all, tour operators from the countries that we want to encourage to bring sportsmen and sportswomen here plan quite far ahead.
I am sure that Graeme Dey is aware that a debate about VAT and taxation on tourism has been going on for a number of years in Scotland, but regardless of that element of tourism costs, the fact is that tourism in Scotland is an expensive and labour-intensive business with a lot of on-costs. As I understand it, the aim of tourism in Scotland has not been to get to the bottom but to drive up quality. That is the direction of travel that we should go in, and I know that it is the direction in which VisitScotland and others want to take us. However, there is an interesting debate to be had on the subject, not least in terms of the fact that a number of countries charge tourists but not residents for goods and services. That approach seems to be very popular in other countries and I have certainly heard it suggested for our own. We could spend an entire day debating that.
I am still a bit concerned that a charge is to be levied on each volunteer, because it not only limits the number of people who can apply but is somewhat of a contradiction in terms. We have been told that the charge will root out “time wasters”, which I thought was an unfortunate choice of expression, and I note that such a move was not necessary for the Commonwealth games, for which there were 50,000 applicants for volunteering places. That said, I very much welcome the minister’s announcement, which I think will go some way to ensuring that young people have the opportunity to take part in the Ryder cup.
I should make sure that Patricia Ferguson understands that the charge is not something that has been introduced for the Ryder cup in Gleneagles next year; it has always been the case that there has been a charge to recover the cost of volunteers’ kit at Ryder cup events. Of course, the volunteers are guaranteed time on the course. Furthermore, the package will cost a lot less than was charged in Medinah, where the registration fee was around £160, compared to £75 this year.
I understand that the charge was introduced after the Welsh event, but I will stand corrected if I am wrong about that. I will say that kit is being provided for those who volunteer at the Commonwealth games, and there is not going to be a charge for that. We need to be quite careful about that element. However, as I said, I genuinely welcome the minister’s announcement today.
Scottish Labour sees sport as having the potential to change lives and to inspire and motivate us all. We also believe that sport brings nations together, and we want to amend the Government’s motion so that it says that. Human beings can function well on their own, but for many people being part of a team is a fulfilling and rewarding experience. Our home-grown golfers certainly seem to have thrived in recent years and they have been part of a European team at the Ryder cup—proud Scots, working with others and pooling their talent to achieve a victory that we all want.
I have no doubt that Scotland is well prepared to host next year’s Ryder cup, and I believe that it will be an epic spectacle that will help to cement Scotland’s place as a sporting nation. However, it is an expensive event to host, and we must ensure that all the goals in the Scottish Government motion and our amendment are achieved, if it is to be more than just a great spectacle.
I move amendment S4M-07808.1, to leave out from second “notes” to end, and insert,
“believes that the Ryder Cup should be used as a catalyst for increasing participation in the sport by all age groups; notes the initiative from the Scottish Government and previous Scottish administrations for the successful bid and the investment in Clubgolf and golf tournaments; believes that such cross-party and cross-administration support firmly sets Scotland as the home of golf, and considers that the Ryder Cup is an excellent example of the way in which sport brings nations together.”
I welcome the minister’s remarks and her announcement. I also thank Patricia Ferguson for her kind remarks about our late colleague, David McLetchie. The last time that I saw David before his death, we talked a great deal about 2014, and it was clear to me that the most important event of that year for him was the Ryder cup. I was only on the golf course once with him, and it was obvious not only that he was a very fine golfer but that he played with the same commitment, enthusiasm and good humour that he had always shown in politics. I am sure that David McLetchie would have been keen on this debate, and I know for a fact that he would have probably been there for the whole week of the Ryder cup next summer.
I am one of few members of this Parliament who live just 7 or 8 miles from the 18th hole at Gleneagles. Along with those colleagues, I have witnessed the growing excitement at the fact that Strathearn and Perthshire will be holding such a world-class golf tournament—indeed, it is one of the world’s most elite sporting events and draws attention from all around the world. It is the first time in more than 40 years that this prestigious tournament will be in Scotland. Given the intense competition that there is among many other nations to host the event, it is likely that it will be some time before it happens again in Scotland, so, for most of us, it is quite simply a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I want to touch on three aspects of our holding the Ryder cup, all of which, obviously, have particular relevance to people in Perth and Kinross. The first concerns the logistics of the event. I was one of the people who attended a local community briefing on Thursday in Auchterarder—in the same community centre that the minister was in on Tuesday. That meeting was with the Ryder cup management team, and I have to say that I was very impressed by the work that is already under way to plan for the event—safety being paramount, as the minister rightly says.
Obviously, Strathearn is used to hosting such high-profile events, whether on the grander scale, such as the G8 conference, or on the scale of the Johnnie Walker golf tournament. However, even with that experience behind it, there are significant challenges.
The forward planning has been extremely impressive, and I welcome the steps that are being taken to communicate fully with local residents about what is happening. Nevertheless, there are some tricky issues with regard to changes to things such as the local road network. In some cases, the arrangements will be different from the arrangements that were in place for previous events, and there are therefore challenges with regard to access to businesses and vital services, as well as the usual challenges around crowd control.
As the Ryder cup management team said, we should never underestimate the logistical challenges of such an event. We must be mindful of the fact that a large section of the population will not be particularly keen on having the Ryder cup. I happen to disagree with them, but there is a group in the population who do not see it as the most important thing that could happen in their area. It is, therefore, important to keep all local residents at the heart of the planning.
The second issue is the economic benefit of hosting the tournament. The primary reason for golf tourists to come here is that Scotland is the home of golf, but we should not underestimate the number who come as a result of business and related sporting interests, many of whom will go much further afield than Strathearn. There is an excellent opportunity to increase the £220 million a year that comes from the sport.
A few weeks ago, the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism launched the first national strategy for golf tourism, “Driving Forward Together”, which aims to capitalise on the staging of the Ryder cup and the open championship to confirm Scotland as the world’s leading golf destination. That strategy, like other growth strategies, has been developed to build on the strong foundations of activity by the industry’s governing bodies and the public sector. The hope is that, as a result of the strategy’s implementation, the £220 million that currently comes to the Scottish economy will rise to somewhere in the region of £300 million by 2020.
Scotland is already competing well internationally according to the league tables, if I can call them that, of golf tourism hotspots for the future. There is reason to believe that the strategy can make a big difference to the tourism industry but, alongside that, concrete steps need to be taken. As we see from other Government strategies—I put no political colours on this—it is often difficult to live up to the targets that are set, particularly over a longer period of time.
We know that 2012 was a challenging year for Scotland’s tourism, and not just because of the appalling summer weather that we had. However, 2013 has produced much more optimism, which can only be good. People are in a more optimistic mood about what we can deliver, and that will be relevant when it comes to attracting a wider group of people to the Ryder cup. I was intrigued by the statistics that show that groups such as the Germans and the French are starting to return to Scotland, as those tourist groups had previously been in a bit of a decline. That is healthy news for the Ryder cup.
The opportunity to host the Ryder cup, which will be viewed by millions of people around the world, provides one of the best advertising opportunities that we could hope to have—far better than anything else—but, as the minister said, that needs to be articulated with the Commonwealth games strategy and strategies that are designed to assist business development for small and medium-sized businesses, which have had a much more difficult time of it. Some of the initiatives are first class, but we must ensure that that assistance is delivered in the longer term.
The third issue, which is important although much less well defined, is the potential sporting legacy of the Ryder cup. That is hinted at by Patricia Ferguson in the Labour amendment, which we are happy to support alongside the Government’s motion.
Two years ago, the First Minister said:
“Encouraging the next generation of golfers is crucial. Club golf gives thousands of children in Scotland the chance to play golf, putting a club in the hands of every nine-year-old in the country and creating the possibility of golfing success at the highest levels.”
The First Minister was absolutely right about that, but let us not be in any doubt about the fact that golf is an expensive sport and is not the easiest sport to attract youngsters to play. We should take a lesson from the “Scottish Golf Strategy”, which was put together by the Scottish Golf Union and the Scottish Ladies’ Golfing Association. Their analysis makes it clear that golf has suffered a lot from declining club membership. Lots of golf clubs around Scotland are not doing particularly well. When we talk about bringing youngsters into golf, we must be conscious of the fact that although they can be supported by club golf, they can face substantial fees when they go into adult golf. I entirely agree with Patricia Ferguson that this is about people not just tasting different sports, but trying to have a longer affiliation with a sport that can provide a longer-lasting benefit.
As the minister mentioned, she attended the launch of the Auchterarder primary school Ryder cup initiative earlier in the week. I entirely agree with her that the school and the children there have been absolutely superb in what they have achieved, and Perth and Kinross Council has done much to help with that.
The Scottish Conservatives warmly welcomed the £2 million of investment in Scotland’s junior golf programme, so it was good to see on Tuesday—and in the press since then—that children can become involved in golf in different ways beyond just playing the game. In trying to attract more youngsters to the sport and increase the percentage involved in school golf, we need to accept that not many schools actually have a golf section, so it will be up to the clubs to make this work. There is a message there about the numbers who can be involved and about the potential cost.
First, I thank the Presiding Officer for excusing me from the rest of the debate. I apologise to the chamber—I have an external event to attend.
Perhaps I could tee off my contribution—
I tee off by declaring that I am not a golfer, although many people with a visual impairment play golf.
Over the past few years, I have attended the Scottish Disability Golf Partnership events. At the most recent event, I played with a golfer who was blind, and it was one of the best experiences that I have had on a golf course. His putting was absolutely fantastic, so I encourage Mr Robertson to take up golf.
My experience of being on a putting green with my brother was that I was always sure that he was taking the best ball, because I had no idea where mine was. Perhaps that says more about my brother than it does about my putting.
