The organisers of golf’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles next month have been accused of turning the area into a “Scottish version of Alcatraz” by closing public footpaths and banning walkers from surrounding countryside.
Perth and Kinross Council, backed by Scottish Ministers, has approved special exemptions to Scotland’s ‘right to roam’ law to restrict public access to land at Auchterarder next to the tournament course. The restrictions start coming into force tomorrow (11 August), though the Ryder Cup is not due to begin until 23 September.
Ramblers and local residents are outraged that they are being barred from popular footpaths and common land just because they might get a glimpse of the Ryder Cup. The restrictions on public access are “draconian” and create a dangerous precedent, they say.
“It is ridiculous that the public are being told that they cannot use their statutory rights of access to walk on land well outside the boundaries of the Gleneagles golf course simply because it might provide them with a view of a couple of holes on the Ryder Cup course,” said Dave Morris, the director of Ramblers Scotland.
“What next - are the public going to be told that they cannot walk up hills near to football stadiums or shinty grounds in case they get a view of the action on the nearby pitch?”
Morris accused the Ryder Cup organisers of wanting to introduce “American-style” access bans in contrast to the more relaxed arrangements at the Commonwealth Games. “The arrangements being put in place at Gleneagles appear to be closer to a Scottish version of Alcatraz, the prison in San Francisco Bay,” he said.
Police were reported yesterday to be planning a “ring of steel” around the Ryder Cup to prevent terror attacks. But Chief Inspector Mike Whitford, the area commander for Perth and Kinross, said: “There is certainly no indication that there is any significant threat or risk.”
Sandra Murray, a retired tourist officer, has walked her dogs on Auchterarder golf course, next to the Ryder Cup course at Gleneagles, for over 32 years. “I am so annoyed that a golf company can come along and close down so much land for so long,” she told the Sunday Herald.
She pointed out that the G8 summit of world leaders was held at Gleneagles in 2005 without having to shut down land at Auchterarder. “They keep saying it’s for safety and security, but I would have thought that presidents and prime ministers were much more of a security risk than a few golfers,” she said.
Murray made a formal objection to the restrictions, but it didn’t prevent them coming into force. “As far as I'm concerned nobody is going to stop me or anyone from walking on the golf course,” she declared.
“I am not against the Ryder Cup being held at Gleneagles and I hope that it is a great success. I just don't like all the restrictions being placed on people trying to walk their dogs or just walk.”
The land rights campaigner, Andy Wightman, has also criticised the restrictions as “a gross overreaction”. Auchterarder golf course was common land that belonged to local people, he said. “Commons are for the people and not for corporate elites.”
The backers and organisers of the Ryder Cup accepted that it would cause disruption to local residents, but argued that this would be dwarfed by the huge economic benefits it would bring.
“As with any large event of this nature there will always be some disruption to local residents but the long-term tourism and economic benefits will far outweigh the short-term inconvenience,” said a spokesman for the government tourism agency, VisitScotland.
The organisers, Ryder Cup Europe, recalled that there had been similar restrictions at previous events in Wales and Ireland. “Some access restrictions need to be in place to protect the site,” said a spokesman.
According to Perth and Kinross Council, the Ryder Cup is expected to attract 45,000 spectators a day and a television audience of 600 million in 183 countries. “The closures are necessary to ensure the access to the event is strictly monitored and coordinated by the event organisers,” said a council spokeswoman.
The Scottish government confirmed that it had approved exemptions to access rights “on the grounds of safety and security in order to stage the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.”