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As he reflected on a momentous victory for Team Europe at the 2018 Ryder Cup, captain Thomas Björn’s emotion was clear to see: “We will always have Paris”. It was a spectacle that stretched far beyond people’s imaginations and captured the hearts and minds of a continent. But for Pascal Grizot, the man behind that special week in 2018, the 2018 Ryder Cup was something far greater than three days of competition. It was, and continues to be, an opportunity to create a long-lasting legacy for golf in France.
Grizot’s background has always involved his two passions in life – business and golf. For 20 years he worked in the retail market, setting up and buying major companies, before continuing this across various different industries, both in and out of sport.
His strong golfing background comes from a successful playing career as an amateur with many individual titles to his name. In addition to being captain of France’s men’s teams for a number of years, he presided over the country’s maiden Eisenhower Trophy win in 2010 and their 2011 European Amateur Team Championship victory.
Such passions for business and golf have stood Grizot well in his many endeavours in the sport – contributions that have unquestionably raised the profile of golf in France enormously and brought about significant economic value to wider French society. In 2018, the Ryder Cup alone benefited the French economy with sums in the region of €235 million, achieved through ticket sales, international consumer spending, business investment and other commercial activity.
As President of the French Ryder Cup Committee, Grizot was at the forefront from the very start of the bidding process through to the successful conclusion of the matches in 2018. It was a bid that stemmed from his understanding of the perceptions of golf in France and the need to change them. Grizot adopted a bold strategy to do so, utilising the unique nature of the Ryder Cup to expose golf to a wider audience. Securing funding from the public and private sectors, as well as from the Federation’s own members, he was able to beat stiff competition from five other countries: “At the time, nobody imagined France could host the Ryder Cup – there had only been two previous French Ryder Cup players, the country had just one major golf course that was capable of hosting the event (Le Golf National), and there were other exceptional nations competing for the rights at the time.”
Yet to raise the sport’s profile and participation levels in France, both Grizot and the Fédération français de golf (ffgolf), which he is President of, recognised the significant impact that hosting a seismic event like the Ryder Cup would have. When Grizot and his team started the bidding process, France was also in the midst of its successful bid to host the 2016 European football championships and as Jean van de Velde, the first Frenchman to play in the Ryder Cup, concluded: “Football is king in France.” Despite competition within golf and other sports to host the matches which inevitably brought many challenges and pressures, Grizot looks back on that 10-year journey fondly.
In fact, it was during a certain week in April 2011 that the Frenchman acknowledges as being the instrumental moment. Surprisingly however, it was an occasion that didn’t demand Pascal’s acute negotiation skills, nor the astute business acumen that he had built up over his career. It was actually the advice of a close friend. “I am friends with Dermot Desmond (the Irish businessman and financier), who gave me lots of amazing advice regarding the Ryder Cup. I remember on one occasion during The Masters, which was at a pivotal point in the (Ryder Cup) bidding process, he said to me ‘Pascal, you must not speak to George O’Grady at any point during the week’.
“Lobbying for the French bid was such a huge responsibility for me and yet here I was, being told to avoid one of the key decision makers during a momentous week in the golfing calendar. Dermot is a close friend and I trusted him, so I did as he asked. When I was having dinner with Dermot and George walked in, Dermot would say ‘Pascal, you must leave’ and I proceeded to leave. George couldn’t understand each time why I didn’t want to speak to him: ‘Dermot, why is Pascal leaving?’ he would ask.” But behind the scenes Dermot was offering his own support on Grizot’s behalf. “When George O’Grady announced the decision on 17th May 2011 that France would host the 2018 Ryder Cup, it was very special.”
The 2018 Ryder Cup would go down in history as a huge triumph for French golf, a notion echoed by CPG Chief Executive, Ian Randell: “Pascal’s passion, determination and commitment were at the very core of the success of the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris. The event exceeded the very high expectations and it will go down in history as the most successful Ryder Cup on many counts.” Team Europe, led by Captain Thomas Bjorn, would beat Team USA by 17.5-10.5 points in 2018, all the while being cheered on by over 270,000 spectators across the week.
A lasting legacy
Alongside the hosting of the Matches themselves, the bid that Pascal helped to create contained developmental and legacy-focused activities such as building 100 ‘petites structures’ or ‘urban courses’ closer to the population and the ‘Mon Carnet de Golf’ schools programme that introduced golf and the Ryder Cup to French schoolchildren. “The 100 short courses were the culmination of an ambitious plan for the development of golf carried by the ffgolf and are an illustration of the greatness of the legacy left by the Ryder Cup”. After 10 years of work, that short course project has had a significant impact on French golf, developing 17,000 new players, creating over 250 jobs and generating economic benefits such as increased investment into golf and contribution to the national GDP through an average of €220,000 of revenue and 3000 green fees per course. “These small structures are key to creating new golfers. They are the indication of the growth we are currently experiencing.”
There are limits to how far the sport can rise in France’s pecking order. It experienced rapid growth in the 1990s and early 2000s, but has often struggled to maintain that momentum leading into those 2018 matches. Relentless in his ambitions for French golf however, Grizot acknowledges the work must not stop. In his roles as President for ffgolf and Honorary President for the CPG, of which the latter organisation includes the PGA of France as a Member Country, Grizot holds local and international influence in the golfing world to be able to continue to enact change for French golf: “It’s now or never, because after all we’re doing, if there are not more golfers in France, sadly we will have a problem.” Certainly, golf in France can be comforted by having a man at the helm with a proven track record and a fiery enthusiasm to make the game better.