Algarve World Cup

EURO 2004 football and World half-marathon apart, the Algarve is about to witness its most important sporting event ever, the World Cup Golf Championships. Vilamoura’s Victoria Golf Club is hosting the biggest team event in golf outside the Ryder and President’s Cups, Portugal’s most significant tournament-staging to date, until Sunday. In addition, 2006 will see the return of some of the world’s top golfers to the region to contest next year’s renewal of the magnificent Wedgwood Trophy and its attached prize money in excess of four million US dollars.

History: “Goodwill through golf” is the ethic behind the origin of this competition which started life as the Canada Cup back in 1953 – since then, the sentiment of the founder and chairman of the International Golf Association, John Jay Hopkins, has been upheld throughout the event’s history, be it known as the World Cup of Golf or under its present title, which the end-of-season highlight assumed in 2000.

In that year, the pairing of Woods and Duval proved successful for the US in Buenos Aires, Argentina, while Goosen and Els shot South Africa to victory in 2001 in Japan. Then the hosts Japan triumphed in Mexico the following year, before Immelman and Sabbatini proved once more too strong for South Africa on South Carolina’s Ocean Course. Last year in Seville, England’s Luke Donald and Paul Casey pipped Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez at the post to claim a famous win, something the vanquished pair will seek to avenge over the coming days. Overall, the championship, which boasts such famous names as Palmer, Nicklaus, Player and Ballesteros among its previous winners, has been won by America on 23 occasions, with South Africa on five, and Spain and Australia each with four victories.

The players: Many of the world’s top competitors are absent due to other commitments or priorities, although, in theory at least, each of the 24 participating nations should be represented by its two best players according to official PGA rankings.

Spain has the most high profile pairing in world number six Sergio Garcia, and Miguel Angel Jimenez ranked 31. Luke Donald returns for England and is partnered by David Howell, in top form after leading Tiger Woods a merry dance throughout last week’s European Tour – opening HSBC Champions Tournament in Shanghai. Ireland are mounting a considerable challenge with Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, Stephen Dodd and Bradley Dredge are teeing off for Wales, and Stephen Gallagher and Scott Drummond are in action for Scotland. Trevor Immelman heads up South Africa, and Argentina must be among the favourites with the talented Angel Cabrera on the ball with Ricardo Gonzalez. Portugal’s eight-time national champion António Sobrinho is taking to the greens in the company of Filipe Lima, who was born in France to Portuguese parents.

The course: The Victoria Course was designed by Arnold Palmer and is both challenging and tricky. Particularly the mammoth 529-metre, par five, fifth hole can cause mayhem in windy conditions. The fairway is 230-240 metres removed from the tee and features two treacherous bunkers, one in its centre, the other off on the right. If mastered, the player is then faced by the deceptively easy looking 199 metre, par three sixth. A careless stroke will land straight in a massive bunker covering the approach to its well protected green.

Modus: This is a two-man team competition, alternating between two types of game over four days. Thursday sees the pairings teeing off with a four-ball, while Friday’s second round consists of foursomes. Saturday reverts to four-ball, and Sunday’s final and decisive round is once more played as foursomes.

Lastly it is important to mention that the organisation of such a large-scale event requires hundreds of knowledgeable marshals to ensure the smooth running of the tournament in terms of fluency and crowd management. The Algarve World Cup is fortunate to have such a valuable resource available locally: the golf society, Golf for Greys, boasts over 500 members and is fulfilling this essential role.