The Ryder Cup exclusive that went down the toilet

Ahead of the 2010 contest which begins on October 1, BILL ELLIOTT recalls an earlier, more relaxed era of the Ryder Cup, when access to players was a lot easier. Usually

Ronan Rafferty: "Anyone here seen that Bill Elliott?"

Just how far the Ryder Cup has come in recent times will be underlined when the media turns up to report the action at Celtic Manor. At the last count, more than a thousand seekers of half-truths are expected to be in Wales.

The European Tour press team, led by former Times golf correspondent Mitchell Platts, who is now the fantastically named Director of Corporate Affairs for the Tour, will be in situ from this weekend with the huge media centre open for some sort of business, even thought there is little for anyone to do but to watch the grass grow until the teams arrive on Monday. Even then the grass might prove more interesting.

Yet it is not so long ago (the early 1980s) that the Ryder Cup was a niche event, attracting decent interest when held in this country but invariably  watched by a couple of older men and, if lucky, a dog when staged in America.

Back then, there were so few of us, sports reporters could walk with the players down the fairways. Back then, you could turn up on the day and gain accreditation. Back then, it was quieter, smaller and, naturally, a lot more fun.

For 2010, logistics require accreditation being applied for months in advance while security (don’t you just love bloody security?) dictates that you take your passport along to confirm that, actually, you are who you say you are. Wireless connection for the week will cost each hack around 80 quid which seems outrageous until you factor in that it has to be supplied just for this week and that back in the good old days it cost a damn sight more to slip in a telephone line.

Contact with the captains and players is strictly timetabled. It has to be, I suppose, but it means that the modern problem of everyone hearing the same old guff all the time is repeated ad nauseum. Original, vaguely exclusive quotes are all but impossible to come by. Big sports event journalism, as ever these days, will be homogenised and the craft will be in interpretation and opinion, at least until the action starts a week on Friday.

This change in golf came about at The Belfry in 1989. Back then, I placed a call through to the hotel and asked to be put through to Ronan Rafferty’s room. Rafferty, then European No1, answered my call and agreed to pop down to the media centre for a one-on-one chat. Unfortunately, I was in the loo when he called in 10 minutes later and before he, or I, knew what was going on the tannoy crackled into life to announce that Ronan Rafferty was in the Interview Room.

Instead of talking just to me, a confused Ronan found himself talking to every reporter. When he walked past me as he left half an hour later, Rafferty grimaced and said: “Thanks a bunch.”

To be fair, he wasn’t as pissed off as I was, as my promised exclusive went down the mass press conference panhole.

There will, of course, be none of this gaiety at Celtic Manor this year. Pity really.