NEWPORT, WALES – The nose of the tiny golf cart Luke Jennings is piloting dips into the lush Usk Valley and the stage on which the 38th Ryder Cup Matches in 2010 will be played comes into full view.
It’s a spectacular sight.
Framed by rolling Welsh farmland and cattle-filled pastures through which the famed River Usk gently flows, the Twenty Ten course, created specifically to host golf’s premier event, stands out like a diamond in the rough.
“Pretty impressive, eh,” says the likeable Luke, an employee at the course and one of 7,000 officials – “not sure what I’ll be doing yet” - who will be needed employed during the 2010 Ryder Cup, pitting America’s best golfers against Europe’s best.
Above: Professional golfers loved the creativeness of the links course at Celtic Manor, a Ryder Cup venue.
“Mr. Matthews has created something very special for all golfers,” says Luke, referring to Sir Terence (Terry) Matthews, the Canadian telecommunications mogul who made his fortune in Ottawa before returning to his native Wales where he bought this 1,400 acre property in 1982 – complete with the manor house in which he was born. He then proceeded to build arguably the best golf resort in all of Great Britain, Celtic Manor, where the likes of Tiger Woods will bunk during the prestigious matches, slated for October 1-3.
Matthews spared no expense to secure Wales’s biggest ever international sports event.
“See that bridge?” Luke asks while pointing to a futuristic structure spanning a narrow point in the river. “That cost two million pounds (over $3 million Cda.) and its sole purpose is to take the players to the practice area.”
In all, Matthews committed about $30 million to his Ryder Cup ambition.
The Twenty Ten course was created with the help of some of Europe’s best designers using holes from the resort’s old Wentworth layout – nine in all – while nine others had to be designed completely from scratch.
While he was at it, Matthews invited PGA Tour star Colin Montgomerie, the man who will captain the 2010 European Ryder Cup team, over from Scotland to design another championship course and The Montgomerie, as it is known, is just like its designer – nasty!
Above: Canadian tycoon Terry Matthews created Celtic Manor and it's a great success.
The Twenty Ten, Montgomerie and Roman Road course, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. beauty that has been around since 1995, now give the Celtic Manor a troika of layouts that rivals any resort in the world. And the resort’s location in southern Wales places it close to some of the best links golf in Great Britain.
According to Luke, though, the original Roman Road, which led to London in ancient times and cut through the Celtic Manor property at points, threw up a few roadblocks of its own for the Twenty Ten designers.
“Work had to be stopped several times because they kept finding old Roman artifacts scattered about the course,” Luke informs.
Celtic Manor is located next to quaint Caerleon, one of Great Britain’s most historic towns where a Roman Legion set up shop in about 75AD and stayed around for a few hundred years, thus leaving debris – now revered as priceless treasures – scattered about the surrounding countryside.
Between Ryder Cup rounds, you can bet pub-filled Caerleon, where Roman remains – baths and a well-preserved amphitheatre which is believed to be King Arthur’s Round Table (yes, the mighty Crusader king also has a link to the tiny hamlet) – will be popular with Ryder Cup fans.
Most of the Twenty Ten course is located in the stunning valley and the surrounding plateaus create a natural amphitheatre from which the expected 45,000 fans daily can view all the action. The superior vantage points make Celtic Manor the most fan-friendly venue ever to hold the Ryder Cup.
The Twenty Ten will be set up at 7,493 yards for the Cup but sadly, European captain Montgomerie has ordered the course’s daunting fescue be trimmed dramatically for the event – “I guess they want a lot of birdies and eagles for this TV event,” says Luke.
But one round on this beauty tells you the fescue is the least of the players’ worries. While the participants may be able to adjust to the Twenty Ten’s challenging design, the always present wind that swirls recklessly in the valley is what will really test their nerves.
“When we hosted the 2010 Wales Open on the Twenty Ten course earlier this year, the players said they had trouble with club selection because of the swirling wind and many said they had to go up a club on many holes,” reports Luke.
It says here the Welsh winds will make the Twenty Ten course as tough as the Ocean Course on South Carolina’s Kiawah Island, which hosted one of the most memorable Ryder Cups back in 1991.
The Twenty Ten’s new nine holes are 1 through 5, along with 14 and 16 through 18. The course has water hazards on half its holes and bunkers abound – No. 2 should be christened Bunker Hill with its eight sand traps; five protecting the smallish green alone.
The par 4, 15th is the course’s signature hole and one of the toughest off the green anywhere. Because Ryder Cup officials will lengthen the hole for the event, players won’t be able to cut the corner off the tee and instead will be forced to lay up on the left side of the fairway. That will produce a challenging shot to a sloped green that drops off sharply at the front into water and at the back into a bunker.
Many of the greens on the Twenty Ten exhibit exaggerated swales and small openings at the green, thus requiring eagle-eye accuracy – maybe they should have called this course the 20/20.
No. 9, which meanders beside a pasture filled with Angus cattle and ends where the salmon filled River Usk branches off to charming Caerleon, is normally a 666-yard brute from the tips with an elevated green. But Luke reports the hole will be set up much shorter for the pros.
The par-4 458-yard 12th, with its narrow landing area protected by water on both sides of the fairway and three bunkers protecting the green, could very well play a deciding role in many of the Ryder Cup matches.
The Ryder Cup players will be pampered between rounds in the state-of-the-art clubhouse, a majestic onsite spa called the Forum and five excellent Celtic Manor dining spots – Rafters in the new Twenty Ten clubhouse and the Patio in the old Manor House were our favourites. If you’d like to rub shoulders with some of the players, a little bird tells this reporter that the Bolero Pub in Caerleon is where Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez likes to hang out when he visits the Celtic Manor.
So, well before the players take to Twenty Ten stage, we already know the winner of the 2010 Ryder Cup – Wales’ Celtic Manor.