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Ryder Cup fails to send golf soaring in France

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Paris (AFP)

More than nine months after Tiger Woods and the Ryder Cup came to the Paris suburbs, there is scant evidence that hosting the event has given golf an extra bounce in France.

The frenzy that struck Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines at the end of last September, when Woods and the Americans lost to Europe on the Albatross course at Le Golf National over three sumptuous days, has evaporated.

Daily life has returned in French golf with no sign of the promised revolution.

There is little evidence that France is drawing more golf tourists or that the French are playing more.

"Nothing has changed," said a manager for a group that brings foreign golfers to France. "We had a slight outbreak of fever during the competition in September 2018, but that's all. We are at the same level of bookings as before."

In general, most courses have seen little change in local participation, although there are some exceptions.

"We haven't seen such growth in about 10 years. We have 40% more registered players than last year," said Pierre-Andre Uhlen, director of Ugolf, a company that manages around 50 golf courses in France.

"Clearly the Ryder Cup had an effect on us. We've been feeling it since the beginning of the year."

It is an effect others have not really felt.

"The trend is not bad, it is even good for 2019. But if the Ryder Cup was good for the image, there was no peak of activity just after, nor a peak in subscriptions," said Pascal Locatelli, head of BlueGreen, which also manages about 50 French golf courses.

The French Golf Federation (FFG) said it had around 412,000 members at the end of 2018, an increase of 2.5% from June 2018 to June 2019.

- ' Not a golf country' -

This June, according to a source close to the FFG, the 400,000 mark has only just been reached, although the FFG responded that they register golfers until November.

"Let's be clear, the Ryder Cup was a very good time for those who love golf, but it didn't change the golf landscape in France, a country that is not a golf country," said the golf tourism manager.

Eight years ago, when France won the organisation of the Ryder Cup, the FFG believed this prestigious competition would permit a golf explosion in a country resistant to a sport seen as elitist. The federation set a target of 600,000 registered players by 2022 and planned to add 100 courses to the 730 in the country.

Only a few voices questioned the enthusiasm.

Francois Illouz, a lawyer, quit as vice-president of the FFG in 2016 regretting that the 40 million euros being spent on the Ryder Cup had not been used "to develop our sport".

"It's too early," Illouz said. "We should have positioned ourselves for 10 years' time."

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