Ryder Cup Saturday

The Goat
The Almost Legendary Goat

Unable to get a ticket for Ryder Cup – long story – so ended up traveling to Cardiff for a meeting with other like-minded, like-budgeted folk. Due to meet up in ‘The Cottage’ at 2 so get to Cardiff early and wander around. Seems a lot quieter in Cardiff – some shops have golf displays but not too many. Not the feeling of any thing exciting happening at all – perhaps this is a mistake.

‘The Cottage’ is quiet – we talk, and wait for everyone to turn up. Drinks are bought, lives are caught up with and we watch the occasional report in the background on Sky Sports news. There’s a number of mobiles ringing which announce the fact that all who are here are here and we roam a little. First there’s the traditional “One in the Goat” – big mistake, in golfing terms. Three minutes later we’re in the Old Arcade – nice – it’s become a bit posher than we like and we have a few. Later that evening there’s a talk organised by a number of golfing types – we agree to return (we never do) and someone hears a report that there are a couple of old acquaintances in a different pub. We leave, get chips in Caroline Street, eat them and cross the room. At last….

We wander into O’Neill’s – It’s exactly like a rugby International – many, many excited, semi-drunk Welsh people talking, drinking, watching, analysing and cheering simultaneously. It’s still early but already all the shots are being cheered or jeered and favourites are emerging – Rory, Poults and Luke are current favourites and a mix of responses to Tiger – generally polite, very low level comments, all intermingled with ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ at the shots he plays.

The treatment of Monty has totally changed over the past week or so – where has the miserable, growling, grumpy Colin gone. Who or what has replaced him with this caring, sharing, human. “What have you done with the real Monty!” someone cries out , “Bring him back,” “No!” comes the chorus and the pretend ego-free Monty carries on talking eloquently, respectfully and politely on the giant screen. No-one is fooled – the real Monty will be back. We miss him.

We spot a celeb on TV and discuss how they managed to get a ticket. Chris Evans appears on screen and the pub is polarised. We all cheer as Mark Roe says something probably witty and insightful ( can’t hear a thing ).

Hours later we’re in an Indian restaurant reflecting on the day, eating and starting to work out how we’ll get home, when we’ll meet again and promising that next time we will go and see it in the flesh.

This article first appeared in Cambria Magazine June ’11

Celtic Manor Resort: extract from ‘Tenby to Celtic Manor: A History of Golf in Wales’

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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.”

A Proper Welsh Golfer’s View of the Ryder Cup

I’m Welsh I am

I will not be watching the Ryder Cup from the upper tier of the 2010 clubhouse at Celtic Manor this year. I will be watching the Ryder Cup in the equally salubrious surrounds of the Old Arcade, or ‘The Goat’. I will probably tell some that this is my choice. I will point to all the drawbacks of watching the match wandering around a field in the company of 49,999 other souls; “You won’t be able to see anything”, “You’ll never get a drink”, ”The queues to the toilets will be horrendous,””What. I’ve got to park in Tredegar Park and take the bus in?”, “What if it rains?”.

In truth it all comes down to one thing… money. As a Saturday Morning Ball School colleague put it, “£130! I’d want to play in the Ryder Cup for that amount of money.”

It will be expensive. Aside for the entrance fee and the £20 parking fee there’s the food and drink (you’re not allowed to take your own food and drink you know) and all the restriction on cameras, phones etc..

Is this too much? Couldn’t billionaire Terry, sorry multi- billionare Sir Terry lower the prices a little in these harsh times? There’s an argument on both side here. On the one hand ‘why should he. It’s his game and he can charge what he likes. If you don’t like it you can go to the Old A with Byron and watch it on tv.” On the other hand how much does Sir Terry need another million or two.

GB and Europe have already given up home advantage to play at a golf club few of the players have even driven past let alone played before so why not at least have a really partizan, working class crowd. In rugby a large proportion of the tickets go to the rugby clubs. Wouldn’t it be excellent if that happened in golf and hoards of everyday golfers descended on the Celtic Manor – now that would be a home advantage. I hardly think 50,000 champagne-swilling, blue-blazered, televison-golfers will put Phil Mickelson off his swing. The combined might of Bargoed, Castell Heights, Caerleon , etc. golfers may well do.

And what about after the Ryder Cup? Is it possible Sir Terry will stay? Why would he – he’s done it now. He’s had the supreme monopoly / fantasy golf game, played it and won. What could be next? Getting Wales to hold the 2020 Olympics, Canada to hold the 2022 World Cup? There were rumours of the Celtic Manor becoming a centre for sporting excellence – tennis in particular was mentioned. I can’t see it myself. Where is the motivation for Sir T in that. Having climbed Everest what did Sir Edmund Hilary do next? Neil Armstrong? Captain Webb, Chuck Yeager, Ricky Valance. Exactly. No-one knows. For golf in Wales it’s been good. Newport has a new road. Golfers now know, at least that Wales is not part of England, and by the end of the week they will have found out the hard way, that Newport is not part of Cardiff.

As for the match itself Tiger Woods will win all his matches. It’s inevitable. It’s all part of his master plan. Why do you think Tiger’s been out of action for so long – exactly, he’s focusing on the Ryder Cup. Anyone who has bought Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 for the Wii will know this. The game features the most accurate depiction of the course at Celtic Manor that you will ever see. It’s more accurate than being there – say some. Tiger has obviously been busy all summer learning the nuances of the course from the comfort of his armchair and will be a certainty for all points – mark my words.

So, I’ll watch Tiger Woods and the US team narrowly win the Ryder Cup from the discomfort of the Goat Major and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Unless of course someone were willing to offer me a free ticket.

This article first appeared in ‘The Wales on Sunday’ September 2010

 

Origins of Ryder Cup – extract from “Tenby to Celtic Manor”

In 1926 a group of American professionals arrived in England to play in the Open Golf Championship at Wentworth. They had time on their hands while they waited for the Open to begin. To kill time they competed against a team of British professionals, but lost 13½ points to 1½ points.

Samuel Ryder, a wealthy Englishman, watched the competition, and agreed to provide a trophy to encourage the matches to be played on a regular basis.

The inaugural Ryder Cup matches were played the following year at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts, and thereafter every two years, with the venue alternating between England and America. In 1973 the Cup was played for in Scotland for the first time, at Muirfield, and in 1979, after a period of American supremacy, it was decided to include European players in the competition. Since then the contest have been close, and the score remains Europe 7 wins, America 7 wins, and one tied match.

The Ryder Cup remains one of the few great sporting competitions that is played for no prize money.

October 2010 will see the Ryder Cup held in Wales, for the first time ever. The Ryder Cup is a three-day competition between teams representing Europe and the USA. It is the third biggest sporting occasion on earth, surpassed only by the Olympic Games and the football World Cup. It is watched by billions of people across the world. In 2010 the matches will be played on the Celtic Manor Resort’s new ‘Twenty Ten’ course in Newport, Wales: the first golf course specifically designed to host the biennial event.

But golf in Wales does not begin and end with the 2010 Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup will obviously be fantastic for Wales, for tourism, for the economy, but for golf itself the hope is that it will bring world recognition that Wales is a great place to play golf. Although there are fewer than 200 Golf Clubs in Wales, compared with over 7,000 in the rest of the UK, the diversity and beauty of the courses is superb. It is hoped that more people will realise that golf in Wales can be a rich and varied experience, every bit as exciting as golf in Scotland or Ireland.