Riding high on the Ryder Cup.Pascal Grizot is a man with a mission – to change the way the French view the game of golf.
He knows that at the moment the majority of people in the country view golf as a game solely pour les riches.
“That attitude has to change,” says the vice-president of the French Golf Federation (FFG).
“People’s perception of the game is that it is too expensive and it takes up too much time, so they decide it is not a sport for them even before they have picked up a club.
“To change that, and to give potential players a way into the game, the Federation has set a target of 100 new ‘compact’ courses which can provide a game of golf that is enjoyable, affordable and doesn’t take four or five hours to complete.”
To build public enthusiasm for golf in France so that it matches that of the US or UK, Pascal, 51, adopted a bold strategy.
“We needed a major golfing event other than the French Open to promote the game on home soil and get to the widest audience possible.”
Pascal doesn’t think small. He went for the biggest competition in world golf, the greatest sporting team event in the world bar the Olympics – The Ryder Cup.
This terrific two-yearly tussle between the Americans and the Europeans has only once before been played outside the US or GB, at Valderrama (Spain) in 1997.
As chairman of Ryder Cup France at the FFG, Pascal put together a powerful pitch and backed it with a big purse, bagging the Ryder Cup 2018 for the Golf National course with an €18 million payment to secure the European Tour.
“It’s big money for a big, big event,” Pascal concedes.
The fact that the money and muscle were there is evidence of the very French way that the FFG is set up. It organises golf in France in a unique way, pulling in revenue from 450,000 players. There is no escaping the FFG if you are a more than occasional French golfer, it runs the handicapping system for a start, a job done by individual clubs in the UK. The annual licence fee includes the important element of golfing insurance, a comfort if you are the sort of hacker liable to shank your ball into your playing partner’s head.
In 2014 the licence will cost €51, which includes a €3 Ryder Cup supplement that is going to be around for a few years to help pay for the purchase of that super-major event.
A big incentive for expat golfers to take out FFG membership is the distinct possibility that being a part of the organisation could bring a rarer than hen’s teeth Ryder Cup ticket their way.
Back to Go-Go Grizot: “In 2014 Gleneagles in Scotland will host the Ryder Cup and they have room for 45,000 spectators. We are still working on the final figure for the Golf National, but it could be as high as 70,000.
“If that is the case, there is a good chance that we will be able to offer tickets to FFG members, maybe by way of a ballot.”
The superb Golf National course has other advantages besides crowd-holding capacity. Unlike other Ryder Cup venues, it is just outside a capital city, a short distance north of Paris, and the transport links by motorway, rail and train are second to none.
Venues and great events aside, Pascal is aware that another key to getting the French to really take golf to their hearts is to have a home-grown champions to follow.
“The FFG is actively supporting the development of individual golfers of promise. We need to have champions to inspire people to follow the game. Our involvement in the game’s ‘grassroots’ is huge – we organise 1000 competitions nationwide each year.”
French golf can think itself extremely fortunate to have found such a dynamic man as Pascal Grizot to champion the game of the little white ball in the hexagon.