I am also grateful to the Presiding Officer for the suggestion that we could widen the scope of the debate. Therefore, if the Presiding Officer will allow me, I will focus on some other aspects—
Before the member widens the fairway, perhaps I can add to what Mr Findlay said. I, too, have had the pleasure of playing with a blind golfer. When he teed off, he asked, “John, how far have I hit that?” I said, “How far do you want it to be?”
As well as attending the open earlier this year, I had the great fortune of attending the British blind golf tournament, where I met many a person—with a range of disabilities, actually—who I am sure enjoyed the game. They were much more enthusiastic than I would be in taking up the game.
In widening the scope of the debate, I want to mention that 2014 is an important year for Scotland. As we all know, 2014 is the year of homecoming, the year of the Commonwealth games, the year of the world sheepdog trials—for the first time, they will be held in Scotland, in Tain—and the year of the referendum. Of course, it will also be the year of the Ryder cup. Just before the Ryder cup takes place, perhaps history will be written and, with the will of the people, the Ryder cup will be played in an independent Scotland for the first time.
The Ryder cup and the other events that will come to Scotland next year will bring massive opportunities. We should open the doors to the vast areas that we have in Scotland. My constituency has 12 castles and one palace—that being Balmoral. I am not quite sure whether Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth knows that I am the MSP for the area, but the palace is in my constituency.
There are many opportunities for people to come prior to the Ryder cup and stay on after it to enjoy Scotland at its best. I am sure that, even during the Ryder cup, there will be golf widows and, perhaps, golf widowers. Why do they not take up the opportunity of visiting not only Scotland’s cities but many of our towns and villages, which will be able to offer our finest food and drink? In my constituency, we also have three distilleries—three fine distilleries, in fact.
The opportunities of, and the legacy from, the Ryder cup will be immense. Our transport infrastructure is benefiting by being upgraded for the Ryder cup. Our railway stations are an example. Aberdeen station—the closest to my constituency—will have free wi-fi facilities for the first time. That is, basically, a legacy from the Ryder cup.
Perhaps not so closely attached to the Ryder cup itself but still a legacy from it are the four charities that will benefit from it. In particular, Barnardo’s has said that young people could take the aspiration, spirit and ethos behind the Ryder cup—the inspiration behind the sport—in order to achieve. The coaching for life programme is the backbone of Quarriers at the moment.
Basically, the charities are saying that we should give our less-fortunate young people an opportunity. Let us embrace the spirit that will be around in the Ryder cup and give our young children, some of whom are less fortunate than others, an opportunity to reach their goals and to achieve their aspirations. That might not be to play golf; it might be to have a roof over their head or just to belong to a family.
We should not lose sight of the benefits that the Ryder cup will bring to the wider areas of Scotland and to those charities.
I welcome the minister’s announcement about the 50 volunteers who will be supported. Through Skills Development Scotland, perhaps they will achieve their goals. Volunteering will have no financial implications for them; they will be supported throughout and will gain a qualification. Who knows where that might lead them in the future? It might lead them into golf—perhaps working in a golf club—or just into tourism and hospitality, but at least they will be given the opportunity that comes with being part of the Ryder cup agenda and part of the spirit of the Ryder cup.
In 2012, it was said that the European team’s achievement was a miracle. It was not a miracle but was achieved through hard work, sheer effort and belief. We should take forward that spirit of sheer effort and belief for 2014. Regardless of who wins, Scotland will be a winner. We will have the legacy. We will have brought the Ryder cup, as well as other organisations and agencies, here. Most of all, we will have had people coming from 75 countries to enjoy Scotland’s hospitality. I say to them: the door is open—please come to visit Scotland and see what we can offer.
Indeed, I take the view that, as Mark Twain said,
“Golf is a good walk spoiled.”
Winston Churchill followed up on that by saying:
“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”
In my earlier life as a police officer, the first knowledge that I had of golf clubs was as the weapons of young men who went out for the occasional gang fight of a Saturday night. Therefore, I am ill prepared to speak on the subject of the Ryder cup.
I am obliged to the member. It is good to know that he was about at the time to hear that personally.
Many years ago it was a duty of mine to attend Turnberry on the day that Tom Watson won the open. At first hand, I was exposed to the glamour of the event, the excitement of the day, the adulation of the crowd and the impact on Ayrshire, which forms part of the area that I represent—the south of Scotland. On the back of that experience, I am not a complete philistine when it comes to the subject of golf.
For the information of members in the chamber, the Ryder cup first became known as such in 1927. It is great to know that it was an Englishman—a man from St Albans—who paid the 100 guineas so that the Ryder cup could be purchased for the purpose and the event could take place. I am sure that Scottish National Party members will forgive me for saying that one of the benefits of belonging to a United Kingdom is that our colleagues from across the home nations can come together in a sportsmanlike fashion.
There are four main issues that I want to raise in connection with the Ryder cup. First, it will provide a wonderful shop window for Scotland as an experience. The warmth of our people, the generosity of our communities and the culture that is Scotland are memorable for many folk who come to our land for such events. Over the decades, I have witnessed at first hand how people have come to Scotland for such events and gone away with a wonderful view of what Scotland is and what our people represent. Such investment in our world relationships is invaluable.
The Ryder cup will allow people to enjoy at first hand our environment and our clean air, to see the sights of our hills, mountains and lochs, and to experience the sheer peace that our country offers, which we too often take for granted. They will be exposed to our culture, our music and the gifts that our people bring with them from their experience and background.
Secondly, the Ryder cup will encourage tourism and investment in it, as Dennis Robertson mentioned. On the back of that, it will create the opportunity for business links and partnerships to be built for the future, and for investment to be made where it is needed most—in our landward areas, which will be able to attract blue riband tourism events in future. We can hope that the people who come for the Ryder cup will come back and bring their friends with them.
The third and, for me, most important aspect of the Ryder cup is that it will allow the development of education for our young people who will be exposed—in a way that I was not—to the experience of golf at first hand. They will be exposed to knowledge about what golf can do for them—for their energy and their completeness of balance in life experience. That will build in them health and a requirement to participate in activities in the open air.
The least advantaged children should be given that opportunity. I hope that the minister will say how we can encourage children who do not get the opportunity to go to golf courses and do not see golf as being for them, because they are the very people who need the experience and should be developed further. They should develop a taste for sport in the round; I hope not only that they would take pleasure in the game of golf but that it would introduce them to other games and sports. That creates the opportunity to develop the child as a whole.
Finally, with Government promotion the Ryder cup will benefit the south of Scotland. One hopes that the Government will promote the many courses across the south of Scotland. They are first-class courses that nobody ever hears about but which one stumbles into on tours around the country. When our visitors—particularly our American and Chinese visitors—go to those courses, they see them as the jewels in the crown. We need to laud that.
The Ryder cup will provide experience for the emergency services—for police, ambulance and local authority staff and many others—in how to deal with major events. That experience becomes invaluable when we face disaster and challenges that are less palatable.
The volunteering scheme is to be lauded, but the worry about sponsorship is genuine. I hope that those in the private sector who know about sponsorship will come forward to sponsor even more people to play a part in volunteering.
Financing for the coaching for life programme, which enables Quarriers to give young people a second chance in life, will be a wonderful outcome of the Ryder cup.
I hope that all the golfers will enjoy the experience with wonderful gusto; I might catch sight of it on the television occasionally. I only hope that Scotland benefits to the extent that all of us wish it to. If we can spend our lives in sport instead of unemployment and other downbeat ways, Scotland will be a wonderful place in the 21st century. I wish the minister well in promoting all aspects of the Ryder cup, and I support the motion and the amendment.
As a resident of Comrie in Strathearn, I am pleased to contribute to this debate on the Ryder cup, which is to be held at Gleneagles golf course next year.
The debate is turning into quite the confessional. I, too, am not exactly well known for my golfing skills, although I say in my defence that I was quite the putter in the Queen’s Park putting green that was opposite the tenement in Glasgow that I grew up in. However, I know how important golf is to the local economy in Strathearn, in wider Perth and Kinross, in the kingdom of Fife and throughout Scotland.
I very much welcome the minister’s announcement that the Scottish Government will ensure that up to 50 young Scots receive help and training to volunteer at next year’s Ryder cup. That is an excellent initiative, and it is part and parcel of the package of Ryder cup measures and activities to involve young people and other people in volunteering and to maximise the opportunities for Scotland.
For locals and tourists alike, golf is a star attraction, and the excitement is mounting locally at the tantalising prospect of the 2014 Ryder cup, which will be held a mere 16 miles away from Comrie. I very much welcome the confirmation that shuttle buses will run between Crieff and Gleneagles via Auchterarder. It is fair to say that the concern had been expressed that locals and fans alike in Strathearn would have to go to the park-and-ride facilities in Perth, Stirling or Kinross, so it is good news that all the organisations and agencies that are involved in the comprehensive planning project for this fantastic event have factored in such local concerns.
The arrangements for the shuttle buses demonstrate the organisers’ determination to facilitate local access during the competition and to promote local businesses, which is important. Specifically, those who will use the shuttle buses will need to demonstrate that they are local residents or that they have stayed overnight with a local accommodation provider. That is very welcome, and it provides a real fillip to local hotels, bed and breakfasts, chalets, lodges and other providers of tourist accommodation.
Indeed, I have seen that the marketing of local facilities is already well under way, with the prospect of transportation to the shuttle buses being laid on by tourist providers. I noted that, further to recent marketing by a provider of lodges in Comrie, in addition to free transport to Crieff complimentary rounds of golf are being offered at local courses such as those at Crieff and Comrie. That is an excellent initiative that shows how everything can pull together, with all of us acting together to get the most out of the experience. I imagine that at other courses in Strathearn, such as those in St Fillans, Muthill and Auchterarder, there will be the same enthusiasm to see what they can do to maximise opportunities, and I feel sure that that enthusiasm will be replicated across Mid Scotland and Fife and, I hope, beyond.
