Article by Conor Heneghan, www.joe.ie
The Welsh Open might not normally set pulses racing amongst all but the most die-hard of golfing aficionados, but this year’s event in Newport, South Wales will attract a little more interest in golfing and indeed wider sporting circles.
For the third year in a row, the Open will be staged on the Twenty Ten course in Celtic Manor, the first course in history to be built specifically for the Ryder Cup, which takes place at the same venue from 1-3 October this year.
Completed in 2007, the splendid TwentyTen course, one of three at Celtic Manor, was designed by European Golf Design (EGD), a joint venture between the European Tour and International Management Group (IMG) established in 1992. Planning for the course started as far back as 1999, construction began in 2004 and was completed two years later.
Managing director of EGD Jeremy Slessor explained to JOE the dynamics of building a course specifically for a once-off event that will not only attract thousands of fans to the course but will be viewed on television by millions worldwide.
“It (the Ryder Cup) is like a normal tour event on steroids,” he says. “Space was a primary concern. Space for spectators, for the village, for hospitality, for the media, for bus terminals, for contractors compounds, for TV compounds, those sorts of things.
“The scale of it is so much bigger than a usual event and the other factor in terms of spectators is it’s not like a normal event where you’ve got golf around the entire golf course. Apart from Sunday, you’ve only got four games on the course at any one time so you’ve got 40-50,000 people fairly well concentrated in certain sections of the course. You need some extra space to give that volume of people the ability to move around the place.”
The result of the EGD design, combined with the input of engineers, ecologists, archaeologists and the European Tour Staging Department, is a par 71, 7,493 yard course in Wales’ Usk valley that offers spectacular views of the area towards nearby Caerleon, which was once the site of a Roman legionary fortress. Water is a threat on a significant number of holes and there are also plenty of trees on site to punish anyone wayward from the tee.
As well as building the course to be able to deal with the important logistical elements of staging an event like the Ryder Cup, the TwentyTen course has, according to Slessor, specific features built in that will suit the match play format of the competition.
“You can’t ignore the fact that the course is going to hold the Ryder Cup once, but certainly, there was thought given to how holes might play coming down the stretch. Therefore, on the last five or six holes there’s certainly a lot of risk and reward opportunity.
“If you take it on and hit a good shot, there’s a reward there but if you miss it, the penalty is fairly severe. The way the course will be set up for the Ryder Cup on many holes will be different to how it will be set up for the Welsh Open.”
European captain Colin Montgomerie has made clear his wishes that his players play the Welsh Open so that they can get a feel for the course ahead of the Ryder Cup, but so far has been hit by the withdrawals of stellar names such as Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Ireland duo Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy to name but a few.
Montgomerie will play the event himself, however, and should be familiar with the course given that he had a hands-on role in some of the modifications and refinements that have taken place at the Newport venue.
“Colin has been involved over the past year or so in terms of looking at where there were opportunities to make some subtle little refinements,” says Slessor.
“In a couple of places, he wanted it so that the penalty of – I won’t say hitting a bad shot – but not hitting the perfect shot, was increased. It was little tiny tweaks like that he was involved in instead of wanting to add five additional bunkers or taking a bunker away or anything like that.
“Then as a design team we’ve looked at those suggestions and certain things have actually been done and other bits we’ve decided in the end weren’t going to achieve very much so we’ve left it as it is.”
It’s clear that Slessor is proud of what the EGD team have achieved with the Twenty Ten course at Celtic Manor. Like a father asked to pick his favourite child, however, Slessor balked slightly when asked which hole in particular on the course stood out as one to watch:
“It’s quite tough to pick out a stand-out hole,” he says. “I think that each hole has got something to offer; we don’t design signature holes. That’s pointless, you take a huge amount of money and try and make one hole good and it’s to the detriment of the others.
“Each hole adds to the flow of the course, each hole has a slightly different challenge to it but I guess that as you get into the round, certainly with the Ryder Cup atmosphere, the pressure will start to build the closer you get to the Clubhouse because the opportunity for taking a gamble becomes greater.
“Certainly, on holes such as the 14th, 15th, 17th and 18th there are great opportunities to take a risk; if you pull it off you’re a hero and if you don’t, you’re a numpty.”
Only one question remains for Slessor, then. Will Colin Montgomerie be repeating the K-Club antics of Ian Woosnam in 2006 and downing pints of Guinness after lifting the prestigious trophy? Or will it be those pesky Americans running wildly onto the green to celebrate with a man waiting to putt, like Brookline in 1999?
“Europe will win,” he says. “I wouldn’t put my mortgage on it, but I’m quietly confident Europe will win.”
Considering that he’s been involved intimately with every nook, cranny and divot on the course, we’ll take Slessor at his word.
The 14th hole on the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor