July 6, 2006
GORDON SIMPSON: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen and thank you very much for attending this Ryder Cup media briefing at The K Club. First of all I'd like to introduce the top table. On far end we have Richard Hills, Ryder Cup director. Next to Richard is John O'Donoghue, TD, who is the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. Next to me George O'Grady, the Executive Director of The European Tour. And Minister, I think you have a few words to say to kick us off, so I'll leave the floor to you.
JOHN O'DONOGHUE, TD: Thank you very much indeed ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to be here today at The K Club as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to address you as we begin the official countdown to the 2006 Ryder Cup. To those of you whom I know, it is good to see you again. To those of you with whom I am not yet acquainted, may I extend a warm welcome to Ireland.
It is a truly significant day when we consider that a mere ten weeks from today we will all once again be gathered at this magnificent venue for the much anticipated start of the 2006 Ryder Cup. The countdown of course has been underway from as far back as 1998 when Ireland signed the agreement with the PGA European Tour to host the Ryder Cup, but the start of the European Open is the official reminder that Ireland is but one golf event away from the honour of hosting the most revered of international golfing events and the third biggest sporting event in the world after the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup.
Ireland, as you know, has made an enormous contribution to golf and the Ryder Cup since the event first took place in 1927. Golfers from Fred Daly in 1949 to Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke in 2004 have all played pivotal roles in epic Ryder Cup encounters. We remember with pride the heroics of Christy O'Connor Senior who played in ten successive Ryder Cups, winning eleven matches between 1955 and 1973 and the never to be forgotten two iron approach shot by Christy O'Connor Junior to the 18th green at the Belfry in 1989, which clinched a win over Fred Couples of the USA and was vital to Europe retaining the trophy. Hosting the 2006 Ryder Cup is an enormous honour for Ireland not just because of its prestige as one of the world's leading sports events, but because it allows us to present a New Ireland to a worldwide audience already familiar with our proud culture, heritage and rich traditions.
The Ireland of today is a far remove from the land of our ancestors and our success in hosting the 2006 Ryder Cup has also presented us with a unique opportunity to showcase what it is that has led to our economic prosperity and what it is that makes Ireland one of the world's leading tourist destinations. It is for these reasons that the Government was fully supportive of the bid to bring the 2006 Ryder Cup to Ireland and I am delighted that an allocation of Ã¢ï¿½Â¬4.9 million was made through Failte Ireland towards the Ã¢ï¿½Â¬9.5 million that will be paid to the Tour.
I am equally delighted that the balance is being funded by our three partners, Bord Bia (the Irish food board), Waterford Crystal and Allied Irish Bank (AIB)
I would also like to recognise the very substantial investment that has been made in the Ryder Cup by Dr. Michael Smurfit and the K Club, which won the bid to stage the event. This investment has included the design and construction of a new golf course and clubhouse, the expansion of the hotel and the provision of a host of ancillary services for the event.
It is fitting therefore that the Ryder Cup 2006 matches should be played here by the banks of the Liffey in County Kildare on the challenging K Club course that is such a fine example of the magnificent facilities which are available to golfers in Ireland. The eyes of the golfing world are already training their sights on Ireland in growing numbers that are expected to reach one billion television viewers in 150 countries during the Ryder Cup matches.
During this unique window of opportunity we have much to tell the world about Ireland. We will showcase our traditional values of a spectacular landscape, a welcoming people, a rich cultural heritage and a modern tourism infrastructure. We will highlight Ireland as a mature golfing destination with more than 400 courses including 40% of all the genuine links courses in the world, with hundreds of welcoming clubs, some of which have been established for more than a century. We will focus attention on the many parkland courses and golf resorts and a golf environment that offers exceptional value for money at every level of the market- a combination of factors which led to Ireland being declared 'International Destination of the Year 2004' by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators.