On local transport, it is of course very welcome that Gleneagles train station is to be significantly upgraded. We heard about the detail of that refurbishment from the minister. That is a very welcome local legacy of the Ryder cup.
Another key local transport issue is that trains are to stop at Dunblane. For those who are based a wee bit further south in Strathearn or who are staying in tourist accommodation to the south, that is very welcome, and it was warmly received locally.
As far as Auchterarder residents and businesses and those in the immediate vicinity are concerned, community engagement is on-going on local access, as there are key issues to be addressed. The on-going dialogue that has been referred to is vital to ensure that locally in Strathearn we can all enjoy the event and maximise the tremendous opportunities that are involved while ensuring that life can continue as normal or as normally as it possibly can.
The availability of updated information is crucial for the local community and fans alike. I am pleased to note that Perth and Kinross Council has created a dedicated website for the Ryder cup. There is a facility on that website to sign up for email information alerts. I am happy to have taken up that opportunity, so I expect soon to become perhaps a bit of an expert on the detail of the golfing activities, which I am not at this point.
I understand that traffic Scotland will play a key role on information updates, which will be important to ensure that all of us can move about. That is all very good news, and it paves the way for what will be a remarkable week in Strathearn and beyond.
The important issue of the legacy of hosting the Ryder cup has been referred to, and it has to be mentioned. In the minute or so that is left to me, I wish to highlight two other key aspects of the Ryder cup and what its legacy will mean.
The first is that the official charities comprise not only the excellent Quarriers charity, which has been mentioned, but Friends of St Margaret’s. St Margaret’s community hospital is in Auchterarder. The group recently set up its own website, and it is looking forward to the ballot. I understand that it will receive an allocation of tickets that it will be able to auction to raise money for local fundraising activities.
Perth & Kinross Disability Sport is also to be an official charity. That organisation works closely with Perth and Kinross Council and a number of local groups to develop sport for people of all ages and abilities.
The fact that two local charities are involved is very important to ensure that the benefits of the cup are secured, given that an element of disruption will be involved.
The other legacy element that I will mention is the 2014 Ryder cup education resource. As we have heard, it is to be made available to all pupils and teachers in Scotland and is to be linked with the excellent clubgolf initiative, which has been widely praised by, among others, Mr Ted Bishop, who is the president of the PGA of America. It is the innovation involved that will be the mark of success of the educational tool.
The 2014 Ryder cup is a truly massive fixture, not only for our sporting calendar but for Scotland as a whole. The interest and substantial benefit to be derived extend well beyond the world of golf, albeit that it is the fact that Scotland is the home of golf that ensures that the spotlight of the world will be upon us when we welcome back the Ryder cup.
I apologise as I will have to leave before the end of the debate, because I have to get home to Shetland tonight, although not, I hasten to add, to play golf—I will do that on Sunday morning.
I join one or two colleagues in recognising that, as Patricia Ferguson said, this is the first time since 1999 that we are having a debate on golf without David McLetchie, so there is a big hole on the Conservative benches. All of us who are golfing aficionados certainly miss him—probably not for the politics but certainly for the golf. David would have revelled in a recollection of the annual match between MSPs and the press, which a number of us, including Neil Findlay, Chic Brodie and others have played in over the years.
Neil Findlay will have noticed that Tom Watson said the other day that he would rather that there were no picks at all for the Ryder cup team. He thought that the “purest form” of the cup would be to have the top 12 Americans playing in the rankings as the American team. Heaven help us if that principle is applied to the MSP team when we play the press.
I thank the minister for her speech and for what she said about the development of golf for youngsters—boys and girls. The motion is entirely supportable, as is the Labour amendment. The important point is that policy in relation to hosting the Ryder cup and clubgolf survived a change in Administration. That does not happen to all policies, by any stretch of the imagination. It is entirely to the Government’s credit that it rightly carried on with the programmes and approach to the Ryder cup in such a positive spirit.
This is the home of golf, so it is right to debate what golf can provide, not just to England, Wales and Northern Ireland but to the wider golfing world.
There was a big debate about whether Gleneagles is the right course for the Ryder cup. The purists might say that it should be played on a links golf course, given that that is the epitome of Scottish golf. However, money talks and Gleneagles is the venue—and it will be fantastic.
I have to say that my grandfather was a member at the king’s course, and he would have much preferred that course to be used than the Jack Nicklaus-designed centenary course. I confess that I am a traditionalist, and I think that the king’s course knocks the socks off the centenary course. However, I am not the person who makes the decisions—nor can I hit the balls as far as the pros can, by any stretch of the imagination, which is why they play golf courses of 7,500 yards instead of the rather shorter king’s course.
A number of members mentioned tickets, but we did not get into the detail of the issue. I would love to attend, but like thousands of other golf fans in Scotland I will be watching on telly, because I never made it past the ballot. I would be interested to know how many Scots got tickets to watch the event. There will be a huge amount of corporate attendance and a huge number of people from all over the world, but how many ordinary Scottish fans will be there? In my home club in Shetland, I know only two people who got a ticket, and I wonder how many Scots got through the ballot.
Tavish Scott made an important point. People were barred from even getting to the ballot stage, because they had to provide a photograph first, and if they wanted to make two, three or four applications they needed to register individual pictures for each one. That meant that people were barred from even registering, let alone getting to the ballot stage. The issue should have been addressed at an early stage.
I honestly do not know the answer to that. I think most of us who are golf fans would frankly have done anything to have the chance of getting a ticket. The fact that we did not get one is just in the nature of the game.
On the Ryder cup itself, American success in Gleneagles next year—as opposed to the astonishing events in Medina last year—will be down to Tom Watson. He is seen by most golf fans across the UK as an honorary Scot. He has won the open championship here many more times than we can imagine. For anyone who has walked around with him—as I and many other Scots did in 2009 when he darn near won the open at Turnberry—I suspect that he is not so much the secret weapon of the United States team as a pretty obvious Exocet missile that they will fire at team Europe. Paul McGinley and his colleagues will have to be absolutely on their metal, and not just when it comes to playing golf, bearing in mind Tom Watson’s utter class and style in terms of how he conducts himself around a golf course.
That is at the heart of what the Ryder cup is all about. It is of course a team competition. As we have seen on many occasions, many of our players on the European side revel in the team experience. They might not win majors—Colin Montgomerie is the obvious example, but my goodness me he is the ultimate in team players, although Ian Poulter has rather taken over that mantle.
I was lucky enough to be at the Walker cup in New York a couple of weeks ago.
He might have won 40 major tournaments, but he has not won a major. Colin Montgomerie has said himself—I have seen him say it on television many times—that the mark of a world-class player, rather than just an excellent player, is winning a major, as the example of Darren Clarke and a number of other leading players from these shores illustrates. I wish that Colin Montgomerie had won a major. He had two or three chances. I could go through them, but I will not, because I cried when he did not make that seven iron into the middle of the green—but, anyway, we will move on.
The team element of the Ryder cup is essential because it brings so many important values to sport, such as the importance of team work and seeking to win for the team. Being at the Walker cup provided me with a real illustration of what needs to be done. There were no Scots in that team, but I am told by the Scottish Golf Union and leading amateurs in the game that that will change next time round, because there is a bunch of very good Scots coming through who will be competitive.
I know that Neil Findlay will say something about golf courses and the membership challenges, so I will not go into that. The only other point that I want to make about visitor income—the minister and Liz Smith mentioned the importance of visitors coming to Scotland to play golf—is that it is not just about Prestwick, Dornoch, East Lothian or the great championship golf courses that we all enjoy playing; it is about so many other golf courses across Scotland that any golfer can go and play.
Frankly, it is nearly impossible to play some of the championship courses, particularly Carnoustie, even for those of us who can play a bit of golf. However, one can go and play an awful lot of really good golf anywhere in Scotland, have a nice meal afterwards at a good clubhouse and just appreciate the experience that is golf in Scotland. I hope that the national tourism drive to bring visitors to Scotland from all over the world is not just about the big courses but the run-of-the-mill golf courses right across our country that provide a great Scottish golfing experience.
I echo the comments of Patricia Ferguson, Liz Smith and Tavish Scott concerning our late colleague David McLetchie. I cannot help but think that this debate is poorer for the absence of David, given the contribution that he would surely have made to it.
Sport retains a very warm place in the affections of our nation and in places beyond these shores. However, one cannot help but reflect on the tarnished nature of some areas of sport, certainly at a professional level, or on the obscenity of a footballer being traded for €100 million, while a teammate is rewarded for signing a new five-year contract with a salary reputed to be worth £15 million a year after tax but before bonuses, when we still have poverty and hunger in the world.
Too often, sport or those who become idols to youngsters as a result of their success in it are found to be unworthy of such adulation. Just yesterday we had a former snooker world championship semi-finalist thrown out of the sport for 12 years for frame-score fixing amid claims by the reigning world champion that cheating of that nature is widespread.
Earlier this year, a leading flat jockey was banned for 10 years for fixing races. The reputations of tennis and athletics have been besmirched recently by doping violations, albeit that in the former case it is accepted to have been accidental and in the case of several leading sprinters B test results are still awaited.
Worst of all, the sport of cycling remains in the shadow of Lance Armstrong. For every bad apple in each of those sports, there are many decent leading participants—people worthy and deserving of the respect of us sports fans—but with every scandal, our faith in those who are, and should be, role models to aspiring youngsters is diminished.
In among all that stands a shining example, in the form of the Ryder cup, of what sport should be about. I want to focus my contribution on the traditions of that event. By virtue of the off-course antics of the former world number 1, golf has attracted its share of adverse publicity. Surely no one would defend the existence of golf clubs that treat women as second-class citizens. However, I cannot—I say this as a former sports journalist—think of an event that better upholds traditional supporting values, while providing almost unrivalled competitiveness, than the Ryder cup does.
