It is the greatest show in golf – and by the time the Ryder Cup gets into full swing this week, Gleneagles will have spent 13 years and £20million on staging its finest hour.
As the eyes of the sporting world fix firmly on this jewel of the Perthshire countryside, experts predict a flood of golf-mad tourists will pump more than £100million into the national economy as they flock to watch the world’s top golfers do battle.
Residents in nearby Auchterarder are determined to get their slice of the action when 250,000 fans arrive for the biennial clash between Europe and the US.
Hotels and guest houses for miles around have long since booked out, while many enterprising locals have rented out their homes for five-figure sums. Even a week’s stay in a caravan park could set visitors back £1,400.
Yet, as the first fans descend by bus and train at the PGA Centenary Course today for the first of the main practice rounds, police and locals are bracing themselves for possible travel chaos as roads surrounding Gleneagles are subject to a major programme of closures and restrictions.
About 45,000 spectators are expected every day as US captain Tom Watson’s stars take on Paul McGinley’s European team this weekend. The event will put Scotland in the world’s shop window, as an estimated 500million viewers in 183 countries watch on TV.
Champagne and the finest Scottish produce will be on sale at the huge temporary hospitality village that has grown up at the entrance to the PGA Centenary Course.
With golf tourism already worth £220million annually to the Scots economy and supporting 4,400 jobs, hosting the 40th Ryder Cup is expected to make 2014 a bumper year for the home of golf.
Although the course is only a short drive from Auchterarder’s High Street – the 1½-mile main thoroughfare which gives the Lang Toun its nickname – the event has been secured behind a ring of steel fences.
Some retailers fear the tight travel restrictions which will see most spectators bussed straight to the course may mean their shops and cafes are bypassed.
Heather Edment, golf business manager at Gleneagles Hotel, admitted the Ryder Cup had raised mixed emotions among locals: ‘Some people will be very happy because their local shops and restaurants will be busy. But others may feel that our quiet little town has been taken over.’
The busy A9 has been reduced to a single lane in each direction, with the inside lane part of an extensive park-and-ride scheme. Police have urged motorists to consider avoiding the area to reduce the inevitable delays.
Residents have at least been spared a controversial parking ban in the centre of Auchterarder, after Perth and Kinross Council accepted at the last minute that it was unnecessary – although the traffic order will remain active and can be implemented if required.
Ryder Cup Europe operations director Antonia Beggs said: ‘Although there will be many benefits to staging the 2014 Ryder Cup in Scotland, particularly for the Perthshire region, putting on a sporting event of this scale, with 45,000 people expected each day, will inevitably mean some inconvenience to local residents.’
While Gleneagles Hotel’s 232 rooms, including 26 luxury suites, have been reserved for the two teams, match officials and dignitaries, hundreds of enterprising locals have decided to give the travel chaos a miss and make a killing by renting out their homes – ranging from small flats to lavish family mansions – through estate agents and specialist golf websites.
One four-bed room detached villa, situated in a typical middle-class estate but within walking distance of the course, was snapped up last year for £27,500 for a single week.
Other rental businesses are also set to cash in. William Stewart, owner of Grand Eagles caravan park, has leased or sold 30 luxury lodges in the run-up to the tournament. He said that lodges that used to cost £650-£950 per week to rent have now rocketed ten-fold.
Mr Stewart is currently charging £195 a night to park a caravan, compared to only £19.50 a year ago. He said: ‘We have 30 lodges here but we’re looking to build another 29.
‘We have been fully booked since March. People are coming from Germany and America. I’m not surprised at all the interest. Everybody’s desperate to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
‘We’ve actually sold 14 lodges so far this year, compared to six or seven last year. People are buying them and renting them out themselves for the Ryder Cup.’
Golf fans lucky enough to have secured a ticket have been warned that there is no ‘walk-on’ access to the course and that everyone – even those staying locally – will be required to use the shuttle buses and park-and-ride schemes which have been set up to minimise disruption to locals. Those arriving by train will be able to make use of a temporary bridge that will straddle the A9 and take fans straight to the site.
Anyone looking for further information about travel arrangements should go to Perth and Kinross Council’s main Ryder Cup information website at: http://www.pkc.gov.uk/rydercup
Not everyone is up for a golf extravaganza
On the streets of Auchterarder, which borders the Gleneagles Hotel and golf courses, there are mixed feelings about the Ryder Cup.
Frank Bradley, 35, owner of café Delivino, fears the promised tourism bonanza may fail to materialise as most golf fans will be bussed straight to the course and bypass the Perthshire town.
He said: ‘I’m slightly worried people will go into Gleneagles and that will be them there all day.
‘However, I’m expecting a good influx of tourists and I’ve doubled the number of staff for this week.’
Danielle Polley, 22, who works at the Ellie’s Cellar off licence, said it had laid on a special free delivery service to local addresses until the Ryder Cup finishes on Sunday.
She added: ‘We’ve dropped them at holiday lodges and taken quite large deliveries. We’ve never done it before but a lot of people have relatives staying for the golf – so there’s a market for it.’
Paul Jackson, who has been the manager of Simon Howie Butchers for ten years, said: ‘We’ve seen a steady increase in business and in the last three weeks it’s gone up by 25 per cent. It’s great for the town because although Gleneagles is on the map, Auchterarder isn’t.’
Local shoe shop owner Eleanor Aitken said: ‘The school has benefited because the team captains have been down and handed out some tickets to the pupils. Businesses have a lot to offer here, so it’s a shame they’re being bussed in and away again.’
Another resident, who owns a fast food outlet but declined to give her name, also fears the tourist boost has been exaggerated. She said: ‘We’ve had extra trade from workers at Gleneagles but when it starts I think it’ll be really quiet.’
She also voiced concern that a footbridge built over the A9 at a notorious accident blackspot to link Gleneagles railway station to the hotel was only temporary. She said: ‘That’ll get taken down when the Cup finishes. So it’s OK for us to be knocked down but not tourists.’
But Maggie Robin, owner of ladies’ fashion shop Bear Necessities, was an enthusiastic supporter of the whole Ryder Cup extravaganza, saying: ‘You’ve got to embrace it.’
Charlie and Fiona Haggan, who own the Glendevon Hotel, accepted that local residents are likely to face delays and inconvenience.
But Mr Haggan said: ‘Even if it takes three hours to get here because of the road closures, so what? It’s fantastic for the town.
‘My restaurant is three times busier, my staff are doing extra hours and I’ve recently built a beer garden and refurbished parts of the hotel.
‘Tom Watson’s family have booked out the hotel.’