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'Happy New Year' -- you owe $1.6 million

Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2002

You'd think the glow of victory, a handsome gold trophy, nonstop parties, bragging rights for two years and a tidy little profit of about $13 million would be enough to keep Europe's Ryder Cup hosts happy for a few months more.

Think again.

Now the victors want more of the spoils, too.

In what appears to be an audacious new twist on a time-honored tradition -- fleecing American tourists -- Europe's Ryder Cup hosts plan to get back in touch with their guests from September and ask for more money.

Judging by Tuesday's report in The Scotsman, this request goes beyond the customary added charges for stolen towels and excessive hot water use.

The newspaper said European officials want a ''substantial donation'' -- about $1.6 million more -- to help cover the extra costs associated with postponing the matches for a year in the aftermath of 9-11. After first broaching the subject during meetings at the Masters last April, they plan to bring it up again with their U.S. counterparts at the golf industry's giant trade show in Florida at the end of January.

On the face of it, Europe's request doesn't seem all that unreasonable. In what probably turned out to be the biggest budget-busting increase, the hosts wound up spending about $4.4 million on security at The Belfry this September -- more than five times the amount allocated when the matches were scheduled for September 2001. And their well-heeled guests certainly appreciated it.

Not long after returning home, Phil Mickelson dashed off a note to the organizers and thanked them for making him and his wife feel so safe and welcome during their stay in the English midlands. Of course, a cynic might suggest Mickelson surrendered so easily to little-known Welshman Phillip Price in one of the crucial final-day singles matches that any further thank-yous were unnecessary. But we digress.

The real news in Tuesday's report is the audacious twist: Without identifying its sources, The Scotsman hinted the request was the opening salvo in a campaign by European officials to claim a bigger share of the Ryder Cup profits.

On the one hand, that's not a bad idea. Adding golfers from continental Europe to what had been a traditionally British side is what turned the Ryder Cup from a cult event into must-see TV, at least back in the states. Beginning in the mid-1980s, what had been an American walkover for most of its 70-odd years was transformed into a nailbiter. There was such raw emotion on display that even the most NFL-hardened junkies began tuning in and twitching every time somebody had a 6-footer left to halve a hole.

But producing the kind of talent to fill out a roster every two years comes at significant cost. And keep in mind that the Europeans are being outspent by a ratio of better than 2-to-1 at the top levels of the game and several times that as you move down the rungs on the developmental ladder.

Over the last 20 years, European officials were plowing a share of their increasing Ryder Cup profits back into their versions of the tour and PGA. This last time around, according to The Scotsman, staging the event cost almost $50 million. The newspaper did not provide comparisons with previous Ryder Cups, but it did say the $13 million profit reported from the latest competition ''falls short'' of the hosts' target figure.

On the other hand, going back to the vanquished so soon after vanquishing them is probably not the time to hand over a new copy of the bill. And it's an even worse time to talk about renegotiating a deal that still has a few years to run.

It was barely three years ago that American officials staved off a challenge from their own golfers demanding a share of the wealth. Rather than risk mounting legal bills and a disastrous public-relations fiasco, a compromise was arranged so the U.S. golfers could direct some of those profits to their favorite charities.

Considering how that investment turned out, no one should be surprised if the Americans' response to Europe's request for a bigger piece of the Ryder Cup pie -- at least at first blush -- is no.

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org



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