And what theatre! Three days of ebbing and flowing drama as participants in a sport, the individual nature of which is normally perhaps matched only by that of boxing, are forged into a team whose spirit, certainly in the case of the Europeans, is something to behold. A year from now, we will have it unfolding right here in Scotland as the Ryder cup returns to the home of golf for the first time since 1967.
The golf fans among us can all name the iconic moments of high drama that have made the Ryder cup what it is, such as 1985, when the cup was wrenched from USA’s grasp for the first time in almost 30 years as Seve Ballesteros and our own Sam Torrance inspired the Europeans to victory, Sam coming from three down at one stage against Andy North to seal the win with an 18-foot birdie putt on the last.
Two years later, Tony Jacklin led Europe to its first ever victory across the pond, thanks in large part to Ballesteros and José María Olazábal. Ben Crenshaw snapped his putter after going two down to Eamonn Darcy with 12 holes to play and had to use his 1 iron to putt for the remainder of the round.
In 1989, Christy O’Connor’s 2 iron approach to the final green finished 4 feet from the hole to clinch victory over Fred Couples, allowing Europe to retain the trophy by virtue of a draw, even though the Americans won the last four singles.
Two years later, at Kiawah Island, Colin Montgomerie battled back from four down to take half a point against Mark Calcavecchia, all in vain as Bernhard Langer missed from 6 feet on the last against Hale Irwin.
Yet in the midst of that incredibly competitive environment, traditional sportsmanship survives. The ethos of contesting the relatively modern day Ryder cup in the right way can be traced back to 1969 at Royal Birkdale, when America’s Jack Nicklaus conceded a missable putt to Tony Jacklin on the 18th to bring about the very first draw in the competition’s history. Of course, that was still enough for the USA to retain the trophy but, by doing what he did, Nicklaus laid down a marker for how the Ryder cup ought to be contested.
As the competition has gone from being contested between the USA and GB to being contested between the USA and GB and Ireland and then, from 1979, USA and Europe, future generations of golfers have heeded that approach.
At the 2006 tournament, who could forget the moment when Darren Clarke, still grieving for his wife Heather, walked on to the first tee at the K Club and his opponent Phil Mickelson held out his hands and embraced him? What about the final hole of the final match when American rookie J J Henry had to hole a 25 footer to halve with Paul McGinley and spare the USA its worst ever beating in the competition, and McGinley conceded the putt?
Four years later, Colin Montgomerie chose not to exercise his prerogative as home captain to set the course up to suit the Europeans because he wanted an honest test that would reward the best team, and we got a competition that went to the very last match before Europe prevailed.
What about in 2012, when Justin Rose sank a monster putt on the 17th and Phil Mickelson—who, remember, was part of a pumped-up US team—gave him the thumbs up?
The Ryder cup has surely changed the way in which we view golf—that is, those of us who play and follow the sport beyond those biennial three days of intense battle. Before Europe started to win the cup, how many of us Scots golf fans were particularly bothered whether an Englishman or any other fellow European was winning majors? Yet now, are we not just as pleased to see a Lee Westwood, a Justin Rose, a Miguel Ángel Jiménez or an Ian Poulter contending as a Martin Laird? Did we not all welcome Henrik Stenson becoming the first European to win the tour championship and FedEx cup at the weekend, because he is, after all, one of us?
That said, we are still first and foremost Scots—a nation with a proud tradition of Ryder cup involvement, supplying winning captains in Monty, Sam Torrance and Bernard Gallacher.
We have not done badly either with participants—Monty, Torrance and Gallacher, not to mention Sandy Lyle, Paul Lawrie, Harry Bannerman, Andrew Coltart and John Panton, among others. Let us not forget Brian Barnes, who contested six Ryder cups and famously defeated Jack Nicklaus twice in one day back in 1975.
Right now, we would not bet on there being a significant home representation in the European ranks at Gleneagles. Looking at the world rankings today, of the top 50 players eligible to turn out for Europe in the Ryder cup, just six are Scots, with only Martin Laird, Stephen Gallacher and Paul Lawrie sitting inside the top 30. However, any of those three and perhaps others such as Marc Warren, Richie Ramsay and Scott Jamieson could strike a rich vein of form and qualify for the team by right and, of course, Paul McGinley has captain’s picks, so I am hoping for a Scottish presence in the side. However, regardless of how many—if any—Scots make next year’s team, it promises to be some event.
The Americans have won just four of the 14 Ryder cups since 1983 and their triumph of 2008 at Valhalla is a distant memory following the miracle at Medinah last year when Europe, led on the course by the remarkable individual that is Ian Poulter and off it by Olazábal, came from 10-6 down at the beginning of the final day to triumph—a victory that the tearful Olazábal of course dedicated to Seve Ballesteros, who had tragically died a short time earlier.
Under the captaincy of Tom Watson, the Americans will be desperate for revenge. As Europeans, we will hope that Paul McGinley’s side resists that but, more than anything, surely all of us wish for a competition that once again upholds the very best in Ryder cup tradition and shows Gleneagles and Scotland in the most favourable of lights.
I say first that David McLetchie, who chaired the cross-party group on golf, which I attended, was a great companion on the golf course and a very good companion at the 19th hole.
This is probably not the right time or place to admit to an affair, but I do so now. It is a long-term yet unrequited love affair. No matter how much I shared my emotions, shed many tears and had the occasional smile—no matter how often I cared for and adored the instruments of that love, I confess that that love is still unfulfilled. My love affair of course is with the sport of kings and people—golf.
It is a love affair that spawned a son, of whom I am very proud, who is a senior teaching professional at one of the UK’s top country clubs, in Surrey. It is a love affair that has seen all my grandsons but in particular my four-year-old grandson Fraser outdriving their granddad. I am told by my son and my grandsons that I have an old man’s slow swing so, although I may love more slowly, I still do so as ardently and as compellingly as ever.
I also admit to having an obsession that is shared with many of seeking the holy grail and its possible physical manifestation at Rosslyn. That is mirrored by an obsession with seeking its sporting equivalent, be it at Muirfield, near Rosslyn; Troon in South Ayrshire, where we hold the 2016 open championship; Prestwick Old, where the first open championship was held; St Andrews with its Old, New and Eden courses, the new courses at Kingsbarns and the Duke’s course; and of course at Turnberry.
Turnberry is famous, as has been mentioned, for the 1977 open duel in the sun between two of the world’s greatest golfers—Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, to whom Tavish Scott referred. Turnberry is also famous because at the ninth hole on the Ailsa course stand the remnants of the castle where, allegedly, Robert the Bruce was born. Indeed it is a theatre that is suitable for heroes and kings of golf and of history.
In seeking the requital of that love affair, I have walked, I have hooked, I have sliced, I have duck hooked and yipped my way around courses such as Cruden Bay, Elie, Rosemount, Carnoustie, Ladybank and many of the other great Scottish courses.
Next year, although having played Kings, Queens and the former Monarch course, I will be allowed, I hope, to enter the new coliseum of golf, one of the great citadels—the Gleneagles Centenary golf course. It is an amphitheatre that more than matches those that have been mentioned, such as the Belfry, Kiawah Island and the beautiful course of Medinah, which held the Ryder cup last year.
The prospect of the competition between the great golfing regions of the USA and Europe, led respectively by the aforesaid Tom Watson and Paul McGinley is mouthwatering to a golfer. This will not be so much a rumble in the jungle as a fight on the fairway. For the first time in 40 years, since 1973, and for only the second time in the history of Samuel Ryder’s cup, Scotland will play host to the greatest gladiatorial golfing match play in history.
Welcome to the home of true golf—match play, not stroke play.
Yesterday, I played the Centenary course, which is a classic course, but regrettably, I could play it only on the internet. The greatest of all golfers, Jack Nicklaus, who designed it, described it as
“The finest parcel of land in the world I have ever been given to work with.”
I played it last night and I scored a respectable 70. Well, that was on hole 1, Bracken Brae, and then I moved on to the second hole. The web-based system tells the player that
“The green, slightly raised above the fairway, is bunkered at the front and back and lies at an angle.”
I do not know how McIlroy or Woods will approach that course, but I would certainly need a satnav to play it in reality.
So my love is coming home. The course has been adorned externally by an updated railway system, with timetables that we discussed with ScotRail at a dinner the other evening. Those who were involved should be congratulated on that adornment. The £5.27 million investment in the Ryder cup and the Commonwealth games has been money well spent. There are new and safe slip roads on to the A90, thereby exhibiting all that is good in our scenery and so much more. I make one appeal, however, which is that we keep all our new and old roads, new and old streets, free from litter so that we can present our country in its best light.
We will have an exhibition that demonstrates our welcome to all our international visitors and shows them Scotland’s quality food and drink, customer service, infrastructure, sensible hospitality and, hopefully, pricing, and efficiency. We should remember that we want our international visitors to come back, to come back, and to come back.
Above all, the real legacy will follow the Ryder cup. We have heard much mentioned about the concept of clubgolf. I have always subscribed to the idea and I am proud that the Government has pledged to put a golf club in every child’s hand by the age of nine, in the same way as I would like to see violins and pianos made available across the nation as they are in Raploch. Who knows? That might create a future Scottish golf champion. That should be our ambition and aspiration because, in its own tiny way, golf will play its role in a more expansive and happier Scots society.
Like any aspiring Lothario, I will enter the great golfing boudoir of Gleneagles to see great love being consummated next year. I applaud all who have been involved from government—the First Minister, the minister for sport, Perth and Kinross Council and many others who had the foresight to determine the huge return that there will be from a well-spent investment.
