Elitist and unloved: So why is the Ryder Cup in Paris?

Ryder Cup captains Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn hit balls from the Eiffel Tower to help drum up publicity for the event in Paris. Andrew Redington/Getty Images

PARIS, France -- It was time. The inclusion of continental Europe resurrected the Ryder Cup. It transformed a mismatch into a global sporting monster, yet in 39 years since it joined Great Britain and Ireland's quest for glory, the European mainland has hosted the event only once. Until now.

The European Tour knew that it was due, having last staged a Ryder Cup on the continent in 1997, at Valderrama in southern Spain. When the bidding process was undertaken in 2011, only continental options were considered. The Dutch and the German bids had the whiff of the half-hearted about them, and the Portuguese and Spanish proposals lingered under the shadow of looming financial uncertainty, which meant there was little surprise when Paris was announced the winner.

True, there were some who wondered aloud about the exact nature and relevance of French involvement in European golf. But others noted that the French bid was economically supported by the government and that French golfers would directly help fund it, two factors the European Tour, which relies on the Ryder Cup for financial security, simply couldn't afford to overlook.

Others were dazzled by the notion of Le Golf National's thrilling final holes hosting a dramatic finale. Even more couldn't fail to be awed by the prospect of golf's wildest weekend having the Palace of Versailles and the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop.

So it was time for a European vacation, and like any weekend traveler, the Ryder Cup found Paris the most compelling destination.

Beware, however, because just as Japanese tourists are prey to a condition called Paris Syndrome (when they are underwhelmed by the City of Love, reality failing to meet their high expectations), is it possible that golf is set to discover that this French stage has poor acoustics and an audience that is less than enraptured by the production?

In late June, Le Golf National hosted the Open de France, and it was tempting to imagine that the course, the city and the country would be eagerly awaiting the big match three months later.

Alas, the only reference to golf in the city was in the vintage posters sold by the market traders along the Seine, and the country's attention was revealed in the pages of the nation's leading sporting newspaper L'Equipe, which stretched to 38 pages on the eve of the tournament, with not one golf story within them.

Only at the course, naturally, was there a hint that the summer would be ending with golf's greatest party. "Ensemble vers 2018," proclaimed a poster showing two frogs sitting on golf balls, one decorated with stars and stripes, the other blue and yellow stars. "Froggies love golf too," was written underneath.

Speaking to French media members in attendance for the Open -- there were more of them than in the past, which in itself says something -- they agreed that national television and newspapers remain largely indifferent to the sport. The notion that the game is for the rich and the rural is a strong one, and the fact that the match will be covered by Canal Plus, a subscription channel, indicates that golf is unlikely to breach the urban landscape.

Running counter to this skepticism are two arguments, however.

The first is voiced by those closely involved with the project. Thomas Levet, one of only three Frenchmen to have competed in the Ryder Cup, said: "There has been growing media interest in golf. Truly. Don't overlook the sport making the Olympics [Paris is the host city in 2024] and then also consider when the two captains hit balls from the Eiffel Tower. These were strong images and had an impact on people.

"It's true that many French people are unaware of the Ryder Cup, but we must understand that the biggest impact will come after the event. The attention will be huge that week, and afterwards it could explode.

"The European Tour knew it had to mix it up, to visit Europe. It is important to honor what Europe has offered to the Ryder Cup and also to promote the game. France has many courses, but we have not yet produced world-class golfers. This is our opportunity."

Pascal Grizot, president of the Ryder Cup Committee, was equally bullish, despite a heavy schedule, part of which involved a seminar in which the European Tour's media team explained the nuances of golf reporting to a packed room of French journalists.

"We know golf has a reputation for elitism," he told ESPN at the French Golf Federation's headquarters. "Two initiatives created in conjunction with the Ryder Cup have impacted on this. The Short Course Programme has created 30,000 new golfers, and the Mon Carnet de Golf initiative has introduced over 45,000 8-to-10-year-old children to the sport. It is true that the entire event will be on a pay channel, but we have a daily two-hour show that is free-to-view precisely to showcase golf nationwide.

"It is absolutely the case that the sport is talked about nationally more than ever. We are a nation that thrives on hosting major sporting events. Don't overlook that. The Ryder Cup fits in with the 2024 Olympics and the 2023 Rugby World Cup."

Concerns that the French galleries will lack the fervor and energy of other European home crowds are, Grizot contends, unwarranted.

"There were only 200 French fans at Gleneagles in 2012, so I can understand some fears," he said. "We don't have a golf culture yet, but we are a passionate people, and we love sport. There will be 51,000 spectators every day.

"Part of our Ryder Cup bid stated that the license to play golf in France, which all golfers need, would be raised by three Euro. That went directly to the bid. Because of this, 40 percent of tickets were allocated to license holders, and they were sold out in one hour and 20 minutes. These people know golf and love it.

"When ticket purchasing was opened out, French golf fans rushed to gain another 4 percent, Great British and Irish fans will be there in big numbers [39 percent] with Americans, too [15 percent]. It will be a noisy week, like any Ryder Cup."

The second counter to the fears is a realistic assessment. Accept that the match will take place among something of a vacuum, but then ask whether that would not be the case elsewhere.

The notion that a Ryder Cup in Great Britain would be a massive part of the national consciousness is only partially true. The attendees would, similarly, be golfers. The live TV coverage in the UK would still be limited to pay channels. It would remain an event that only those who know of it will seek news of. And elitist perceptions are far from being a uniquely French problem.

We are unlikely to witness Parisians spilling out across the Champs Elysees should Europe regain the Ryder Cup, as they did for France's triumph at this summer's FIFA World Cup. But this event has the potential to offer the match something different and something distinctly European. It's a chance the continent has earned and deserves.