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.”


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.


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.


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.”

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.


“Tenby to Celtic Manor”- My Book – What It Is, What It Isn’t

Tenby …..

My book, “Tenby to Celtic Manor.” (Carreg Gwalsch) (on sale from 31 July) is not;

a travel book detailing the 160 mile journey along the A4218, A478, A477, A40, A48, M4, A48 (again),  and B4236 between the South West seaside town of Tenby and the imposing Colditz-style fortress on the eastern side of Newport that is Celtic Manor;

a golf instruction book that includes an opening chapter about your grip with illustrations, a chapter dealing with the 10 most common faults all solved by hitting the ball close to where you’re aiming, chapters called, “Putting – The Game Within A Game”, “Understand Your Swing” or “Warming Up Before Your Round”;

A book with a foreword by a famous player I’ve never met (the best I could hope for is Bradley Dredge as my mum knows his mum, slightly) and as a member of Bargoed Golf Club my other link would be that I’ve had a drink or two in the Bradley Dredge lounge;

a book of colour illustrations of me, or more likely Bradley, shot on a Spanish golf course standing in a gorgeous yellow sandy bunker looking wise.

Reviews of the book will not be the same as the reviews of many golf books found on the shelves.

Reviews will not say;

“this book is the defining point of a lifetimes’s theories… free from jargon… contains everything you will ever need to know ” -‘100% Golf’, David Leadbetter;

(the book is) “offering a fast track to a lower handicap for all” – ‘The Golf Instruction Manual’, Steve Newell;

“this eye-opening tutorial will empower golfers” – ‘The Negotiable Golf Swing’, Joseph Laurentino.

People will not say the following about my book;

“this masterpiece of simplicity offers a fast track to a lower handicap for all…each chapter offers fascinating insights that are guaranteed to save you shots. – P. Alliss ;

“it’s about as funny as someone shouting ‘one’ when your ball falls off the tee. – B. Forsyth”

“when I started reading this book I rarely broke 100. By page 10 I was playing in single figures. By chapter 5 I had won the weekly club stableford competition 3 times. A week later I was playing off scratch. By the time I had finished it I was on the professional circuit…… I can thoroughly recommend it. – B. Dredge ”.

What the book is a history of golf in Wales illustrated by a range of diverse golf clubs, with a number of themes running through the book; the role of women, religion, industry, poverty and class.

Extract 1: Acknowledgements

“This book is a selective trawl through the history of Golf in Wales to the present day. I’ve tried to get a mix of large Clubs and small Clubs, members’ Clubs and owners’ Clubs, urban Clubs and rural Clubs. This is a snapshot of golf as I saw it and heard it in the summer of 2010 in Wales.

Many thanks are due for the help, support and patience I’ve had from the Golf Club managers, secretaries, captains, members, Club historians and professionals across Wales. Special thanks to the people who have patiently hunted for papers in the backs of cupboards, answered my queries, sent me notes, records, books and photos.

Particular apologies to the club officials who don’t find their Club in this book. In attempting to give the widest range of Clubs in Wales I’ve had to be incredibly selective – sorry. “

Extract 2 : Origins of golf

The last fifty years of the Victorian era were a time of dramatic change for Wales. The population virtually doubled between 1851 and 1901. In 1851, 35 per cent of the population of Wales earned their living in agriculture. By the early twentieth century this was down to 10 per cent. In 1850 almost all elected MPs were members of the land-owning classes; by 1914 only three of the thirty-four MPs representing Welsh constituencies were part of the landed gentry. The rôle of women was about to change, as was the power of the Church.
Golf, and sport in general, reflected of the changing times. In 1876 the Football Association was formed in Wales. In 1881 the Welsh Rugby Union was formed. In 1888 Glamorgan County Cricket Club was founded. In 1895 the Welsh Golfing Union was formed with a meeting of seven existing Clubs: Tenby, Porthcawl, Swansea Bay, Glamorganshire, Caernarvonshire, Borth-Ynylas, Aberdovey and Merionethshire…

… to Celtic Manor

Celtic Manor

Unashamed plug for my book “Tenby to Celtic Manor – A History of Golf in Wales.”

