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France awarded 2018 Ryder Cup

VIRGINIA WATER, United Kingdom, May 17- France on Tuesday won the right to host the 2018 Ryder Cup, triumphing despite emotional appeals for the event to be awarded to Spain in tribute to Seve Ballesteros.

France’s bid, which centres on Le Golf National course outside Paris, successfully beat out rival bids from venues in Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands and Spain.

French bid officials burst into applause as European Tour chief executive George O’Grady confirmed their victory by a "clear but narrow margin" in an announcement at Wentworth Golf Club outside London.

The 2018 event will be only the second Ryder Cup ever held on continental Europe following its staging in Valderrama, Spain in 1997, when Ballesteros masterminded a dramatic victory over the United States.

Relatives of Ballesteros, who died earlier this month three years after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, had urged officials to back Spain’s bid as a fitting tribute to the 54-year-old icon.

"It would have made my brother very happy, for it was one of his dreams," Baldomero Ballesteros said last week.

But in a clear signal that the Tour was leaning away from the Spanish bid, a statement released just hours before Tuesday’s vote said officials were studying a range of options for a permanent tribute to Ballesteros.

Among options being considered are changing the European Tour logo to an image of Ballesteros, the European Tour said in the statement.

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In opening remarks ahead of the French victory, O’Grady said the decision had been taken in "full recognition of (Ballesteros’s) immense contribution and leadership" of European golf.

O’Grady later rejected suggestions that the decision to award the event to France represented a "missed opportunity" to honour Ballesteros.

"I don’t think it’s a missed opportunity at all in the sense that we’ve been well aware of the legacy of Severiano Ballesteros right from the beginning of this bidding process," O’Grady said.

 "Every thing we do as a European Tour is to honour him. I don’t think this is going to be the last Ryder Cup that will be played in most of our lifetimes, it’s just that at the moment the French bid was outstanding.

French delegates, who included sports minister Chantal Jouanno, were jubilant after their victory.

"It’s an extraordinary opportunity to promote golf in France," Jouanno said.

Former Ryder Cup star Thomas Levet described the outcome as "incredible" comparing the event to a European Champions League final.

"It’s an incredible day," Levet said. "In terms of atmosphere, the Ryder Cup is like a Champions League final that lasts for three days."

Central to the French bid was the fact that the lion’s share of funding will come from revenue collected from a small increase over the next few years in the annual golf assurance licence taken out by registered players in France.

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"The support of all golfers in France made the difference," Jouanno said.

A pledge to build 100 starter courses near urban areas in order to boost the numbers of players in France had also impressed tour officials.

"In the end France was a clear winner, by the narrowest of margins," O’Grady said. "The involvement of every French golfer, the decision to build all these starter courses, Golf National … their bid was just exceptional."

The next Ryder Cup will be held outside Chicago, Illinois next year before the event goes to Gleneagles, Scotland in 2014.

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