The Twenty Ten Course a worthy host
Monday, September 27, 2010
NEWPORT, Wales – Just in time for a major sporting event, a little country gets a big golf course.
For Wales, a nation the size of Massachusetts and with the population of Chicago, the Oct. 1-3 Ryder Cup presents a chance to emerge from the protective cloak of the United Kingdom. Since the awarding of the event in 2001, Welsh officials have worked with tourism leaders to establish Wales as a unique destination. There’s more to offer than castles, coal, mad writers and a native language with consonants run amok.
“It’s our Olympic Games,” said Alun Ffred Jones, Wales’ heritage minister.
Now they have their Olympic Stadium: Celtic Manor Resort’s Twenty Ten Course. The layout is
part of a 1,400-acre, five-star resort in southeast Wales, near the English border. Celtic Manor is the brainchild of Sir Terry Matthews, a Welsh telecommunications and Internet magnate. This lush, modern resort makes a serious commitment to international golf with three courses. Since 2000, the resort has hosted the European Tour’s Celtic Manor Wales Open.
The 7,378-yard, par-71 Twenty Ten Course, opened in 2007, is a rebuilt incarnation of Robert Trent Jones II’s 1999 design Wentwood Hills. That course played host to the Wales Open from 2000 to ’06, but it began and ended on severe terrain. For the Ryder Cup, and to upgrade the course for resort guests, the opening and closing sequences were re-created. That required a new clubhouse site a half-mile north, on land overlooking the Usk River Valley.
Course architect Ross McMurray of European Golf Design created holes 1-5, 14 and 16-18 on land overlooking the river. Along the way, massive spectator areas were shaped, offering dramatic views. Nine of Jones’ original holes (Nos. 6-13 and 15 on The Twenty Ten Course) were preserved in their routing and structure, though bunkering was modified to match the style and drainage of the newer holes, where the bunkers are deep.
The new holes maximize spectator access and provide impressive long views through the watershed. However, the river comes into play only on a badly pulled second shot at the par-5 ninth. Discordantly, the water in play is via a series of manmade ponds, contributing to the feel of a modern, American-style layout.
In that sense, The Twenty Ten Course doesn’t represent the traditional Welsh palette, which features impressive linksland from Cardiff to Swansea that could have been transformed into a fitting Ryder Cup stage.
Yet, The Twenty Ten Course has virtues, notably the beauty of its inland setting and the impressive scale of the course grounds. The closing holes also should set the stage for match-play drama:
• No. 13, 189 yards, par 3: One of the original holes, it plays across a pond to a green perched diagonally above water. With prevailing wind up the valley from the right, approach shots might need to start over water and work back in, depending on hole location. The target area is further confined by two bunkers back and left; easy to find and hard to negotiate, with downhill sand shots toward the water.
• No. 15, 377 yards, par 4: A goofy though exciting hole, because it’s the only par 4 that will be set up as drivable. Players either lay up left to a boomerang fairway for a second shot over a wooded stream or blast a full-bore drive right to a tiny, snaky green nestled in a hollow.
• No. 18, 575 yards, par 5: The dramatic finishing hole borrows freely from Valderrama’s notorious 17th, but there’s a better layup option and the green is more receptive. Into a prevailing wind, approach shots must carry well onto the putting surface. A slick false front knocks anything played timidly into a fronting pond.
For all the attention to design detail, one big uncertainty hangs over the site. If the weather stays dry and the ball rolls, advantage Europe. If it’s wet and golf becomes an aerial game, advantage U.S.