Celtic Manor Resort: extract from ‘Tenby to Celtic Manor: A history of golf in Wales’

 

Celtic Manor resort– Founded 1995

In 1888 one of the factors behind the opening of Tenby golf club was to attract visitors to the town. Once there they would stay in the hotels, spend money in the town and enjoy the golf. There is obviously an element of that at Celtic Manor resort. To assume that the whole venture is solely a money-making scheme would be as naive as believing it’s a totally philanthropic exercise on the part of Sir Terry Matthews.

Sir Terry Matthews is Celtic Manor resort. In the same way that the coal barons of Cardiff and Penarth bought and developed land in Cardiff and Porthcawl for their sport, so Terry Matthews, virtually single-mindedly has done the same with his golf resort. The parallels with early golf club founders are obvious but so are parallels with the modern day moguls, the football club owners. Terry Matthews is the Roman Abramovich of Welsh golf.

There is a great deal to admire about the way the resort has developed. Throughout the development there has been a willingness to share with other golf clubs in Wales.

Jim McKenzie, Director of Golf Courses and Estates Management, is passionate about the good Celtic Manor can do for golf in Wales. Greenkeepers visit the club to look at different techniques, secretaries visit to network and talk about the future. Jim quoted Einstein’s definition of insanity “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This was the way some clubs in Wales behaved. Golf needs to change in order to survive.” He talked about the £2 million Ryder Cup legacy fund has helped golf clubs throughout Wales. It was set up to encourage players new to the game to play golf. There have been projects from Caernarfon to Carmarthen. There have been projects such as the Driving Change training programme designed to help club officials.

“But more than that,“ he added “there seems to be more of a sense of a Welsh golfing community”. He feels that golf had to become more business focused, “Golf alone is never enough to sustain golf these days.” Jim’s passion is obvious as he talks about the unique opportunity we have in Wales, “Tiger Woods made golf cool. Youngsters have become interested in golf. This is a great chance for golf. “ Unsurprisingly, behind much of the Celtic Manor values and approach is the business philosophy of Matthews. A number of the initiatives are training courses, partnerships, with the emphasis being on working with golf clubs not giving handouts. The quote from Sir Terry Matthews seems to encapsulate this, “I like things to be profitable and sustained, then they are stable and last a long time. If they are not profitable they will eventually die.”

THE CLUB

It’s easy to forget that Celtic Manor is a golf club. It has several hundred members, monthly competitions and Gareth Edwards as the honorary captain .It’s easy to forget because the Celtic Manor is primarily a resort. It’s a golf club but more. It’s unlike any golf club I’ve ever been to in Wales. It’s impressive. There are estimates that it has cost £200 million to build. It looks like it has. It’s cathedral quiet, non sexist, non ageist. As a lady or a junior you can play the same times as the men. It costs a lot of money to join. It’s expensive. It’s almost too perfect.

BEGINNINGS

The focus of Celtic manor resort is the Manor House. This was built by Thomas Powell in 1860. Thomas Powell was the largest coal nine owner in South Wales and the biggest coal exporter in the world at the time.  The house changed from this to a hospital. It was here in 1943 that Terry Matthews was born.  Thirty something years later and the story goes that Sir Terry was driving back from Cardiff to London and saw the old hospital where he was born up for sale. His company, Celtic Inns Ltd purchased the derelict Manor House in 1980. Although there is a tinge of romance there the venture is a commercial venture. Sir Terry saw the potential in the site and has invested a massive amount on the project.  Now, almost 30 years later the resort now has; a 19th-century 69-bedroom 4-star hotel; a 334-bedroom, 32-suite luxury 5-star hotel; 2 Presidential suites;a 1500-delegate conference suite; an exhibition hall; 40 function rooms ; 5 restaurants ; 4 bars; 2 health clubs; a shopping centre; 2 tennis courts; a golf training academy and 3 Championship golf courses.

COURSE DESIGN

The Roman Road championship course was built by the late Robert Trent Jones Sr. around the many Roman roads that cross the area. It hosted the Wales Open in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Robert Trent Jones Sr., was born in Aberystwyth and has designed over 500 golf courses. They include Firestone in Ohio, Spyglass Hill in California and Valderrarma in Spain. He was an advocate that golf should be a “no risk, no reward” sport. The par 59 academy course for beginners, Coldra Woods was opened in 1996 and later replaced by The Montgomerie. This was also designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. which was described as “one of the finest short courses in Great Britain.” The Wentwood Hills course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and opened in 1997 had a number of changes due to the opening “ski-slope holes” and difficult climbs.  The Montgomerie opened in 2007 and incorporates elements of the Coldra Woods and Wentwood Hills courses. It was designed by Colin Montgomerie. Montgomery has designed a traditional parkland course that has elements of a links course – deep pot bunkers for instance.  Under the supervision of architect Ross McMurray of European Golf Design the course for the Ryder Cup is the Twenty-Ten. The course has been specifically designed for the 3 day event 1-3 October 2010. The course is designed to be exciting and watchable. There are water hazards on 9 of the holes and great visibility for spectators. It’s set in a “big, wide, windy and largely treeless bowl of the Usk Valley” It’s believed that 15 – 20,000 spectators will be able to see the 18th. Ross McMurray,“We wanted to create a fantastic stage for the players to walk down.”

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