I am delighted to speak in support of the Government’s motion on preparations for what is one of the largest and most prestigious golfing events in the world, which, together with the Commonwealth games and the second year of the homecoming, will put Scotland well and truly on the international stage in 2014 as we welcome the world to Scotland. From the warmth of our welcome to the quality of the facilities we have to offer, we could not have better opportunities than the Ryder cup and the Commonwealth games to demonstrate that, as the minister said in her opening remarks, Scotland is the perfect stage for major events.
Many of those members who are geographically closer than I am to the Ryder cup location have already commented on specific aspects of the preparations for the event, so I will focus my remarks on some of the legacy benefits that we can secure as a result of the Ryder cup, such as wider participation, tourism opportunities, and physical activity and its implications for health and wellbeing.
There is no question but that Scotland has a huge amount to offer as far as golf is concerned—from the local public courses to the most prestigious venues, there is something for everyone. The Ryder cup gives us a platform to encourage more people and, in particular, our youngsters to take up the game. I very much welcome the range of initiatives that the Scottish Government has introduced to spark energy among our young people for the game.
There are opportunities to volunteer at the event, and in that respect I welcome the minister’s announcement about the new Ryder cup volunteer support scheme, which will give up to 50 young people from across Scotland the opportunity to volunteer and provide financial support for that. On Monday, 16 lucky youngsters from across Scotland, including my constituent 14-year-old Maria Cowan, a pupil at the Douglas Ewart high school in Newton Stewart, had the fantastic chance to take on the 2014 Ryder cup captains and golfing legends Tom Watson and Paul McGinley.
Maria Cowan’s golfing skills were developed through Scotland’s national junior programme, clubgolf, before she graduated to the Scottish golf development centre programme that is being supported by the Portpatrick Dunskey golf club and which enables some of south-west Scotland’s younger talent to receive coaching from top PGA professionals. I very much hope that Maria Cowan will go on to become one of the next generation’s golfing champions—who knows?
Dumfries and Galloway is already planning how to maximise the economic and tourism benefits from the Ryder cup. It is a part of Scotland that is rich in golf courses. People can play at Southerness, a championship links course on the Solway coast, which, according to Golf Monthly—a magazine that I read avidly—is one of the top 100 courses in Britain and Ireland. Dumfries has four courses, or people can play in the surroundings of Bruce’s castle at Lochmaben or among the stunning scenery of Luce Bay at Wigtownshire County’s stunning links course. That is not to mention the three golf trails that can be followed—the tiger trail, the challenge trail and the little gems trail.
I hope that many of the visitors who head to Gleneagles will bear in mind what Dumfries and Galloway has to offer in the way of hidden golfing gems. Given that many people will be travelling north through the region or through the Loch Ryan ports from Ireland and Northern Ireland, Dumfries and Galloway is ideally placed to add value to golf fans’ experience of Scotland. VisitScotland has certainly recognised that fact and has rolled out the gateway to golf scheme, which last year sold 4,000 rounds of golf, bringing in £85,000 to the participating clubs. So far, 18 of the region’s golf clubs are involved with the marketing project as well as 11 significant accommodation providers.
On the wider legacy for the region, Dumfries and Galloway Council is looking at targeted delivery of the clubgolf programme to primary 5 classes using primary physical education specialists. Last year, 100 of Dumfries and Galloway’s primary schools participated, with a target of 100 per cent coverage of the region for 2014. Dumfries and Galloway’s active schools and community sport teams are looking to develop links with golf clubs to expand on clubgolf, and local and regional primary golf competitions are now included in the region’s physical education, physical activity and sport calendar.
Next year’s Ryder cup at Gleneagles provides Scotland with huge opportunities to raise the general profile of golf as a sport and to embed the image of Scotland in the eyes of the world as the home of golf and a place that is resplendent with some of the best and most varied courses that can be found. In so doing, it will leave a genuine lasting legacy for the whole of Scotland in terms of education, volunteering, tourism, infrastructure and sport. I am therefore delighted that the Ryder cup will be back in Scotland next September.
I declare an interest as a member of Greenburn golf club and a member of the cross-party group on golf. I really do love my sport, but I am afraid that this is one of those times when people looking in from outside the Parliament must wonder what relevance this place has to their lives.
I do not know about you, Presiding Officer, but my postbag is not bulging with letters asking for my views on the subject of a year to go until the Ryder cup—
I thank Mr Findlay for giving way, but it is a wee bit disappointing that he has started his speech in that tone. Perhaps, in the next five minutes or so, the tone will change and he will become a bit more positive and optimistic.
Annabelle Ewing will know that I am always positive, so she has nothing to fear there.
As I was saying, I do not know how many members—other than those from very local constituencies—have had emails and letters about the Ryder cup; I do not think that many of us have. I am wondering what debate the Government will bring to the chamber next to allow its members to go to the Dunfermline by-election with: perhaps “Christmas—three months to go” or “Pancake Tuesday—six months of excitement left”.
Neil Findlay’s comments are very unfortunate. This is the one and only opportunity that the Parliament has had to discuss the Ryder cup. We have discussed the Commonwealth games on a number of occasions, and I hope that Mr Findlay will not say the same when we debate the games again later in the year. He needs to raise his game somewhat.
Do not worry—I will go on to the substance of the debate. There are many great things going on at the elite end of the game in Scotland, and we have a crop of very high-quality players who are among the top 500 in the world. They include people such as Martin Laird, Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher—and, of course, Catriona Matthews, who was a member of the team that was recently victorious in the Solheim cup, and Carly Booth, who is coming through very rapidly. Over the past few decades, Colin Montgomerie and Sam Torrance have been standard bearers for Scotland, flying the flag worldwide for the home of golf.
The hosting of the Ryder cup next year is, of course, eagerly anticipated. The match is, alongside the open and the masters, the top event in the golfing calendar. Over the years, as members have mentioned, there has been thrill after thrill. Any golfer—or any golfing or sports enthusiast who was watching—will never forget Bernhard Langer’s anguish at Kiawah Island, Torrance’s putt at the Belfry, or McDowell’s victory at Celtic Manor. The most recent Ryder cup at Medinah was just something else. I watched the match on an iPad in the middle of a ceilidh at the Labour Party conference—the things that one will do to avoid dancing with Margaret Curran, but there we go.
Over the years, Scots such as Bernard Gallacher and John Jacobs have played prominent roles not only as players but as captains too. Graeme Dey referred to the greatest Scottish story, in which the legendary Brian Barnes beat Jack Nicklaus at the peak of his powers twice in one day. I recall seeing Brian Barnes play at Dalmahoy when I was in primary 7. He was perhaps not the most shining example to young golfers, as I remember him marking his ball on the green with a beer can, which went down in golfing legend; I hope that people would not do that these days.
All that at the elite end of the game is fantastic, but at club level things are quite different, and many clubs are struggling in the current economic climate. Ten years ago many local clubs had waiting lists of five or 10 years, or even longer. Membership was a reasonable price, and demand was very high. In my area of West Lothian, clubs catered largely for the communities in which they were located, and local people made up a significant part of the membership. Now, due to falling incomes and wages being frozen, waiting lists have largely been wiped out as people give up membership or take their name off the waiting list because they simply do not have the money to join.
According to the Scottish Golf Union, adult male membership rates have fallen by 15 per cent since 2004, and there are 25 per cent fewer women playing. That has resulted in clubs’ income falling considerably while costs are increasing, and many are facing significant financial problems. In such circumstances, the temptation for clubs is to cut fees and day ticket prices to compete for a diminishing group of potential members and visitors. Such a race to the bottom on price could be a grave mistake, with clubs competing themselves out of existence.
Instead, we need to support clubs in planning ahead to maximise their income and cut their costs while maintaining the quality of their unique selling point: golf played in the country where the game was invented on natural courses and in beautiful surroundings. To that end, I want the Government, sportscotland, councils and the business community to work very closely with the Scottish Golf Union and clubs to expand the clubs’ business planning skills and knowledge, and I want the SGU management development programme to be rolled out to as many clubs as possible to support their long-term planning and sustainability and a not insignificant number of direct and supply-chain jobs. Given some organisation and time, there will be obvious opportunities to develop revenue and make savings—renewables development is an obvious example—and if clubs could work together and establish joint initiatives to save money on energy supply, insurance, the purchasing of maintenance materials, food and equipment they could achieve significant economies of scale.
The Ryder cup will be a huge global event in 2014 that will excite and thrill people; it will certainly excite and be relished by Scotland’s large army of fans. However, I hope that one of the greatest events in the game will not be followed by the disappearance of some long-established community clubs, because that would be a legacy that we could really live without.
Finally, a number of colleagues have mentioned David McLetchie. I twice partnered him in the annual match between the Parliament and the press pack and our partnership was socially successful if not always a sporting success. I am sure that it will surprise no one to hear that I tended to hit to the left and David much further to the right but in his excitement about the Ryder cup coming to Scotland he was like a wee boy. It is just very sad that he will not be here to see it.
In line with most of this afternoon’s speeches, mine will begin with my declaring an interest in that I have played golf—and I will probably leave it at that. Suffice it to say that from here on in I will be sticking to crazy putting with my children.
Nevertheless, I am a great fan of golf and the Ryder cup. Even many of those who do not enjoy watching golf find the excitement that it generates to be infectious. I note the comments that have been made about the victory at Medinah in 2012; for those who recall the match at Brookline in 1999, I note that it was good to see Europe doing the reverse at Medinah and coming back from a seemingly irreversible deficit on the final day against all the odds. What was particularly sweet was that the victory was secured by one of Europe’s more out-of-form players, Martin Kaymer; indeed, one of the beauties of the Ryder cup is that it often makes heroes out of players whose form up to that point might well have been patchy and who might not have been performing well in regular tournament play.
