I’ve been to ten Ryder Cups but my experience in Paris was like no other. For starters I wasn’t working. I wasn’t attending as a corporate guest either, but as a diehard, bona fide golf fan, in other words, as a normal punter. And, if Paris is anything to go by, you have to be really resolute and determined, not to mention possessed of infinite patience, to manage one day, never mind three, at a modern-day Ryder Cup.
When I had applied for our tickets back in February the instructions as to how to gain access to Le Golf National had come back loud and clear. You could drive your car to a designated car park from which you could hop on a shuttle bus to be taken to the course. The heavily touted option, though, was to take public transport to one of two railway stations, one on the east side of the course, the other on the west. From there shuttle buses would ferry everyone to the course. The trick for us, therefore, was to stay reasonably close to a direct line in to St Quentin-en-Yvelines railway station, seven kilometres from the course and from which our shuttles would operate.
So, Patricia and I found ourselves a lovely little hotel in Boulogne-Billancourt, a lively, vibrant Parisian suburb not a million miles from Roland Garros. We knew that in all likelihood it would take us about an hour and a half to get to the course but we were OK with that because we also wanted easy access to Paris and all its wonderful sights. Many people were staying much further in than us – right in the heart of the city – but we felt we had the perfect compromise. Early in the week we did a test run to check our timings and an hour and 40 minutes was pretty much par for the course.
Friday dawned and the alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 4.50 am. We had decided to be at the course in loads of time to soak up the legendary atmosphere of a home Ryder Cup. We left the hotel just after 5.30am (the Metro opened at 5.30) and all went well with our four stops on the Metro and then the train journey to St Quentin where we arrived around 6.35ish. We were now only 7km from the course with over 90 minutes till tee-off. We missed the opening shots of the match.
From stepping off the train we were directed out to where the shuttles were parked, but first hundreds and hundreds of spectators had to funnel through an opening between TWO people checking we all had tickets. Talk about a bottleneck! Thinking the worst was over we shuffled on another 50 metres to a security section where four lines of us squeezed through, half-heartedly opening bags as we went. They were just as half-heartedly inspected. Phew! This was all beginning to take a bit too long. Emerging from the seemingly pointless security check we were dismayed to see there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people ahead of us in line for the transport to the course. Time was marching on, but we most certainly weren’t and the ghastly thought occurred that perhaps we wouldn’t get too much opportunity to join in the pre-match singing.
In the cold morning air, with empty tums (no breakfast yet) and a need for that first caffeine shot of the day, we tortuously made our way closer to the nirvana of stepping onto the shuttle transport. We made it! Packed in like sardines, with standing room only, we swayed our way through the early morning traffic for 20 minutes, hanging on to pretty much anything we could and it was with no small measure of delight that we were disgorged at the course. Our spirits lifted momentarily – it was approaching 7.30am, almost two hours since we’d set off, but we were at the course now, (weren’t we,?) and the first tee off was at 8.05am. Once off the bus we joined yet another queue on the pavement, but this one was moving, albeit slowly, along by a hedge. Not long to go now, surely? With a huge degree of expectation we rounded the end of the hedge and couldn’t believe the sight that met our eyes – a car park of NEC proportions with literally hundreds of folk patiently shuffling, shuffling, shuffling to the speck in the distance that was…..the security checkpoint area!! Hmm, thought we’d done that….but no, this journey had turned into a nightmare and we were trapped helplessly in the middle of the most pathetically organised movement of people (or not) that I had witnessed in a long time.
Thankfully, all things come to an end and eventually we cleared security only to discover we weren’t even yet on golf course property. A fast, 15-minute route march delivered us to the West Village and a huge rectangular seating area bounded on all sides by the merchandise tent, catering outlets and at the far end a huge stage with a monumental screen. A corridor of no more than five strides width had delivered this sea of humanity to this oasis but to find the exit to the course – you know, where the GOLF was being played – was a little more tricky. Lack of signage didn’t help but our recce on Tuesday did. We weaved our way through the plethora of picnic tables to a similar corridor that exited the village diagonally opposite to where we had entered. Ah yes, another bottleneck! We were getting used to these by now. We filed through this narrow passage to be met by a staircase that we traversed and when we crested the top we caught our first sight of the course.
By this stage we were both plugged in to the on-course radios that we’d bought on Tuesday and were aware that the possibility of delaying the start had been mooted due to thousands of fans being trapped in endless queues trying to access the course. The decision was to go ahead on time, so when we finally got our feet on the green, green grass of Le Golf National, the Ryder Cup had already started. What a shambles it had all been!
We golf fans are nothing if not resilient, however, and we set off in pursuit of Justin Rose and Jon Rahm in the top match. The pedometers on our phones were set to go through the roof for this week! The day on the course ended better than it had begun and Europe rebounded from a 3-1 morning deficit to sweep the foursomes by four matches to nil. Hooray!