The world has an estimated 60 million golfers, a growing number of whom are taking golfing holidays. Research conducted by Failte Ireland indicates that many of these golfers already hold Ireland in high regard as a golfing destination. UK golfers rank Ireland second in the world for quality of golf courses and half of American golfers are considering Ireland for their next golf trip. On the other hand, only six per cent of US golfers have visited Ireland, so we have a perfect opportunity, through Ryder Cup 2006, to convert this positive level of awareness into a decision to visit this country
The Ryder Cup will also provide an opportunity to address an international corporate audience which tends to have a keen interest in golf, and in the process to promote business tourism into Ireland. More than 250,000 visitors came to Ireland to participate in corporate meetings, international conferences and incentive trips in 2005, representing an increase of 23% on the previous year. Overall, business tourism in Ireland grew by 5% to 857,000 visits and was worth Ã¢ï¿½Â¬457m. with the Dublin market recording a 26% increase in the number of incentive conferences choosing the Irish capital. The new National Conference Centre,which is now at an advanced planning stage, will further boost this valuable sector of the tourism industry.
My Department and Failte Ireland plan to grasp with both hands the opportunity to leverage the Ryder Cup to promote Irish tourism through a series of initiatives which will enable us to engage a worldwide audience not only in the golf, but also in a rich visual and aural tapestry that will reflect the destination that is Ireland.
In a creative and innovative initiative we have reached agreement to introduce a spectacular Opening Ceremony to Ryder Cup 2006, which international television networks around the world have undertaken to broadcast in its entirety. The traditional introduction of the teams and players on Thursday September 21st will be incorporated into a ceremony that will be in the tradition of the opening of the World Cup or the Olympic Games. It will incorporate a pageant featuring 'Macnas', 'Cos Ceim' and the Spanish theatre group 'Els Comediants' and will be followed by the playing of a specially commissioned Ryder Cup Anthem, composed by Donal Lunny. More than 300 actors, dancers and musicians will participate in the Pageant, which will follow the official opening of the Ryder Cup 2006 by the President of Ireland. The ceremony will also include the raising of the Flags of the Nations and the playing of the Anthems. That event will be preceded by the Ryder Cup Gala Dinner where leading Irish artistes and theatre groups will also perform while the presentation of the Ryder Cup by An Taoiseach at the conclusion of the matches will also be framed by a visual celebration of the event.
A truly exciting week in County Kildare will also include Ryder Cup Race Day, which takes place at The Curragh on Tuesday 19th September. This very special day will feature the inaugural running of the Shelbourne Hotel Goffs Million, which carries a prize of Ã¢ï¿½Â¬1m for the winner. Two races being staged on that day will feature, exclusively, graduates of the 2005 Goffs Million Sale, thereby attracting owners from more than 12 countries around the globe who were purchasers at that sale. The card carries a total prize fund of Ã¢ï¿½Â¬2.4m, making this Ryder Cup Race Day one of the great racing events of the season.
These and other many other events related to Ryder Cup 2006 are elements in a multi-faceted national endeavour to achieve sustained growth in the Irish tourism industry which experienced its fourth consecutive year of growth in 2005 when visitor numbers reached a record 6.8 million and foreign exchange earnings grew by 5% to almost Ã¢ï¿½Â¬4.3 billion The industry, which employs more than 240,000 people and is again on a growth pattern in this current year which will of course be stimulated by the Ryder Cup.
Sports tourism is of growing importance in the tourism mix and Failte Ireland, through the International Sports Tourism Initiative has played an important role in attracting more than 100 international events to this country spanning a wide diversity of sports from equestrian events to sailing and from motor sport to hockey. Golf is a perfect example of sports tourism, attracting as it does high spending visitors, who stay in high quality accommodation, travel throughout the regions and, according to Failte Ireland research, show a high level of interest in Irish cuisine, culture and heritage.
