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Celtic Manor's Ryder Cup course is centre of attention

CELTIC MANOR RESORT WALES OPEN
Venue: Celtic Manor Resort, Newport Date: 3 June - 6 June Starts: 0700 BST
Coverage: Score updates on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 Live and online. Saturday highlights at 2345 BST on BBC TWO Wales and Sunday highlights at 2230 BST on BBC TWO Wales. Live on Sky Sports 3

Europe captain Colin Montgomerie and US captain Corey Pavin putt on the 17th green
Europe captain Colin Montgomerie and US captain Corey Pavin putt on the 17th

by Peter Shuttleworth
BBC Sport Wales

The golfers are usually the focus of most tournaments, but not this one.

Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, last weekend's Madrid Masters champion Luke Donald and Darren Clarke are among the leading names in the Wales Open field.

However, the emphasis will be on Celtic Manor's showpiece course this week. The Twenty Ten's 18 holes will be the centrepiece when Wales stages the Ryder Cup for the first time this October.

A run-of-the-mill European Tour event does not compare with the gargantuan scale of a Ryder Cup, but it as near as Celtic Manor will get to a dress rehearsal.

But the refurbished course has been criticised by golfing purists who fear the three-year old course would be too immature when the eyes of the sporting world will be on Newport.

Celtic Manor's groundsmen, with a little guidance from European Ryder Cup captain Montgomerie, are still putting the finishing touches on the redesigned valley floor.

Celtic Manor's first tee

Monty will not only be running the first-hand rule over possible debutants against the United States on 1 October, but he, like the rest of the golfing world, will be closely monitoring the 2010 Ryder Cup's host course.

The 46-year-old Scot has starred in eight Ryder Cups, his 23-and-a-half points is third on the all-time record list and he boasts the third best points percentage of a European in the tournament's 83-year history - so Europe's skipper knows a few things about playing against the United States.

Montgomerie has made half-a-dozen Celtic Manor reconnaissance missions to adapt the 7,378-yard course and make it favourable to his Euro stars such as Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington.

The design company Monty uses to make his own courses created the 2010 masterpiece - boasting 'six signature' holes - so unsurprisingly the man that already has a course named after him at the Welsh resort, likes the Celtic's crown jewel.

"Monty has long been a big supporter of the Celtic Manor, he has played every Wales Open here since 2003 and has captained our all-star celebrity cup teams," admits Jim McKenzie, the Celtic Manor's director of golf courses.

"People have been quite surprised at the lack of feedback about the course from Monty, but I consider that a positive. It means he trusts us and the design company as the Twenty Ten is pretty similar to what Monty would have wanted anyway.

"In fact, when Monty first saw the course 18 months before he was named captain he said 'there's very little wrong with this golf course.'

"So we didn't need to go planting loads of trees, digging lakes and shifting fairways, it's just a little tweak here and there.

Europe captain Colin Montgomerie and US captain Corey Pavin

"He has asked us to deepen some bunkers, introduce swales at the sides of greens to punish wayward shots and the rough will be consistently thicker. Also the greens will be firmer, meaning only properly struck iron shots will be rewarded by stopping quickly.

"The most notable change is the new swale spilling off the left of the signature 11th towards the water. It's made the green a much narrower target, as it should be for a reachable par-five, and will leave players with their hearts in their mouths if they pull their approach shots.

"That is one of six to eight classic matchplay holes where one guy could go for it while the other can be a little more conservative."

The design of the course fit for golfing kings had still not left the drawing board when, in 2001 Wales was awarded the Ryder Cup, but Celtic Manor's multi-millionaire owner Sir Terry Matthews splashed out £20m to ensure the Usk Valley was ready for a prowling Tiger and some Monty magic.

"When we won the bid, we had planning permission in principle for the redevelopment," recalled McKenzie. "But we had to get full permission so the European Tour took a huge gamble on us hosting the Ryder Cup.

"We needed the nine years as we still had a golf course to build whereas courses like the Belfry and Gleneagles were already established and can host a Ryder Cup at less notice.

"We started building the course in 2005 and it has been a challenge but we didn't build an entirely new course. We incorporated and subsequently redesigned nine existing holes of our old Wentwood Hills course and built nine new holes on the base of the valley

"The danger was having a course of two halves and we had difficulties getting the two sets of greens to match up.

Celtic Manor's 11th hole
The Celtic Manor Twenty Ten course's 11th is one of its signature holes

"So we lifted the greens off the Wentwood Hills holes that weren't used in the Twenty Ten project and put them on the nine new Twenty Ten holes so the new course has the same set of mature greens that are about 15 years old.

"So half of the fairways are very mature and next week, the other half would have held three Wales Open Championships and we haven't had many complaints from the pros. The course, though, has benefitted from a few years of growing in.

"The 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island in South Carolina wads played on a new course that was not 12 months old and that was fine but this is the first time that Ryder Cup has been played on such a new European course.

"However, the 1981 Ryder Cup was due to be held at the Belfry but was moved to Walton Heath as the European Tour ruled the course, which was only four years old, was too immature. So there is precedent for moving the Ryder Cup - but that has not been an issue for us."

So while the Wales Open's 'man against golf course' set-up will differ from the Ryder Cup's 'man against man' attacking philosophy, this is just the Celtic Manor's hors d'oeuvres.



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see also
Wales hopes to end golf hoodoo
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Monty dealt Wales Ryder Cup blow
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Montgomerie plans Garcia pep talk
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Monty calls for Scots' Ryder push
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Ryder hopefuls boost Wales field
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Harrington will miss Wales Open
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Ryder Cup hopefuls' tough course
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Monty wants Ryder Cup rehearsal
04 Jun 09 |  Golf
Monty backs Europe for Ryder Cup
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Karlsson keeps composure to win
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Jimenez powers to Welsh triumph
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Twenty Ten course in photos
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Wales Open - former winners
01 Jun 06 |  Golf
Golf on the BBC
01 Jul 11 |  Golf
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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