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Welsh strengthen Ryder Cup impact at Celtic Manor

Venue: Celtic Manor, Newport Date: October 1-3 Starts: 0745 BST on Friday Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live & online, live text commentary online & daily highlights on BBC TWO. Live on Sky Sports 1

Welsh flag on golf shoes
2002 Ryder Cup hero Phillip Price shows his patriotic nature

By Peter Shuttleworth
At The Celtic Manor

Only a select few Welshmen have made a Ryder Cup impact, but what an impact.

And as Wales prepares to stage its first Ryder Cup this weekend, the Welsh pioneering continues at Celtic Manor.

The Celtic Manor's 18th green and Twenty Ten clubhouse

Not only will this year's golfing tussle between Europe and the United States be played on the first purpose-built Ryder Cup course, but the hosting of the 38th showpiece will be a blueprint for the staging of future Ryder Cups.

But the Welsh are used to breaking new ground at the Ryder Cup.

Only six of the 150 British, Irish and European players ever to play in the tournament have been Welsh but their immortal achievements have an often unknown yet lasting legacy.

The great Dai Rees, a three-time Open runner-up, starred in nine Ryder Cups but his finest hour was leading the Great Britain & Ireland team to their first win over the mighty Americans for 24 years in 1957.

Rees' achievement in his first captaincy stint was described at the time as "the greatest shot in the arm British golf has ever had" following their 7½-4½ win over the supposedly unbeatable Americans at Lindrick Golf Club.

Brian Huggett, who helped GB & Ireland hold a rampant USA to a draw at Royal Birkdale in 1969, then played his part in helping rescue the Ryder Cup in 1978.

The titanic tussle we now know was in those days effectively seen as an American victory parade, with only Rees' boys in '57 managing to lower the stars and stripes since 1933.

As many wanted to scrap the matchplay event, Huggett, in his role as GB & Ireland's skipper in 1977, was part of a three-man delegation that flew to the States to plea with the US PGA to expand the British and Irish team boundaries to include golfers from mainland Europe.

The vista across the valley from the 16th hole is unique as you can see 12 holes while the plateau overlooking the 17th and 18th is perfect for spectators

Celtic Manor golf courses director Jim McKenzie.

The Americans agreed and the procession finally ended when arguably Wales' greatest golfer helped Europe win in 1985 - and the US have won just three Ryder Cups in the 25 years since.

And Ian Woosnam inspired the Europeans to victory on a Belfry course designed by another Welshman.

Dave Thomas was a four-time Ryder Cup player and two-time Open runner-up himself, but it was his off-the-course heroics that aided the momentum switch towards Europe.

Thomas was the architect of the Belfry's Brabazon course where Europe not only secured a breakthrough victory in 1985, but retained the trophy in 1989.

Woosnam starred in eight Ryder Cups, winning four and drawing one, as the former world number one helped changed Europe's mentality with his renowned team-bonding ability.

And it was back at the Belfry where Woosnam began his transition from Ryder Cup player to management as he guided another fellow Welshman to a momentous victory.

Phil Price's shock 3&2 singles triumph over world number two Phil Mickelson in the penultimate group in 2002 helped inspire Europe to a dramatic triumph.

While Price's Ryder Cup heroics were brief, Woosnam returned to captain Europe to a record-equalling win over the USA at the K Club in 2006.

Ian Woosnam celebrates Europe's 2006 win
Ian Woosnam skippered Europe to a record-equalling win at the K Club

However, for the first Welsh influence on the Ryder Cup you must go back to 1931 when Bert Hodson travelled from his home town of Newport to the States as Great Britain were ultimately defeated 9-3 at the Scioto Country Club.

And in perfect symmetry, the USA are now coming to Newport where the Welsh continue to blaze a Ryder Cup trail.

The crowd-friendly Celtic Manor, the first to 'win' a Ryder Cup after submitting a tender bid document, is part of a new breed of 'stadium golf courses' that Ryder Cup chiefs are now favouring.

These courses are specifically built to not just maximise spectator numbers and their viewing pleasure, but also fully exploit the lucrative corporate market.

At this Ryder Cup, the 'prawn sandwich brigade' are king as effectively fairways have been built with the placing of hospitality clients in mind.

And no-one will have a better view of the potentially key final acts of the golfing theatre than the corporate guests overlooking Celtic Manor's final three holes.

"We are the first, a pioneer if you like, of the new-style Ryder Cup host," admitted Celtic Manor's golf courses director Jim McKenzie.

"We were the first to win a Ryder Cup by way of submitting bid tender documents where we needed to prove social and economic benefits, have the backing of the Welsh Assembly Government and private sectors.

Dai Rees celebrates winning the 1957 Ryder Cup
Nine-time Ryder Cup player Dai Rees skippered Europe to win in 1957

"A Ryder Cup is about more than the golf course these days. It's about infrastructure, availability of hotel rooms, park and ride facilities, hospitality provision and guarantees to ensure the geographical area that hosts the Ryder Cup benefits in terms of inwards investment and tourism."

Celtic Manor owner Sir Terry Matthews admits the European Tour course designers liked his "clean sheet" of land so to create a matchplay masterpiece and capitalise on the Twenty Ten's position in the Usk basin to benefit the spectator, whether golf fan or VIP.

And McKenzie admits: "The vista across the valley from the 16th hole is unique as you can see 12 holes while the plateau overlooking the 17th and 18th is perfect for spectators.

"The stadium look is important as the Ryder Cup is now a 45,000 spectator event, it has moved on from having crowds of just 30,000, and at Celtic Manor we can accommodate 8,000 people following one match which is unparalleled."

Now Wales waits to give the Ryder Cup a welcome in the hillsides.

* Watch Wales and The History of the Ryder Cup on BBC TWO Wales at 2200 BST on Tuesday

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see also
Billions await Ryder Cup tee-off
22 Sep 10 |  Golf
2010 Ryder Cup in numbers
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Ryder Cup 'infrastructure legacy'
20 Sep 10 |  Wales
Woods named in US Ryder Cup team
07 Sep 10 |  Golf
Molinari earns European wildcard
29 Aug 10 |  Golf
Wales warned of Ryder Cup one-off
01 Jun 10 |  Golf
Ryder Cup coverage
22 Sep 10 |  Golf

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