Chances are good that you’ve never been to Wales. Sir Terry Matthews hopes to change that.
Matthews is the billionaire owner of Celtic Manor, the U.K. golf resort in the Usk Valley that will host the 2010 Ryder Cup and where Matthews estimates he’s spent £22 million (roughly $34 million) revamping the golf course specifically for the needs of a Ryder Cup venue.
The 7,493-yard parkland layout emphasizes approach shots, a perfect design for a Ryder Cup. Water comes into play on half of the holes, which weave through the leafy countryside of the capital city of Cardiff, near the southern coast of Wales.
After the United States Ryder Cup team defeated Nick Faldo and his European teammates by five points this year, Faldo warned visitors to “bring your waterproofs” to Celtic Manor. While that mean-spirited statement only gave the Welsh yet another reason to dislike Faldo, the comment didn’t phase Matthews one bit.
“We have the best drainage on the planet,” Matthews said after this year’s Ryder Cup at Valhalla. “It’s a challenge, but Robert Trent Jones built a lot of golf courses for me, and he used to say the three most important things about a golf course are drainage, drainage and drainage.”
The 2010 Course is a composite of new and old. Nine of its holes were rehabbed from Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s Wentwood Hills course. Another nine were constructed specifically for the 2010 routing by Ross McMurray of European Golf Design. Wentwood Hills’ remaining nine were retooled and incorporated into the new Colin Montgomerie design. A third course, the resort’s original Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s Roman Road, remains undisturbed.
The Usk valley and Celtic Manor sit in a shallow bowl, edged on one side by the river Usk and by crowned hills on the others. Late in the fall and early in the spring, a patchy fog can settle over the valley. The cloud lifts quickly, though, leaving behind a peaty flavor in the crisp air and exposing rabbits, geese and pheasant dashing between the streams of sun that leak through the mist and slice between heavy oak tree limbs.
Outside of Celtic Manor, the Cardiff area has more than a dozen other nearby golf courses.
“There are about three million people in Wales and eight million sheep, so the sheep are very nervous” jokes Dai Phillips, a certified guide in the city of Swansea, near Cardiff.
But on the fairways and greens of nearby Southerndown Golf Club, the sheep seem perfectly content to wander among the golfers and the townspeople. “The sheep are the major part of my groundskeeping staff,” retorts Dyfrig Edwards, the golf course’s superintendent.
The Welsh are as unpretentious, gregarious and welcoming a people as you’ll find. If you find yourself at Celtic Manor, also book rounds at nearby Southerndown (where the daily tee sheet is written in marker on an outdoor sign) and at Royal Porthcawl (a famous seaside venue where 40 mph winds are routine). Wales deserves more notoriety as a golf destination than it receives. Some of its unfamiliarity to Americans stems from its relative inaccessibility from U.S. airport hubs. Getting there from Dallas or Houston usually involves a connection in London or Manchester, England. (British Airways flies nonstop to London Heathrow’s new Terminal 5, where your luggage miraculously arrives at the baggage carousel around the same time you do.) Cardiff and Celtic Manor are easy drives from both London and Manchester on the M4 motorway, and the roads are well marked.
JUST THE FACTS