This book (available 31st July 2010)  published by Carreg Gwalch features 18 golf clubs that tell the story of golf in Wales. These chapters are;
Tenby, Royal Porthcawl, Monmouth, Pwllheli, Newport (Gwent), Llandrindod Wells, Caerphilly, Southerndown, Wrexham, Vale of Llangollen, Dinas Powys, Tredegar and Rhymney, Pyle and Kenfig, Llanymynech, Rhosgoch, Penrhos, Dewstow and Celtic Manor.

Extract from Chapter 1:


“Tenby is a bustling town on the southwest coast of Wales with an unusually high concentration of pubs. ” http://www.worldgolf.com

Tenby, Dinbych-y-Pysgod (‘little fort of the fish’) in Welsh, has existed for a long time. It lies on the coast of southern Pembrokeshire, 27 miles west of Carmarthen. The first mention of the town was in a ninth-century bardic poem. It grew in the twelfth century. The Norman castle was built to keep out the Welsh. In the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was a major port. After this, however, the town slept until the railways woke it.

By the early nineteenth century Tenby had become a pretty, historical town with a busy fishing community. Victorians were keen on health, and ‘taking the waters’ was a great Victorian passion. The growth of the town and the tourism went hand in hand, and the trickle of tourists in the first half of the nineteenth century became a flood as the railway arrived at Tenby in 1863. By 1888 it was a tourist-driven town. Amongst the visitors to tenby at this time were novelists Lewis Carroll, Jane Austen, and George Elliot; the artist J. M. W. Turner; and Beatrix Potter, creator of Peter Rabbit and friends.

There were hotel-owners and business-owners in the town who were keen golfers themselves and eager for something extra to attract their customers to the area. Setting up and developing the Club was a mixture of business and pleasure for them. In Tenby, as in a number of Welsh seaside towns, golf had a dual purpose: as well as the tourism angle, the Club became a focus for local businesspeople to relax, play and meet.
These days Tenby still pulls in the tourists. They come to walk the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, or to go across to Caldey Island to see the perfume-making monks, and the town itself has an annual Arts Festival. Not too far away is Laugharne, of Dylan Thomas fame. And of course, there is always golf …


Tenby is believed to be the oldest Golf Club in Wales. It was established after a meeting on 31 September 1888 in the Town Hall, when six people decided to form a Club. The first membership fees were 10/6d per year or 5/- per month (equivalent to £273 or £130 today).

However, there is some evidence that golf had been played at Tenby as early as 1875. A passage in Laws of Markets and Fairs published in that year refers to court proceedings being adjourned whilst the court officials took time off to play golf.

The first Club competition was held on 21 October 1888, when thirty-three gentlemen and ladies took part and a Mr. T. A. Rees was the winner with a gross 51, net 41 off a 10 handicap (9 holes).

The Club prospered in the early years. In 1889 there were ninety recorded members. In 1892 there was sufficient money and optimism to employ a groundsman. There is a record in 1911 of comparative wages: whilst the Professional was paid 15/- a week, the green-keeper was paid 35/- per week.

The Club developed in the late Victorian era. A number of improvements were made to the course and exhibition matches are recorded. It was also the time when Tenby played home and away matches with Ashburnham in 1896. This, the oldest surviving Welsh fixture, is still played today.

In 1907 James Braid developed the full eighteen-hole course which was opened at the Easter meeting that same year.

More alterations were made between the war years. It is recorded that part of the course was landmined in 1940.

There have been a number of clubhouses over the years, even one in the town. The current one was opened in 1966 at a cost of £40,000. Over recent years this has been refurbished and extended. It is also one of the most modern-looking clubhouses in Wales.

With the help of partners such as the Ryder Cup Legacy Fund the Club are working hard at improving facilities and attracting more members. The fund will help Tenby Club develop a three-hole short course specifically designed to make golf more accessible and enjoyable for juniors and newcomers to golf. There will also be better practice facilities. This is essential as the Club holds more prestigious tournaments. In 2010 the Club will host the Welsh Amateur Championship and the British Ladies Championship.

With the support of Golf Development Wales the Club Professional, Mark Hawkey, has introduced ‘taster sessions’over the past year. At a subsidised cost of around £1 a person over 150 potential new golfers have had the opportunity to try golf out and see if they like it.  Following on from this the Club has encouraged more people to join by considered more flexible membership deals with three-month trial memberships or six-monthly memberships.

So, whilst Tenby is justifiably proud of its heritage and its unique place in Welsh golf history, David Hancock (Secretary) sums up the approach: ‘It’s about not living in the past, but keeping moving forward.’  ………..