This historic island is blessed with a treasury of culture and heritage which is deeply appreciated by a growing number of visitors and which can provide a compelling reason to visit Ireland. From the prehistoric monuments of Newgrange dating back to 3,200 BC, to the early Christian monasteries, the Celtic and Norman castles and the architectural heritage of Victorian and Georgian buildings, we can offer visitors a rich array of places to see and enjoy. The targeted marketing of our cultural heritage is being stepped up by Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland with recent initiatives including a new joint publication from Failte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board highlighting many of the monasteries, churches, round towers and high crosses to be found throughout this island. The publication will be of interest and value to the 61% of holiday visitors travelling to Ireland who regard interesting culture and heritage as very important when choosing their holiday.
We have therefore much to offer our sporting visitors, be they golfers, sailors, hill walkers or anglers or participants in the myriad of sports that are enjoyed in this country. We can offer them a spectacular and unique landscape, a rich cultural heritage, hundreds of festivals and musical events, fine food, friendly pubs and most of all the 'Cead Mile Failte' of the Irish people. Significantly too we can attract visitors to an environment which, despite the economic development of recent times, remains green and clear. Much work has been undertaken to improve the quality of our fishing lakes and rivers, to conserve stocks of fish and game, to increase natural energy production, to encourage environmentally-friendly farming and to guarantee that this Emerald Isle retains the unique quality of life which it can offer its citizens and visitors.
These are just some of the images of Ireland which will be shown to the world as we grasp the opportunity to showcase our country during the Ryder Cup. The benefits of staging the event will not of course end with the final putt on the 18th. Green. We will, through Tourism Ireland, continue to leverage the positive images created by Ryder Cup in on-going campaigns in key overseas markets which we confidently expect, will pay handsome dividends in terms of golfing, business and leisure visitors.
I wish you well in your task of bringing the stories and images of this world famous event to your readers, listeners and viewers and I thank you for the special and significant role which you play in Ryder Cup 2006.
Thank you very much for your attention.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you very much, Minister O'Donoghue. We now will be able to take questions and answers in this briefing session. And maybe I can pass it over to George, first of all, to say a few words.
GEORGE O'GRADY: Okay. Welcome everybody to the Smurfit Kappa European Open this week. Hope it goes very well. The weather is going to be kinder than the Irish Open and kinder than the last time it was played on the Smurfit Course we think.
Minister, thank you for those words. I think it shows that we enjoy such a special relationship with Ireland, No. 1, with the government; and 2, with our very sponsors; and 3, we'd like to think with I think called it a year ago at dinner, a very robust media, specifically the Irish media, which I took as a compliment, by the way; it was meant as a compliment.
This briefing follows on from the enjoyable dinner and forthright dinner we had at Wentworth during the BMW Championship where we certainly felt we intended to give the fullest possible briefing that we could on all matters pertaining to the Ryder Cup; so that our common goal of having this the best ever staged home Ryder Cup would be fulfilled. We know the challenges in this world we live in today, but when you see the commitment of the government, as outlined by the Minister, you can see we have very strong partners, and that is our aim.
We'll try and answer all the questions you have today as fully and as frankly as we can or we're allowed to, and for that I'm indebted to our Ryder Cup Director, Richard Hills. Have a good week, thank you.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you very much, George. On that note, I think we'll open up the floor to questions, please, so the Minister, Richard and George can answer.
Q. Will everyone get here easily through the Park and Ride?
RICHARD HILLS: That is already being filled out by the spectators. The road situation is evolving exactly to plan. We are confident all of the road works will be in place.
It is common knowledge that there is a planning issue with regard to the use of Western Airfield. We are in the due process with Bord Pleanala, but we are confident and hope that is resolved shortly. We do have contingents if place if that is unresolved.
Q. How many people will you move daily?
RICHARD HILLS: The number will be in the high 30s (thousands) but some will be coming direct from Dublin hotels, as well, straight to site. We have been working extensively with Dublin Bus Éireann on this project, and I think the number of double decker buses we have on this project now is 120. So they will be working in a continual loop from the two planned park and ride sites.