The Ryder cup is going to bring a lot of golf fans to Scotland in 2014. Obviously a lot of people in Scotland will attend the tournament but a lot of people from Europe and the US will be coming to watch and cheer on their respective teams. In that respect, there are obvious links not just to the wider tourism agenda that members have referred to but to the golf tourism agenda in particular; after all, many of these people will be keen golfers as well as golf fans and will be visiting not just for the duration of the Ryder cup but for one, two or even three weeks, depending on their schedules. As a result, we must promote the very best golf courses that are available. I appreciate that some might not want to play just the elite courses and, indeed, the elite courses are not always the best ones to play on. There are also very good municipal courses that are worth highlighting.
I want to focus on one course in particular—and I am sure that it will surprise members no end to hear that I am going to talk about Royal Aberdeen golf club, which is in my constituency. Between July 10 and 13 next year, Royal Aberdeen is going to host the 2014 Scottish open. In order to link this to the Ryder cup, I note that the course is also the one where, in 2005, the British senior open was held. That was won by the current US Ryder cup captain, Tom Watson, in a sudden-death playoff against Des Smyth, himself a previous European Ryder cup vice-captain. The course, due to its hosting of the Scottish open in the year of the Ryder cup and the fact that it has a link—albeit tenuous—to the current Ryder cup line-up, sees itself as being in a position to capitalise on the presence of the Ryder cup in Scotland and the ensuing golf tourism. Having spoken to Ronnie MacAskill, the director of golf at Royal Aberdeen golf club, I know that he is keen to see the club benefit in that way. In 2005, some 23,349 people came to Royal Aberdeen for the senior open. The club hopes that more than that will come in 2014 for the Scottish open, which is estimated to generate somewhere in the region of £10 million for the local economy.
I have mentioned previously the controversy that existed around the hosting of the event by Royal Aberdeen. That controversy arose not through anything that the Scottish Government said, but through the actions of some local councillors in Aberdeen, who have taken the opportunity to play politics with the event. I would hope that the issue will finally be dropped and that we can get on with looking forward to what will be a fantastic event for the city of Aberdeen, rather than seeing some people seeking to undermine the event for narrow political agendas.
I was interested in the mentions of the clubgolf programme and undertook to look up the statistics for Aberdeen—I was unable to get statistics right down to constituency level, but I got hold of the participation rates for Aberdeen. I hear what Patricia Ferguson was saying about wanting to encourage greater participation, and I absolutely concur with her words. However it is interesting to note that the Aberdeen figures show that the level of participation for girls is virtually the same as it is for boys—the last figures that were made available showed 650 girls participating and 662 boys participating.
As has been mentioned, the female game is on the rise in terms of skill levels—we see female golfers occasionally joining male tournaments in the United States, and I think that we will start to see more of that as the elite female golfers become ever closer to the elite male golfers in terms of ability. I am not saying that they are not capable golfers but, obviously, the physiology often leads to them not being able to drive the same distances, although that is becoming less and less of an issue. I hear Mr Findlay sighing, but I recently watched the Solheim cup on Sky television, and I have to say that I found it to be almost as exciting as any Ryder cup match that I have ever watched, or any other tournament. I think that the Solheim cup is very much on the rise as well, and perhaps Scotland should bid to hold it at some stage in the future.
Aberdeen has its own link to the Ryder cup through Paul Lawrie, who played in 1999 and was joint top point scorer and then played in 2012. It was something of a rich moment for Paul Lawrie—who was, obviously, on the receiving end of the Brookline result—to be able to be involved in the Medinah result; indeed, he played a key role in it, through his defeat of Brandt Snedeker in the singles play on the final day. Paul Lawrie has launched the Paul Lawrie Foundation, which encourages young people to get involved in the game and seeks to develop their enthusiasm for the sport. It and the Scottish Government’s clubgolf initiative are the kind of things that we should be seeking to advance and to support where possible.
I note Mr Findlay’s comments about the future of many golf clubs hanging in the balance, with depressed incomes leading to people taking themselves off waiting lists. I think that the Ryder cup might have the opposite effect, in that through the increased interest in golf that it could generate, more people might seek to take up the sport, in the same way as people often seek to take up tennis in the immediate aftermath of Wimbledon. Often, the ripple is very shallow, but we might see more people becoming interested in getting involved in local golf.
I wonder whether something could be done to support some of those municipal clubs that might see an upsurge in applications for membership with which they might find that they are unable to cope in the initial stages. Perhaps something could be done through the Scottish Government’s legacy work to help to support the clubs and enable them to take on more members, because we want to ensure that people who find themselves enthused and inspired to get involved in golf—or perhaps to get back into golf—do not find that they are unable to do so, because we want to encourage more people to take up the sport as a result of the Ryder cup.
I look forward to hearing the minister’s remarks in her closing speech.
I promise that there will be no golf jokes in my speech. I also confess that I am not a great golf fan. However, I am a fan of what the Ryder cup can do for Scotland and, unlike Neil Findlay, I welcome the debate.
The Ryder cup is the most prestigious team golf tournament and it attracts vast commercial interest from a large selection of multinational brands. It will also bring thousands of spectators for every day of the tournament.
The Ryder cup is a biennial men’s golf competition between teams from Europe and the United States. The venue for the competition, which is jointly administrated by the PGA of America and the PGA European tours, alternates between courses in the USA and Europe.
The Ryder cup is named after the English businessman, Samuel Ryder, who donated the trophy. Originally contested between Great Britain and the United States, the first official Ryder cup took place in 1927 at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts USA. The home team won the first five contests, but, with the competition’s resumption after the second world war, repeated American dominance led to a decision to extend the representation from Great Britain and Ireland to continental Europe from 1979. The inclusion of continental European golfers was partly prompted by the success of the new generation of Spanish golfers, led by Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido.
In 1973 the official title of the British team was changed from Great Britain to Great Britain and Ireland but that was simply a change of name to reflect the fact that golfers from the Republic of Ireland had been playing on the Great Britain Ryder cup team since 1953, while Northern Irish players had competed since 1947. Since 1979 Europe has won nine times outright and retained the cup once in a tied match; there have been seven American wins over the period.
The European team has included players from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden. The Ryder cup, and its counterpart the presidents cup, remain exceptions in the world of professional sport because the players receive no prize money, despite being high profile events that bring in large amounts of money in television and sponsorship revenue.
It is clear from the tournament ambassadors who were present on Monday to mark one year to go to the start of the tournament, who included celebrities such as Alan Hansen, Marvin Humes and Jodie Kidd, that golf and the Ryder cup captivate members of the public from all walks of life and age groups.
I am pleased to say that the Scottish Government established clubgolf in 2003, investing £500,000 in a project to introduce every nine-year old to golf, and that 260,000 children have participated in the sport through this scheme.
The Ryder cup is one of the premier sporting events in the world and will be broadcast in 183 countries and reach half a billion homes. Last year the Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport said that the Ryder cup would generate 45,000 visitors a day. I welcome her comments and hope that those figures can be reached and exceeded.
With Scotland’s increased visibility on the world stage it is estimated that the Scottish economy will benefit by over £100 million during the week that the Ryder cup is played. Those financial benefits will mostly be felt in the tourism industry by accommodation providers, the hospitality sector, food and drink suppliers, and travel and transport providers.
I hope that, although the international visitors are here primarily for the fantastic golf on display in Gleneagles, they will find time during their trip to visit some of Scotland’s other excellent tourist attractions and thus extend the financial boost to other parts of Scotland.
The advantages to Gleneagles, the surrounding areas and Scotland as a whole from hosting the Ryder cup are not limited to the financial gains. There should be an increase in participation and in support for golf clubs as—to repeat what Mark McDonald said earlier—more youngsters are encouraged to take up golf. Local infrastructure, such as public transport and amenities, will provide a lasting legacy to be enjoyed by members of the public for years after the event has finished. In addition, the official charities that are selected for the event will benefit hugely from their association with the Ryder cup and, in turn, will be able to do more for their chosen areas of expertise.
Like many members, I do not play golf, but as a local authority councillor I had a golf club within my ward. Bellshill Golf Club is an excellent organisation, with greens and fairways that are maintained to a high standard. Located beside Strathclyde park—another excellent local facility in Central region—the club has allowed my constituents to play the game of golf for 108 years. I hope that, due to the intense interest generated, the Ryder cup will encourage people like me, who have not previously experienced the sport, to take it up in the years to come. I hope that that will help local courses and encourage community spirit, given that courses serve as an excellent local hub where people can get together and socialise. Golf clubs, like bowling clubs, are an excellent setting in which people can socialise—they do so after the 18th hole, so the clubhouse is often said to be the 19th hole.
With one year to go, I wish good luck to all those who are selected for both the American and European teams. I hope that the 2014 Ryder cup produces all the excitement and drama that golf clubs and golf fans have come to expect from this most famous of tournaments. The point of having the Ryder cup come to Scotland is that it is an excellent facility and will ensure that Scotland will be on the front of most sporting pages for the week that it takes place. I welcome today’s debate and compliment the minister on the work that she has done on the issue in the past.
I was slightly surprised that Neil Findlay did not claim Samuel Ryder as a working-class hero. Samuel Ryder was born in relatively humble circumstances—his father was a gardener and his mother was a dressmaker—and he built his business from his little shed at the end of the garden behind his terraced house. He was the first person to send out penny packets of seeds, which he posted on a Friday to ensure that his working-class clients, having received them on Saturday morning, could use their time off on Saturday afternoon to work in their allotments. He built his fortune, which led to his endowing the Ryder cup, from an entirely working-class background. I hope that, when Mr Findlay reads the Official Report of today’s debate, he will tak tent of that background.
Of course, perhaps one reason why Mr Findlay did not speak about Samuel Ryder is that Samuel Ryder was also a politician. I was surprised that Tavish Scott did not make reference to the fact that Samuel Ryder got elected to St Alban’s town council in 1903, became the lord mayor in 1905 and continued to serve on the council until 1916. As a Liberal, he was extremely critical of his predecessors in office, who were also Liberals, so perhaps that explains why Tavish Scott said little about him.
