NEWPORT, Wales – When it was announced that Celtic Manor Resort would be the stage for the 2010 Ryder Cup, some golf critics might have wondered why the selection committee said 'yes' to an untested golf resort in Wales and 'no thanks' to British Open staples Turnberry and Carnoustie. Besides, the Ryder Cup isn't used to moving around a lot. Since the first matches in 1927 only four different European countries – England, Ireland, Scotland and Spain – have played host to the Ryder Cup, so it would have made sense to send it to familiar territory yet again. After all, golf is a game where history is respected and traditions are honored.
But when we visited Celtic Manor this summer we learned that this enchanting country and superb golf resort are a refreshing deviation from Ryder Cup normalcy. From the golf to the food, we discovered five things that make Celtic Manor a very worthy host of one of the world's most important golf events.
1. Uniqueness of the Twenty Ten
Though the Ryder Cup was awarded to Celtic Manor in 2001, the Twenty Ten course didn’t open until 2007, so instead of tweaking the course to suit the Ryder Cup, the Twenty Ten was literally built to host it. And while golf fans might expect a Ryder Cup in Europe to be played on a pure links layout, the Twenty Ten is unique to any previous Ryder Cup venue because of its three distinct personalities:
'Links' (Nos. 1-4) – The first four holes are devoid of trees, but feature tight driving corridors, penalizing bunkers and sloping greens with run-off areas. No. 2 is a 600-plus-yard par 5 that could swing momentum early in the match.
'American' (Nos. 5-14) – Celtic Manor director of golf Jim McKenzie refers to this stretch as the “Floridian” section of the golf course because holes wander through the relatively flat Usk Valley with penalizing water hazards coming into play on several holes. This section is bookended by difficult par 4s which feature water off the tee and into the green. McKenzie bills No. 5 as the Twenty Ten’s most difficult hole and No. 14 as one of the best risk/reward opportunities.
'Alpine' (Nos. 15-18) – The final stretch of holes at the Twenty Ten bumps up against a hillside, creating long, flowing contours akin to Switzerland and Austria. No. 15 is a drivable par 4 that could end up being the most talked about hole at the Ryder Cup. A conservative iron off the tee makes for a straightforward par, but players needing to make a move will be enticed by an aggressive line over the trees to a blind landing area (More on this hole below). No. 18 is a long par 5 with a steep, closely-mown bank protecting the front of the green.
2. Variety of golf
Beyond the Twenty Ten there are two other courses at Celtic Manor and plenty more outside the resort – including famed Royal Porthcawl, site of the 1995 Walker Cup. The total package of courses has a wide variety.
Sitting in front of the Celtic Manor hotel is Roman Road, Robert Trent Jones’ only golf course in Wales. This hilly parkland layout hosted the European Tour Wales Open for three years while the Twenty Ten was under construction. It’s considered the No. 2 course at the resort.
The Montgomerie course is more of an old-fashioned layout with pot bunkers. It plays shorter and easier than Roman Road, making it a nice complement to the resort’s other two courses.
If you know a little about Welsh golf you’ve probably heard of Royal Porthcawl, a classic seaside links course built in 1895. It has long been considered one of the finest golf courses in Wales and has plenty of championship pedigree. In 1995 it hosted the Walker Cup – the amateur version of the Ryder Cup – in what was Tiger Woods’ only appearance in the event. It also has hosted six British Amateurs, most recently in 2002.
At 6,685 yards from the tips, Royal Porthcawl is short by today’s pro standards, but with deep pot bunkers and severe greens, it’s a stern test of classic links golf. Consider it a must-play during your golf trip to Wales. Although it’s private, Royal Porthcawl is accommodating to tourists who call in advance.
3. Built for excitement
From the drivable par-4 15th hole to the par-5 finisher that features a massive, closely-mown bank in front of the green, the Twenty Ten has plenty of potential for high drama down the stretch – and it’s all surrounded by hillsides and mounding conducive to spectator viewing.
McKenzie calls Nos. 14-18 the “Twenty Ten’s version of Amen Corner” because of its strategic value.
“Once you get to the 14th tee that’s the first place you have to make a decision based on whether you’re up or down, or what your partner just did,” McKenzie said.
For matches that go the distance, No. 18 won’t disappoint. A powerful tee shot leaves players with a decision to lay up or go for the water-protected green. The main issue here is that balls that even think about coming up short will likely catch the slope and roll backward into the water. It’s a treacherous shot whether you have a 3-wood in your hand, or a wedge.
Beyond the design of the inward holes, the views are also spectacular. Spectators can stand in one place and look across the valley at golf action on several holes.
“In addition to the golf, the aerial views of the surrounding countryside are great promotion of Celtic Manor and Wales,” said Celtic Manor CEO Dylan Matthews. “It’s a beautiful area that we live in.”
4. Welsh culture
No matter where you travel, one of the most intriguing aspects of an overseas golf trip is the opportunity to experience a culture different than your own. Wales is no exception.
Though it’s less than a two-hour drive west from London Heathrow – the world’s busiest airport – Celtic Manor is at the center of a unique Welsh culture that features its own array of beers – Brains is the national brand – delicious food and its own quirky language. Don’t worry though, English is spoken in most areas.
The food, particularly at the Celtic Manor Hotel, is abundant and altogether tastier than most British food. There are several great restaurants within the resort, all of which serve an eclectic variety of Welsh fare including fresh local fish and pretty much any meat you can imagine. Cheese is a part of every meal, whether it’s breakfast or the meal that comes after dessert (whatever that’s called). Some menu items are a bit strange if you’re unaccustomed to non-traditional fare (snails, anyone?) but then again, “When in Wales…”
As is the case all over the United Kingdom, a few golf terms are different here: You don’t rent golf clubs, you “hire” them. Motorized carts are “buggies” and instead of ordering a beer it’s a “pint” (no matter the size).
5. Plenty to do after your round
Though most resort amenities will be closed to the general public during the Ryder Cup, the surrounding area is littered with pubs serving Brains Black (the country’s version of Guinness) and Penderyn (a Welsh whisky). Downtown Newport is your best bet, but any hotel concierge would have recommendations for a hole-in-the-wall, if that’s your scene.
If you have a penchant for sporting clays, Treetops Sporting Ground is a 10-minute shuttle ride from the resort. Even if you don’t have any experience shooting a gun, a professionally guided tour will give you the chance to shoot a variety of targets.
Though Scotland and Ireland still reign in the minds of most traveling golfers, the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor is proof that Wales is a seriously legitimate golf destination.