Q. Will that cater for all the people coming?
RICHARD HILLS: We have overcompensated on the numbers and we have planned in over the top on the numbers that are being expected.
Q. The M50 traffic is always difficult. What plans do you have for traffic movement?
RICHARD HILLS: It will be putting pressure on the normal systems. We are aware of that. The Guarda have planned this through with the various two key locations that we are using.
Q. What is the timescale for getting to the course?
RICHARD HILLS: We are aiming from Western I believe target time of 40 minutes. That will probably be from 6 o'clock in the morning.
Q. Was part of the plan to have the bulldozers on the roads?
RICHARD HILLS: We are confident that the roads will be ready.
Q. It looks incomplete to me?
RICHARD HILLS: Yeah, we knew what had been planned. We knew what was in the system to be done and we are confident that they will be ready for September. It is work in progress.
Q. The new anthem being composed - will this replace all the individual ones?
RICHARD HILLS: It has been composed specifically for this match by Donal Lunny.
The question with regard to raising flags is something we reviewed at the conclusion of each match and we talked to the players about it, and the players do enjoy that moment when their flag is raised and the anthem is played. So it is reconsidered after each match.
Q. Is security much the same as The Belfry?
RICHARD HILLS: Very similar to what prevailed at The Belfry.
Q. Are people supposed to bring ID with them?
RICHARD HILLS: We are requesting that they carry ID with them in conjunction with the ticket.
Q. Does their passport or whatever have to match their ticket number?
RICHARD HILLS: Or a form of ID, yeah, that is what we requested. It can be traced back so we ensure that the ticket that has been applied for, given to a person, is being used by the particular person. It is something that the Guarda requested that we adhere to.
Q. What is it doesn't match?
RICHARD HILLS: We would then go into another process which we would work through with the Guarda about how that is come about. Potentially, yes.
RICHARD HILLS: It will be a number determined on the day by the Guarda.
Q. Have you abandoned the ideas of big screens downtown at places like Croke park?
RICHARD HILLS: As we speak there are no downtown screens.
Q. So the idea of having monitors that's been abandoned?
RICHARD HILLS: We have not taken that through, no.
Q. Why? Why?
RICHARD HILLS: Well, with the access that people have to the Matches, we didn't really feel that that would be necessary in these circumstances.
Q. Is it possible to say how many visitors are coming to Ireland specifically for the Ryder Cup?
RICHARD HILLS: That number I would estimate with North American and Europe would be around about 10,000.
Q. How many of them
RICHARD HILLS: As a supplementary, we could give you more detail on that number.
The number into the North American market was 4,000. I can't break down the exact number country by country. We could do which we will be happy to do indicatively closer to the match.
Q. How many applications were there?
RICHARD HILLS: The total number of applications was around about 29,000.
Q. The 4000 from the US - is that the same as Europe receives over there?
RICHARD HILLS: That is a corresponding number.
Q. Why have you abandoned the idea of screens so that the rest will enjoy the Ryder Cup?
RICHARD HILLS: It's something we've reviewed it and it's something that we've not pursued. We may review that.
GEORGE O'GRADY: I think we did at one stage have a request from independent operator to run exactly that who knew the Irish market. He abandoned the idea when he thought there wouldn't be a big enough take up.
The television coverage which we have debated and we certainly debated at the BMW Championship is going to be ball by ball on Sky with RTE having the highlights after 6:30 and BBC coming on at 8:30. The general feeling is within clubs, pubs and other institutions, you can have a myriad of parties around Ireland doing it, but the feeling of someone who really understood the local market was, he couldn't get it off the ground, there wasn't a big enough take up.
So, you know, it's going to be quite enough to do running the thing here. You know, anybody I think if you probably contacted the secretary of any Irish golf club, you'll find they all have plans to have a big screen available in that club, not just the golf clubs, but all kind of clubs and pubs. And it will be a gigantic party wherever you are.