In our country, golf is par excellence a sport that is broadly open to all. In the 1980s, my wife had staff in Tokyo, who told her that to join a golf club cost in excess of not 1 million yen but £1 million. Furthermore, the golf clubs in Tokyo were only driving ranges. They were not golf clubs with 18 holes of grass around which it would be possible to play the game that we associate with golf.
In many other countries, golf is a sport of the elite but, in Scotland, every town and village has some engagement with it. It is a very different kind of sport for us. That is why it is important not only internationally, but for all the people of Scotland that we are host to the Ryder cup. It is a sport for the masses in a way that it may not so readily be elsewhere.
“Scotland, for me, is home.”
Like other members, my golfing experience is more limited than I would wish. However, I will make a unique claim as the only member speaking in the debate whose average score on championship courses is par.
I should explain that, in the mid 1990s, I flew my pals Laurence and Tom across to play the Machrie course on Islay. I walked round with them and we came into the 10th hole—the Machrie burn hole. It is a formidable hole with a water hazard to the left, another to the right and some standing stones that the ball could bounce off. However, it was par 3 and it was only 110m. I was handed a club, fluked the ball on to the edge of the green, fluked it within 6in of the hole, and parred that championship hole. I handed the golf club back because I did not want to compromise my average score of par on a championship course. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I hope that, when time permits in future, I will return to golf.
Golf is an important business as well as an important recreation. The north-east of Scotland probably underperforms to some extent on tourism. However, one of the big draws that we have is our local golf courses and I hope that the Ryder cup will introduce them to a wider audience.
I will start with the Duff House royal golf course. It was redesigned in 1923 by Dr Alister Mackenzie who went on to design the world-famous Augusta national course. It is an excellent course—a classic links course—and the club has a wide social membership because the 19th hole is as famous as the other 18.
There is also Fraserburgh golf course. A well-known politician—the First Minister—plays on it from time to time. Let me give a little advice to members who have not played with the First Minister. He does not play a great deal and has no handicap but members should not be deceived. He will exploit that lack of handicap at the outset. Members should not let him con them. He is much better than many golfers who do not have a handicap.
The club itself describes the course in challenging terms as having
“undulating fairways … wonderful views … spectacular holes” and being
“a true links adventure from start to finish.”
Peterhead has a golf course as well. Buckie has Strathlene Buckie golf course. It is not an immensely long golf course—it is some 6,000 yards—but it is a cliff-top course that may see golfers being as friendly as they can be on a golf course and to golf balls by not striking the ball very often because it goes off and makes its own way in life.
Cullen golf course is described as one of the top 100 in the world. It was designed by Tom Morris. Our connections in the north-east with golf greats are quite substantial.
Perhaps one of the reasons why I did not get terribly engaged with golf is that, although my father—like me—was essentially right-handed, for some reason unknown to me, he played golf left-handed. Therefore, his golf clubs were left-handed golf clubs, which made it rather difficult for me. If I have not been as engaged with golf as I might be, I entirely blame him.
One of my interests is aviation. I exercised that interest when I flew my pals to Islay. At Edinburgh airport, light aircraft used to fly in to their own runway. That is no longer available—the airport has got too busy and the space is needed for other things. We used to fly over Turnhouse golf course. On our approach to the runway, we would occasionally get hit by golf balls. I am not quite sure whether that alarmed the pilots more than the golfers, but at least when someone skied a drive, we were there to knock it back on to the fairway. A number of our aircraft ended up with dents.
I will leave members with one little fact. There are very few sizes of golf clubs, and there is a good reason for that. If you stand beside someone whose height is 1 foot different from yours, you will find that your knuckles are the same height off the ground as theirs are—within 3 inches. Golf is accessible to all because everyone can use the same set of golf clubs.
I thank members for their kind words about our colleague David McLetchie, which he would have been touched by. I also think that he would have been faintly amused by some of the comments, not least by members’ frank admissions—and, in some cases, boasts—about their golfing prowess.
Members were absolutely right about David’s passion for golf. He also had a passion for cricket, which members will know is the game that is my primary passion. I once took David to a cricket dinner at which the famous Gary Sobers was the main speaker. The latter—rather unbelievably, I have to say—spent at least 20 minutes describing the six balls that he hit for six runs in the same over. On that occasion, he took some questions from members of the audience, one of whom was a certain David McLetchie. I was struck then by the extraordinarily encyclopaedic knowledge that David had of sport. I thought that Tavish Scott was going to share his encyclopaedic knowledge of all the golf holes round which he followed Tom Watson in 2009.
At that dinner, David McLetchie showed a great knowledge not only of sport but of the spirit that Graeme Dey talked about in what I thought was an extremely well-prepared speech about the values that emanate from the game. I compliment him on that speech, because I think that he said something very special about the intrinsic value of the Ryder cup.
It has been an extremely wide-ranging debate, which is a good thing. By that, I mean that, as well as providing facts, it has had entertainment value. That is good, because it tells us what it is about Scotland hosting the Ryder cup that captures the imagination—although I have to say, from reading the newspapers, that the issue that is most likely to capture the public’s imagination is who is picked for the European team. Speculation is intense about who those people will be.
We have heard a lot about the potential for economic and tourism development. We all hope that the hosting of the tournament will bring about a significant increase in the number of golf tourists who visit Scotland, not just in 2014 but in the years to come. The figure of 250,000, which is the number of visitors who are expected to attend the week-long event, has caused quite a sharp intake of breath in many parts of Strathearn, Perthshire and Kinross-shire, and I know for a fact that the hotels, bed and breakfasts and holiday rentals there are already very close to capacity for that week. Some extremely imaginative projects are being discussed with the business community in and around the area, and the schools and community groups have joined in that discussion. That is all good news.
As has been mentioned, over the years many Governments have announced strategies with great expectations of increasing visitor numbers, only to be a little disappointed by the growth years later. However, I commend the Scottish Government and the minister for all the work that is being done, because this is no easy challenge. We all have a part to play in ensuring that the Ryder cup is one of the best things that Scotland has ever hosted.
Members have mentioned what a magnificent venue Gleneagles will be. It already has a first-class reputation for hosting major golfing events and many world conferences, and I am sure that the Ryder cup will be another feather in its cap as such a venue.
The Ryder cup management team says that it is taking additional steps to ensure that the transport that is laid on from the park and rides takes routes that show visitors some of the best scenery in Scotland. There could hardly be a better invitation to come to Gleneagles.
Annabelle Ewing said that the new website that Perth and Kinross Council has launched to provide in-depth information to residents, visitors and local businesses is an important part of the information process. I am glad that the council is looking to refine that website as it gets feedback from the community. The way in which the Ryder cup management team has interacted with that is a strongly optimistic point.
Such information will be crucial in the coming months because, whether we like it or not, some residents and businesses in the surrounding area will still feel a little anxious about what the Ryder cup will mean for them on a daily basis. Every effort is being made to reassure them.
The legacy that is hardest to define is the sporting legacy. I mentioned that it is difficult to ensure that that legacy stays for a longer period. We should not just bring in youngsters to experience golf for a few days; we must have something that has lasting permanence.
It might be interesting for the minister to look at initiatives that colleges, universities and private schools in Scotland have taken; they have done a lot to offer new golf scholarships in their communities. We talk about philanthropists and the private sector, and it would be nice for such scholarships to be offered to state schools, because it is inevitable that there will be far more children in state schools who would want to take advantage of them. If we thought about building golf scholarships, we might have more success in providing a legacy that lasts for years to come.
There is no getting away from the fact that it is difficult for some golf clubs just now to afford to have a high membership of young people, who are not in a position to pay high fees. It would therefore be good if we looked at other areas for the extra-curricular commitment.
Positive work is being undertaken by the Scottish Government and—I hope—by all of us through the part that we have to play. It is great for golf fans, Scotland and Perthshire that Scotland is hosting the Ryder cup and it is great for the Parliament to be part of that exciting challenge, which I hope will bring us everything that we want and which the nation deserves.
The debate has been interesting and wide ranging—not just geographically, but historically. There have also been personal revelations, although we could have done without one or two of them. It is interesting to note the amount of therapy that we have provided by giving many members the opportunity to declare their lack of involvement in golf—so far. Perhaps we can do something about that.
I was interested to hear about the logistical issues from Liz Smith and Annabelle Ewing, who have local connections with Gleneagles. I was going to call them logistical “problems”, but many of the potential problems have been ironed out. I am sure that that was not done easily and that it took a great deal of planning over many years. I very much hope that all that hard work will pay off in the end.
Liz Smith was absolutely right to say that, although all of us would accept that the event will be excellent for Scotland, it may not be such an attractive proposition for those who will have it absolutely on their doorstep; it may disrupt their lives in ways that they will not appreciate. It is important that the views of such people are reflected in the plans that are being made.
Colleagues have been keen to mention that we should capitalise on the increased visitor numbers; of course we must do that. I hope that people who come here for the Ryder cup do not just come and watch the tournament, but will range throughout Scotland. Even if they are here only to play golf—which is an important thing to do—and to watch it, I hope that they will do that around the country on the many excellent courses here, some of which we have heard about.
I was going to say that Dennis Robertson made the best pun of the day, but he just had the first pun of the day. It occurred to me that perhaps VisitScotland has somewhat missed a trick in not having capitalised on his absolute enthusiasm for his region, and in not having somehow condensed it into a little advert that could be used to portray how excited people like him are about what the Ryder cup can bring to their area.
