Like previous recent European hosts, the country’s federation has done sterling work to build on the awareness of having golf’s greatest team event on its doorstep, writes Ross Biddiscombe, and the French Golf Federation (FFG) has stepped up to the mark with a number of development programmes. But there are also those in the French golfing community who are not optimistic about long-term benefits.
Pascal Grizot, vice president of the Federation and president of France 2018 has admitted that there is a difference between the public perception of golf development in France and the perception of some of the golfing community. “The FFG has 410,000 registered golfers and, according to independent studies over 800,000 golfers in total. In France, golf developed greatly in the 1990s and 2000s and is now widely accessible, in particular in relation to young players whose numbers continue to grow.”
Statistics from the FFG state that the number of under 18 golfers in France has grown from 27,000 in 2008 to over 30,000 in 2018 which is a growth trend unlike many other European countries who have seen their number of junior golfers decline.
The FFG has developed two significant projects as part of the Ryder Cup hosting: the 100 Short Courses Programme and the educational programme, Mon Carnet de Golf, which it believes will both strongly contribute to the dynamics of golf development.
“The 100 Short Courses programme has stared already and created over 30,000 new golfers. The Mon Carnet de Golf programme has had a massive impact all over France and has brought over 45,000 children between the ages of eight and 10 to the sport,” says Grizot.
“Both of these programmes illustrate the Federation’s strategy to continue to grow the game, in particular amongst youngsters. All the Federation’s activities are directly linked to being host of the 2018 Ryder Cup.”
However, with respect to growing the number of adults, there are still question marks. Although thousands of non-French golfers are expected to travel to Paris for a new Ryder Cup experience at Le Golf National, not all the French golfing community believe that this year’s match will either boost this golfing group.
One of France’s top golfers Mike Lorenzo-Vera doubts that the Ryder Cup will develop many more French golfers. “People here don’t care about the Ryder Cup,” he told the New York Times in June this year. “Honestly, nobody knows there’s going to be a Ryder Cup in France. Only the golfers know. That’s it. There won’t be many French here, there will so many more from England.
“Golf is not a good thing here. It’s for rich people and spoiled kids,” he continued. “Golf is a very private thing for people in France. Private courses for only rich families or rich people – that’s it.”
To counter Lorenzo-Vera’s opinion, the European Tour has pointed out that 43% of the Ryder Cup tickets have been snapped up by the French, which is actually more than the 37% of Scottish supporters who bought tickets for Gleneagles in 2014.
Yet, some of the French golfing media are concerned that golf will remain a minority sport especially because no French player made the European team.
Benjamim Cadiou, of Journal du Golf, a magazine run by L’Equipe, told The Daily Telegraph in June that he doubts enough non-golfers will be interested in the match. “It will be an incredible three days,” he says, “but unless we have a French player holing the winning putt, I doubt if it will cross over into the mainstream. And when it’s over what will happen next?” And, of course, with no French golfer in the team, Cadiou’s negative vision is complete.
Antoine Lascault, editor of Fairways magazine, says the French press think there is a huge risk that the Ryder Cup will not bring everything it should for golf, golfers in France and especially amateur players. “The event will be great, but it will just be something for the golf fans, the insiders and it won’t attract a different audience,” he says. “We don’t have any French player in the team, so it won’t make the buzz.”
But he has praise for the French Federation’s golf programmes. “The only thing that is a benefit for France is the 100 Short Courses programme,” says Lascault. “It was in the contract between Ryder Cup Europe and the French Golf Federation and it can help grab or keep some players in golf. It can also help those who don’t want to play 18 holes lasting four hours.”
Lascault admits that he is not optimistic: “But I hope I am wrong and France will finally become a country of golf at the height of its rich history in the discipline.”
Ross Biddiscombe’s acclaimed book Ryder Cup Revealed is available at amazon.co.uk via this hotlink: https://tinyurl.com/y9w75whd
French Golf Federation https://www.ffgolf.org/