2018 Ryder Cup organisers aim for 600,000 registered golfers in France and ridding of elitist image
The organisers of France’s 2018 Ryder Cup, golf’s biennial teams competition between Europe and USA, have targeted an increase of close to 200,000 in the number of registered golfers in the country by 2022 as the country’s golf authorities bid to shed the elitist reputation that the sport suffers at home.
There are currently 425,000 registered members of FFGolf, the French golf federation, and Pascal Grizot, the chairman of Ryder Cup France 2018 (and vice-president of FFGolf), is keen to push that figure up to over 600,000 over the next eight years.
Speaking to Sportcal on the final practice day ahead of the 2014 Ryder Cup in Gleneagles, Scotland, Grizot said that there are 800,000 golfers in France and the challenge now is to turn them into registered members, even if there remain concerns at FFGolf that it has not raised the number by as much as it would have wished since Le Golf National on the outskirts of Paris was awarded the 2018 Ryder Cup three and half years ago.
He said: ‘‘Our strategy is to transform these golfers into registered golfers because we need the money that they are paying to be a member to build a strategy to develop the game.’’
The 600,000 target forms part of the stated aim of the 2018 Ryder Cup organisers to make golf the most popular individual sport in France (it is currently fourth).
The French golf authorities feel that the hosting of the event, the construction of 100 ‘compact’ golf courses and the emergence of new French golfing talent will all help to develop the game in the country.
FFGolf and the 2018 Ryder Cup organisers are looking to the popularity of Victor Dubuisson, France’s world number 23 and a member of Europe’s team this week, plus emerging players such as Alexander Lévy and Romain Wattel to raise golf's profile in France.
The French federation has created 68 of the 100 ‘compact’ courses it promised to build ahead of its hosting of the 2018 Ryder Cup, including courses of just six, nine or 12 holes close to cities in order to attract a younger demographic and make golf, largely considered the plaything of the rich in France, more affordable.
Grizot said: ‘‘The building of the 100 compact golf courses is really important. We have increased the number of golfers in the 80s and 90s in a very important way, but we made a mistake in that we didn’t build the golf courses that the golfers needed at this time.’’
The concept will also attract more women players, according to Grizot, as FFGolf seeks to redress the balance of a 70-30 split between registered male and female members.
Grizot, who last week announced that a championship golf course at Disneyland Paris would host the 2018 Junior Ryder Cup, said: ‘‘At the moment golf has an elitist image [in France]. If we want to develop the game and increase the number of new golfers by 50 per cent then it will not be only with rich people. We are late in France [in developing the sport to a wider audience]…’’
France’s legacy proposals were among the main reasons highlighted by Ryder Cup Europe when it awarded Le Golf National the hosting rights to the Ryder Cup in May 2011.
Ryder Cup France 2018’s budget currently stands at €40 million ($51 million), including the €18-million guarantee fee required by Ryder Cup Europe.
Grizot also said that the budget includes €6 million to be spent on course improvements such as irrigation and drainage (the work on drainage will be carried out after next year’s French Open at Le Golf National), €6m on organisational costs, around €6 million on funds shared among its club of sponsorship partners (who also provide money themselves) and the remaining €4 million on ‘‘additional costs’’.
Asked if the budget could increase, he said: ‘‘It will increase if we have more revenue. If we don’t have more revenue we will have to do it with the money we get.’’
The 2018 organisers have predicted crowds of at least 60,000 per day at Le Golf National, but will not receive ticketing, marketing or broadcast rights revenues, as these income streams go to the rights-holders and not the host organisers, Grizot said.
Since the final year of the 2018 bid, FFGolf has asked for an additional sum of €3 per registered golfer per year until 2022, helping to pay the costs of the Ryder Cup guarantee fee.