I was struck—I say this with my tongue slightly in my cheek—when Dennis Robertson regaled us with all the things that are happening in 2014. I mentioned that 2014 would be an exciting year; I am pleased that the Labour-led Executive had the foresight to provide most of the events in that year. The current Government has added an extra one in there as well, of course. Dennis Robertson’s contribution and those of other members in response to it say to us that we must remember that there are for some people additional barriers to playing or participating in any sport. Cost is often a barrier and we must always bear it in mind that costs are much higher for disabled people. A bike for a 10-year-old who wants to take part in sport or who just wants to play on a bike will be a couple of hundred pounds maximum, but if a disabled child wants a specially adapted bike, it will be £1,000 minimum for them to be able to have the same experience as their non-disabled colleagues.
I was struck by Graeme Pearson’s contribution. He must be one of the few former police officers whom I have met who does not play golf. I suppose that even non-believers might be inspired next year. We just have to cross that extra hurdle to get Graeme Pearson over the line. He made a valid point about the experience of organising major events such as the Ryder cup and being involved in them. The effect of that, and of the experience at such events, on the emergency services’ awareness of logistical problems in their area can be taken forward to less helpful situations. Graeme Pearson was right to raise that point.
I was also struck that Graeme Pearson, Annabelle Ewing and Richard Lyle admitted to not being golfers. I wonder whether we need to have an induction event for members in the run-up to the Ryder cup. That may be a bit too much of an ask for the minister, so perhaps the cross-party group on golf can do something about it.
Tavish Scott was right to identify the tickets issue. I have been delighted with the way in which the Commonwealth games tickets have been dealt with. I tried to get tickets for the Olympic games and eventually managed, but I had a number of complaints about that process, which I fed in to the organisers of the Commonwealth games, because I thought that those complaints needed to be fed in. The experience of bidding for tickets for the games in Glasgow was much easier than it was for the London Olympics. There was a lesson well learned. In fact, it was so well learned that I might be a bit unhappy when I see my bank balance, if I am successful and get all the tickets that I have asked for. There is a contrast, however, and we cannot really liken that event to the Ryder cup. They are very different events, but it would be interesting to see how many Scots manage to get tickets through the bidding process, and whether the number is as large as we would like it to be.
Tavish Scott’s enthusiasm for Tom Watson has slightly depressed me about our prospects next year. I will spend the remainder of the year trying very hard not to take that seriously, because I think that we can overcome even Tom Watson’s greatness.
I was struck by a comment that Tavish Scott made about golf courses around the country. I remember very clearly conversations a number of years ago, when we had direct flights from Stockholm to Prestwick. Unfortunately, those flights no longer exist. I think that I am right in saying that North Ayrshire Council was worried about the effect that they would have on use of its municipal greens at weekends, because Swedish golfers came to Ayrshire to play at points in the year when it was too cold to play at home, but could still play in Scotland. The council was thinking at that point about whether it might need to provide more municipal courses for those incoming golfers to play on. Sadly, that is no longer the case, but it is important that when we have such connections we maximise the benefit.
Liz Smith complimented Graeme Dey on his speech and I will do likewise. It was interesting and well laid out. As a keen observer of sport over many years, he had a lot to tell us, and we can learn a lot from his comments. He was absolutely right to identify the importance of golfers as role models. Sometimes young people are too inclined to see footballers as their role models.
I have been very struck by the bad press that Andy Murray gets for his demeanour, which I think is unjustified. Anyone who watched the documentary about Andy Murray that was shown before and after Wimbledon will know about his sheer drive and determination and about the sacrifices that sportspeople like him make so that they can reach the peak of perfection in their game. That is the kind of example that we want young people to learn from, and I think that many golfers are similar role models.
I was getting a bit worried during Chic Brodie’s speech. I was wondering how far he would take his analogy, if I may be brutally honest. However, none of us can be in any doubt about his passion for golf, which is to be welcomed.
Aileen McLeod talked about activity in her region. A few years ago I witnessed at first hand some of the active schools work that was going on in Dumfries and Galloway, so it is wonderful to hear that the programme is still growing. I do not know whether Aileen McLeod was hinting that a subscription to Golf Monthly would be a good Christmas present; maybe not, but at least she has put a marker down.
Neil Findlay was right to mention the SGU’s strategy. If clubs are having a problem, it is important that we work out how to get the young people who are involved in clubgolf into clubs in an affordable and sustainable way.
Mark McDonald will excuse me when I say that I rarely agree with him. Today, however, I agreed with almost every word that he said—I stress “almost”, which gives us both a bit of a way out. He was right to say that the Ryder cup generates special excitement, even among people who are not normally golf fans. He was also right to talk about the commitment of Paul Lawrie, who has been a longstanding supporter of clubgolf and was involved in it right from the beginning. No one should have any doubts about that kind of commitment, which is very welcome.
I am happy to do so.
Finally, I want to draw the minister’s attention to the good motion that George Adam has lodged on fair trade products and the food and drink charter at the Commonwealth games. She might like to say whether there is a similar commitment in relation to the Ryder cup.
Like other members, I look forward to an excellent event next year. I am delighted that so many charities will benefit from the event. We must maximise the economic, social and sporting opportunities. I wish everyone who will be following the tournament, whether they are watching it at Gleneagles or on television, all the joy that such an event can bring. Whoever is chosen for the European team, I wish them every success—and maybe I wish the USA team slightly less success.
I thank all members who took part in this largely constructive debate. As members said, David McLetchie would almost certainly have taken part in this debate. He certainly would have wanted to be at the Ryder cup next year. This place is all the poorer for his passing.
I do not want to dwell on Neil Findlay’s comments, which were not representative of a debate that has been positive. However, I will give this warning to Neil Findlay: if we are going to debate only things that come in by the tonne in our mailbags, I am afraid that sport would not get much of an airing. I think it is fair to say that the Commonwealth games, the Ryder cup and sport in general are not necessarily what fill members’ mailbags, but that does not mean that they are not important for this place.
Large amounts of public money are being invested in events such as the Commonwealth games and the Ryder cup, so it is right and proper that people, through this Parliament, are told about what that investment is delivering. I do not believe that Neil Findlay’s comments are representative of what Patricia Ferguson believes, as I know that she has a commitment to sport that has been demonstrated over many years. I did not want to let his comments go.
I will try to address the points that have been made as best I can. In her opening speech, Patricia Ferguson raised the issue of the charge for volunteers. I can confirm that charges were levied at Celtic Manor in Wales and when the competition was held in America. Celtic Manor was the start of that charging. It is important that we support our young volunteers who would not otherwise have the opportunity to volunteer at Gleneagles.
I should also say that we are working on a ticketing initiative that will help young people in particular—volunteers and others—to attend the Ryder cup. We will get more details on that later this year. It will be a gift-of-the-games opportunity to make sure that people who would not otherwise get or who could not otherwise afford a ticket for the Ryder cup will get what will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of it.
Before I move on, I say to Patricia Ferguson that I will investigate the fair trade issue in more depth.
Liz Smith made a very good speech about golf in the wider context of the golf tourism strategy. The Ryder cup will certainly help the upturn in European visitors, because many will come over for that event. She also raised the issue of the pathway from clubgolf into clubs. There is about a 15 per cent conversion rate from clubgolf to clubs, which compared with other sports is a very high conversion rate from an introduction to a sport. That is good. However, some clubs are better than others at having a junior membership programme that is affordable—either low-cost or no-cost. The message that we need to get across to clubs is that, if they get that right, they could have lifelong members who join very young and stay at the club loyally for many years. There is always more work that we can do.
We are trying to help clubs, particularly smaller clubs. The roving pro initiative helps clubs that do not have a pro there permanently. We hope that having access to a pro in itself will help bring in membership.
We are working very closely with clubs on how they can capitalise on the Ryder cup more generally. As we have heard, a lot of people do not have tickets. If clubs play it right and open their doors and have Ryder cup events, they could well benefit from a general increase in membership. We are supporting them to look at how they can do that.
Liz Smith asked about golf scholarships. We are always looking at other things that we can do and I will certainly take away what she said and consider it.
Graeme Pearson talked about the need for universal access to golf as a sport. Clubgolf has helped to open up golf to kids who might otherwise never have had the opportunity to play it. As part of that, a social inclusion pilot has been undertaken to provide clubgolf with information on how it can increase participation in areas of deprivation where there may not be a family history of playing golf. The results of that will be taken forward.
Scotland is in a fantastic position compared with many other countries throughout the world. Because of our municipal courses, golf is far more affordable here than it is in many other countries. We should celebrate that fact, although we must be vigilant, and if there is more that we can do, we should certainly do it.
Annabelle Ewing spoke well about the importance of the Ryder cup to the local economy. She also mentioned the local charities that are involved in and will benefit from the event. It is right that there is a good mix of charities. There are four official Ryder cup charities, including Quarriers, which provides care and support for thousands of vulnerable children. That is a really good charity partnership. There are also the Friends of St Margaret’s in Auchterarder, Perth & Kinross Disability Sport, and, of course, the McGinley Foundation, which is Paul McGinley’s charity. All of that means that some really good work will happen as a legacy of the Ryder cup.
No one would guess that Graeme Dey had been a sports journalist in his past. He made a very good, enjoyable speech, in which he took us back through all of the magical moments of the past few years.
Aileen McLeod talked about some of the fantastic new talent that is emerging. I saw that for myself at Gleneagles this week, when the Ryder cup captains teamed up with clubgolf players whose talent had emerged through the clubgolf structure. They were fascinated by the skill that those young players—particularly the girls, I have to say—were showing on the course. I predict—I think that it has already been said today—that, at some point in future, we will see an open champion emerge who started their career in golf through clubgolf. That will be a tremendous thing to see.
We have a magnificent opportunity next year to capitalise on the Ryder cup, and a lot of work and effort is going in to ensuring that we do so. I always believe that the best legacies start early. It was due to the foresight of predecessors that the opportunity was spotted to start that legacy early through the clubgolf initiative. The fact that by 2018 half a million children will have been introduced to the sport is something of which all of us can truly be proud.
I thank everyone who took part in the debate. It has been a positive debate and a good afternoon.