Delighted that the matches had finished early and in our favour we were keen to get back to our hotel and find a nice little bistro and bottle of red for our post-match ruminations. Hold on – not so fast! We faced the nightmare journey in reverse, starting with the treacherous, and frankly dangerous funneling of everyone down the staircase into the tented village area. An hour later and we hadn’t reached the security checkpoint only to be told over the loudspeaker that it would be another hour before we boarded a bus to the station and why didn’t we enjoy the tented village a little longer? That brought wry smiles – we had been queuing 40 minutes since we had exited said village, locked into an immoveable mass of human beings. Eventually, however, we squeezed onto a bus, standing room only, of course, and lurched our way back to the station. On to one of the fabulous double-decker trains at last – and once again, sardine-like, standing for the 40-minute journey. We made it back to our hotel some fifteen hours after we had left it, a long, long ole day, but fabulous – despite some six of those hours having been spent queuing! And this logisitical movement of people had only been ten years in the planning, I’m told!
Allow me to finish regaling you with the travel challenges of the Ryder Cup. Saturday was a revelation! Everything ran like clockwork and we whizzed into, and away from, the venue in around an hour and 40 minutes – still sardine packed, but very happy sardines given the experiences of the Friday. On Sunday, lulled by a false feeling of security and the knowledge that the first singles match didn’t tee off until after midday we were confident that THIS would be the day we would get there in time to join in the 1st tee singing. We thought we’d leave the hotel around 8.30 and have breakfast at the course…. but we had not reckoned with the trains running to their normal, once-an-hour, Sunday timetable – and, no long trains, of course, only short ones! Having just missed the 8.30, we didn’t panic and waited patiently for the 9.30. It was like watching a train in India coming into the station – the only place people weren’t hanging off the train was on the roof. The train pulled in……..and pulled out. A couple of folk may have squeezed on, but it was dangerous and hundreds of fans were left standing on the platform. Bearing in mind we were relatively close to the start of the train’s journey and had no hope of boarding, this scenario was repeated all the way down the line.
Of course, there was no information, no help, and we were left to our own devices to find a solution. Banding together with a lovely Italian fan and a couple of American supporters, who were completely bemused by the whole experience, we sorted an alternative route complete with change of line and train to St Quentin-en-Yvelines. Once there we navigated the buses, the security, the bottlenecks and the route march like the old hands we were and arrived at the course with fifteen minutes to spare. A world record of three and a quarter hours to go from A to B. Thank God it wasn’t a four day event – we might not have lasted the pace.
If you are still reading – well done for hanging in there, and you are probably thinking that it was a pity the travel was poor, but everything else was well organised, right? Wrong! In no particular order, these were the other challenges the humble fan faced.
1 Catering – slow, slow, slow service. Unforgiveable in fact. Pleasant staff, but no sense of urgency and manana was a little too immediate for them. More time spent in queues.
2 Cost of food. A cardboard carton of fish and chips was 15 euros. I bought two pork and apple sauce baguettes (very dry despite the sauce) and three small bottles of still water – 34 euros. This was rip-off city – and on the Sunday the catering place behind the 14th tee was sold out of baguettes by the time the FIRST match got there. Underprepared and underwhelming quality.
3 Not nearly enough rubbish bins. A few bin bags tied on to the rope line simply don’t do it. The bins were full to overflowing by 10.00am and although most people piled their rubbish by the base of the bins, by the end of the day those of us behind the ropes were wading through a rubbish tip. It was all cleared up by the next day, but I’ve never seen a golf event looking like that.
4 Not one single, stand-alone scoreboard on the golf course keeping us up-to-date. There were screens showing the Sky Sports coverage and when Sky chose to show a scoreboard you could catch up on the overall situation – but only if you were quick and had your binoculars handy. Suggesting everyone was using the Ryder Cup app is no defence. It isn’t true – and apps chew up your phone battery in no time.
5 We are experienced golf watchers of 50 years so were armed with periscopes as well as binoculars. Patricia’s periscope had been purchased at a previous Ryder Cup. I lost count of the number of times people asked where they could get them and had we got them in the merchandise tent? Despite the stadium-style mounding around the course, when you’re standing ten deep you can’t see anything – unless armed with a periscope.
It seems to me that the ordinary golf fan is endowed with endless patience and good humour. It undoubtedly helped that at the end of each day we were buoyed by our team’s success, but it seems evident to me that the real golf fan is not considered one jot. The powers-that-be must remember that it’s the fans who make the atmosphere and provide the great platform for the Ryder Cup. Where would the tours be without a solid fan base? They’re not asking to be mollycoddled – just to have reasonable and affordable facilities in place and to have well organised movement in and out of the venue. And they are paying through the nose, remember.
One fellow professional, a golf tragic like us, had bought tickets for all three days and attended the match with two others. After Friday’s experience, totally disgruntled, they caught a 3.00am Eurostar home and were in front of their own television sets on Saturday for the TV coverage.
So, to the powers-that-be – please don’t talk to us about “growing the game” if you’re not prepared to address these issues and please, please lift your eye momentarily and occasionally from the profit line.
Now, what do you think the Italian organisation will be like in 2022? Dare you go and find out?