Q. Any chance of the (motorway) Toll being opened for the week?
JOHN O'DONOGHUE, TD: We're generous, but I don't know if we would be that generous.
Suffice to say, every effort will be made at the government and local authority level to ensure there's a smooth flow of traffic during the course of the event. Every effort will be made to do that. We're very conscious of the fact that there will be additional traffic and all of those issues will be dealt with in concert with Garda Siochana, and if we have to resolve a problem, we will use any measure required to do that.
Q. Can you get most people in for the first shot at 8am?
RICHARD HILLS: As many as we can get with the systems which we have in place. You know, we are confident of what we have planned. We can transport these very large numbers that we are talking about.
Q. How will locals get there?
RICHARD HILLS: No, there will be a local system which will be available for the Straffan residents.
RICHARD HILLS: That will be planned into the local system. (Laughter).
No, I think as prevailed for the media at The Belfry we did conduct a local media service, as well, which we will work with you to do this time around.
RICHARD HILLS: The hardest part of this is to balance the number of people attending. We've worked with our health and safety people with Garda Siochana. As I indicated, the demand for tickets has been unprecedented. We've capped that number at the 45,000 to enable as many people as we feel can safely attend the Matches to do so. It has actually been the hardest of the whole planning of the match to set a number which narrows the disappointment for not getting a ticket, but also is a number that is reasonable that can see and watch the matches themselves.
Q. Has the number of tickets remained the same
RICHARD HILLS: That will remain the same. Round about that number, yeah. We've also got the corporate facility of K South which are now using the K South Clubhouse as well for corporate entertaining.
Q. Has there been additional interest this year?
RICHARD HILLS: That has been through additional interest. But the balancing of the ticket number has been a very difficult task.
Q. How many applications have there been?
RICHARD HILLS: Percentage wise, we've done a calculation. We reckon we're 89 percent oversubscribed of actual tickets by demand. We were almost double, yeah. But 89 percent is the number that we've calculated this morning.
Q. There are 40,000 tickets sold for today. Why the limit?
RICHARD HILLS: I think the fact that they are only on the first two match days four games in each series, morning and afternoon, has been a limiting factor.
RICHARD HILLS: The original ticket offer did always include the car parking fee.
Q. Is there a parking fee even if he doesn't want to take his car?
RICHARD HILLS: I would have to speak to the how did he intend to get here?
Q. Are you worried about players practicing before the public has arrived?
RICHARD HILLS: We have spoken with both captains on this particular subject, and we are confident they would ask their players to adhere to the published scheduled practise times.
RICHARD HILLS: That would be as we are planning it out at Western Airfield. That will be sent within the ticket information which will go out to each of the spectators.
Q. How many security personnel will be there it was also suggested with that said that The K Club for that week might be under the jurisdiction of U.K. law as opposed to Irish law.
RICHARD HILLS: The Guarda will be policing the Matches under our Irish law. The terms and conditions of the original ticket offer are made under English law by way of where the ticket is domiciled and offered from.
Q. So under the auspices of the U.K. law as a checking point
RICHARD HILLS: The Guarda are very comfortable with what we have planned for this, and we're aware of how the ticket offer and the original information on the Web site was put out.
Q. I'm curious how many police are
RICHARD HILLS: It will be appropriate to the threat assessment or the or the situations which will prevail.
GEORGE O'GRADY: We did say in our dinner at Wentworth that there are certain things we will say that we are able to say. And giving full details of security and all in this world of terrorism threats and the rest, it would be inappropriate to reveal exact numbers and I think anyone will understand that.
Q. There are about 12,000 Garda. Would it be fair to say that about one in four will be here?
GEORGE O'GRADY: Well, I'm not too sure. I mean, we could go into the details of who; the concentration, the professional nature of it. But quite frankly, it's not something that we really want to I think divulge. It's certainly got the concentration right from the highest level of the government and I'm sure the Minister will support that.
