Many in Wales have eagerly anticipated and counted down the ten years for the opening day of the Ryder Cup to arrive, and you will be hard pressed to find anybody who isn’t blown away by the spectacle of the Twenty Ten golf course. Arriving in a very heavy mist rolling in off the Usk River at 7am Tuesday morning and leaving the car in a much sought after parking spot (access to the site is exclusively through a park and ride scheme unless lucky enough to have wrangled a permit), I was able to view a course that has been built for drama and lies in an area blessed with true natural drama. The Twenty Ten, a course I have watched be shaped and sculpted from the old Wentwood Hills course which once stood in its place, was bathed in all the glory it deserves. With the rising sun gleaming off the lakes surrounding the front nine and illuminating the valleys behind, the trudge down to the media centre was made slightly less tedious – staring across to the spectacular eighteenth, the view was nothing short of picture postcard; mist hanging low over the monster hazard short of the elevated green, its master perched majestically above it, while the dew accentuated every exquisite cut of fairway and rough. The fruits of Sir Terry Matthew’s labours were clear for all to see, masking the toil (and considerable amount of money) that has gone into crafting the first ever course built specifically with the intention of hosting a Ryder Cup.
The route I walked in on runs adjacent to the final four holes and it is possible to see almost the entire course from this side of the valley – come Sunday this spot is likely to inhabited by up to 15,000 spectators watching the final singles coming to a close. The altered design for the course was headed up by Ross McMurray, a head architect at European Golf Design with an extensive portfolio – he has designed courses including The Marquess Course at Woburn Golf Club as well as the Rowallan Castle in Scotland, in conjunction with Colin Montgomerie. If designing what he quoted in the Ryder Cup media guide as “the most complicated project I have ever worked on” wasn’t tough enough, he also had to contend with the area’s rich history – notably shortening the 17th to a par 3 to avoid building over Roman ruins left over from the ancient settlement of Isca and engineering a complex drainage system to the River Usk, the flood plains of which surround the low lying holes of Celtic Manor.
McMurray can breath a sigh of relief then, as his brainchild was given rave reviews by both sides in the afternoon press conferences. Corey Pavin likened the course to that of a PGA Championship and said that “the set-up is fair”. Ian Poulter, who clinched the Wales Open at Celtic Manor in 2003, described the course to be in “wonderful condition – the rough is tough and the greens are pure”, while his sentiment was echoed by Montgomerie who praised the Twenty Ten as a course that has “matured into a very, very good golf course in a short amount of time”.
If there was one utterance used more than any during the media cycle it was the word “team”. Both Pavin and Montgomerie were quizzed on what they were doing to prepare their team on the first night in the hotel – America were said to have hung around the team room, played some Ping-Pong and goofed around while Europe were given a short video introduction and rousing speech by Monty around nine o’clock in the evening with all partners, wives and caddies present. Many of the Europeans interviewed today picked up on the strength of Montgomerie’s opening salvo – Rory McIlroy, the youngest player on either team, said it was inspirational and was a perfect tonic to starting the week off on the right foot.
Other players were given a slightly harder nudge on the subject of team dynamics, most notably Tiger Woods who arrived just before 4.45pm to a media free-for-all in the interview room. While some reporters tried to shoot him down, one critic mentioning he was just an “average player” after his well documented troubles, many simply asked Tiger what his attitude to the Ryder Cup was like this time round. Woods answer was as astute and confident as you would expect of a man who has spent much of his adult life in press rooms – he put it down to age. He explained that being on the Rookie in 1997 he had a similar attitude to that of Rory McIlroy – he was more interested in winning majors and tournaments and establishing himself as a contender on tour to be worried with the Ryder Cup. He noted that many of that team from Valderrama are now on the Senior Tour, such has the time that Tiger has been playing Ryder Cups. His role, and supposed change in attitude, has come full circle – Woods now sees himself as the trusted veteran who’s knowledge will be invaluable to he likes of Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson. He was also key to point out that the whole team lark was nothing new to him and he was keen to play it down, mentioning on four occasions his affection for Greensomes and Foursomes as an amateur scholarship player at Stanford University.
While the Ryder Cup isn’t won and lost on Tuesday, it has provided more than enough information on the initial state of both teams and an informal look at the moods of the players. Nouse will be there at every step of the Cup – Wednesday sees the second practice day and a look towards any clues that the practice pairings might give to the order for the first match day on Friday.
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