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December 20, 2009

This summer I had the great pleasure of being hosted by Paul Williams, the PR manager for the Celtic Manor Resort and home to the 2010 Ryder Cup. The Celtic Manor Resort is located in Newport, Wales, just outside Cardiff.

Click to enlarge Before I explore the preparations for the Ryder Cup and the 2010 course let me explain a little bit about this extraordinary part of the UK. Wales is seeped in history and graced with green rolling hills and quaint villages. When you are not on the golf course you will probably be exploring ancient cities, towns, and historic sites going back as far as 45 AD.

Click to enlarge In fact in Caerleon, a decent size town, just up the road from the Celtic Manor Resort, the Roman Legion established one of their largest outposts in 45 AD. This outpost held over 5500 legionnaires and centurions as they controlled Wales for 200 years. During their stay they built their barracks, baths, and a 6000 seat amphitheater. It was in this amphitheater that the Roman soldiers would gather to watch great contests and feats of skill between the gladiators of the day.

I wonder what the Romans would say today as they watched the development of another great amphitheater with modern viewing areas being established just over the hill in the Usk valley. Yes, next year the European gladiators will try and regain the Ryder Cup from the Americans on this battlefield that was built especially for the 2010 Ryder Cup and the world will be witness to another epic battle of man against man.

Click to enlarge Celtic Manor Resort and the government of Wales bid against Scotland, England, and Sweden for the right to host the 2010 Ryder Cup. Part of the successful bid was the promise to build a new course designed especially for the tournament.

The club in conjunction with the European Golf Design and the European Tour took nine holes from the existing Robert Trent Jones course and added nine new holes to complete this masterpiece. The course opened two years ago and the Wales Open was played on it the last two years. Celtic Manor could host the Ryder cup today but it will be an even better course in October 2010.

Before visiting Celtic Manor, I wondered what a writer meant when I read that, "the course was built especially for the Ryder Cup." After talking to Paul and some other staff members I then understood that the design not only included a challenging course but a course that included areas for the staging of the event. They built flat areas for the corporate tents, media areas where TV towers would be placed, and of course ample viewing locations for the huge galleries that are expected to fill the grounds during Ryder Cup week.

My day at the Celtic Manor started by driving through the beautiful grounds of this five star resort. We passed the magnificent hotel, passed two other golf courses with their own club house before descending a hill into the beautiful, picturesque, and tranquil Usk Valley where the 2010 course and club house was built.

I was meet at the front door by my guide and bag boy, Steve. Steve unloaded my clubs, took the keys to the car as he would park it after he got me booked in for the day. Steve took me on a tour of the new club house which was named club house of the year in the UK. The most impressive feature was not the fine dinning area, not the pro shop, nor the views from the balcony, but the mens locker room. Each golfer will find a locker with his or her name on it and in the locker there will be a welcome letter from the club. You are invited to store your belongings for the day, change after your match, or make yourself at home in the TV reading area. The bath area had everything fit for the finest golfers in the world. The fixtures were the best available and everything you required or wanted were there for your personal use. As I was putting on my golf shoes I imagined myself changing a year from now and having two American gladiators on either side. Tiger using the locker to my right and Phil on my left.

When I asked if every golfer playing the course received the same level of service I was told, "Yes, of course. It is just part of what we do."

A half hour prior to my tee time I was shown the way to the practice area where my clubs were waiting. After a brief warm up I set off to play and examine the course the pros will play in October 2010.

The round started well and I soon noticed that the fairway bunkers were strategically placed forcing the golfer with a risk reward situation. Try and fly the bunkers and receive a good opening to the green. Play safe and then negotiate the green side bunkers.

Once on the green the various collection area were apparent, land in the wrong spot and watch your ball be swept off the green and into a nasty hollow. The fringes next to the greens were cut very low so any balls landing just short of the green would roll down the hill and disappear into the various ponds that come into play. I found this out the hard way as what I thought were two well hit shots found the edge of the green and then to my horror, started to roll down the slippery slope with nothing between my ball and the water.

The first six holes are laid out in an inland links style. The middle section works itself around the various lakes and ponds before heading to the hillside finishing holes.

The 12th, 13th, and 14th holes form a corner of the course that is a little more outstanding then the other fifteen. Twelve is a long par four that has water in play on the left and then again for your approach. The 13th is a par 3 which is all carry across a lake. The 14th is their signature hole.

The fourteenth presents another risk reward situation. Drive across a good sized lake and have a relatively short shot from a good angle to the green. Avoid driving across the lake and face a longer second short with another lake between you and a green with one of those steep, slippery slopes waiting for you if you come up a yard or two short.

The final hole will turn out to be an exceptional finishing hole. The pros will play from around 613 yards so it will be possible for most of them to go for the green in two. However they will have another tough risk reward situation. Their lie may be on a downhill and the raised green, with a steep, well trimmed slope in the front will catch a number of balls and guide them into the lake that boarders the front of the green. There are also two large bunkers on the right and left that no one will want to be in with thousands of spectators sitting in the modern amphitheater and their match on the line.

Over all the Celtic Manor 2010 course will be the perfect place to host the Ryder Cup. Both teams will face a course of 7493 yards with lots of opportunities for rewards for pulling off a great shot in front golf fans from around the world.

If you are a serious golfer and like to play world famous courses, then I suggest you take a golfing holiday to Wales and play the 2010 course. The course will be open all next summer, closing about two weeks prior and reopening about a week after the Ryder Cup. The green fees are the same as K-Club, the Belfry, and Valderrama which have hosted the cup in the past. If you stay at the resort you can play the course for 115 British Pounds.

My round started off well but then the course started to get the advantage and when it was over I was the one that lost the battle. Losing to this course did not prevent me from having a great day of golf on a special course with outstanding views. Thank you Celtic Manor for the invitation.

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