RICHARD HILLS: The Guarda will provide an appropriate level of policing.
Q. Are you worried about a strike by the greenkeepers?
RICHARD HILLS: That is a matter of which we are aware. Michael Davern, the managing director of The K Club, is going through the due process with the greenskeeping staff. I think it would be more profit that Michael were to comment on that situation.
Q. Are any Heads of State invited?
RICHARD HILLS: We'll be inviting every ambassador of European country that's represented. Also, the American ambassador and has been standard in recent matches, and there is the possibility of a top president at some point during the match as we understand.
Q. How many tickets are being made available to your players and the ex-Ryder Cup players?
RICHARD HILLS: We will be inviting each Irish Ryder Cup player and reasonable requests from players are met.
Q. One per player?
RICHARD HILLS: It probably extends beyond that. But reasonable requests from players on an individual basis are met.
RICHARD HILLS: We try and assist players on a specific basis that their requests are met.
RICHARD HILLS: We try as far as possible to ensure that we know who every person who has got a ticket, who that ticket has gone to.
Q. How did you see the general preparations?
GEORGE O'GRADY: I was actually asked a similar question, which is going out on BBC Worldwide this weekend. I think the biggest is problem is possibly managing the expectations of everybody's desire to have this as such a good match in every sense.
I would say we're well advanced with our planning. I'm very happy with the pulling together of all the different bodies who are concentrating on this match. I think on hat the discussion we had specifically with the Irish journalists at the BMW Championship, you met some of the team who are working on the match to see the level of professionalism we're bringing to the staging of it. That's only some of the people we have on our side. All of the other different bodies, as Richard has highlighted, and the Minister today shows how we are getting at a government level, I would say we're as confident as one can be without being overconfident.
We know this is not going to be easy. The Ryder Cup is like a full-day football match when everybody wants to see the kickoff. You know, we've said before, this tournament, the Open Championship, a lot of people arrive during the morning of the Open; some people just come for lunch. The Ryder Cup is unique as a golfing sporting event; that everybody even sort of the richest corporate guests like to come in and see the first shot if he can. We know that can't happen. We have been at the Belfry where the roads around The Belfry on a weekday, if there's bad weather, we're stationary on the motorways there, as well. If trucks break down in the wrong places, it will be a bit of headache for us. We would expect getting in to be much harder on the Friday than it is on Saturday and Sunday. That's just been the same as every other Ryder Cup for as long as we can remember.
But I think if you asked about our planning to date, we'll try to cover all the possible eventualities. There will be ones that require thinking on the spur of the moment on the week, but, yeah, we're as confident as we can be without being overconfident.
RICHARD HILLS: We have that which is stretched out nearer to 45,000. That's number that we've cared to the Guarda, that we've declared to our health and safety people and we've declared to our insurer. We keep a complicated matrix with all of the ticket numbers on there so we are aware of the exact number.
Q. Do you have a terrorist policy ?
RICHARD HILLS: I'm not prepared to disclose the details of the policy we have, but it is a hard market in that particular area. We have a robust policy.
Q. Are you happy with the Qualification process?
RICHARD HILLS: It's the second time we've used this process for the team qualification. The players themselves feel very comfortable with that process. But as after every match, the whole thing is reviewed and it will be looked at again when players you know, playing patterns do change for that very reason.
RICHARD HILLS: It is reviewed. It is reviewed after each match. It always has been. This is only second time this process has worked. The last captain, Bernhard Langer, was very comfortable and Woosie is very comfortable with the system as it stand. But as I say, it is reviewed by the Tour's Tournament Committee.
Q. It means that people like Carl Pettersson, who have shown no interest in playing in Europe, can qualify?
RICHARD HILLS: I think on that specific, I think Carl's schedule now would indicate he's going to play a number of events in Europe. But the whole issue of category 15 will be reviewed as part of that review process on conclusion of the match.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you very much, Minister, Richard, George. Thank you for your attendance today.
End of FastScripts.