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Day Three: Celtic Manor 2010 Course and Southerndown

RT v. Southerndown Sheep. The sheep won.

Our day started at the Celtic Manor’s main hotel, a relatively new, decidedly comfortable and quite North American facility that is long on convenience. Owner Terry Matthews, who has lived since the late 1960s in Canada, has put on quite a spread, with two hotels (an older one and a newish one), three courses and a golf academy. Yesterday I played 18 holes, split between  the Montgomery Course (which like Colin himself, shifted up and down in moods quite regularly, but is really meant for mountain goats), and the Roman Road course (much more reasonable land, a much better golf course.)

That was the warm up for today, when I teed it up at the so-called 2010 Course, which will play host to the Ryder Cup in September. Really, this course is why I’m here. Not just to see the course, mind you, but for the fact Wales Tourism (or Visit Wales) has spent considerable effort in using the Ryder Cup to plug its golf offerings. So the 2010 Course, which is kind of private, but is open to the public at certain periods of the day, is an important asset in their fight to raise awareness of Welsh golf.

An overview of the 2010 taken from the Montgomery Course.

Not that the 2010 Course has much to do with what one might think of as “Welsh Golf.” Designed as a requirement for the Ryder Cup bid, the 2010 Course takes in part of the former Wentwood Hills golf course, along with some new holes. Some of Wentwood Hills holes ended up creating the Montgomery course. Given that, you might think the 2010 would have a Frankenstein feel. Truthfully that isn’t the case. The end result is a relatively flat, water-filled parkland course with numerous strong holes that finishes with flair on holes running along the overlooking hillside. It’ll offer drama and great spectator views, and though its modern style isn’t necessarily to my liking, there was nothing that I’d consider below your standard PGA Tour course. 

The 9th hole, a long par-5, at the 2010 Course at Celtic Manor

That means there were some exceptional holes, like the par-5 second, with terrific bunkering in the landing area of the approach shot, and the 9th, another par-5 that played along a river with a beautiful greensite. The 10th, a downhill par-3, was also aesthetically intriguing and provided a hearty challenge into the wind. The finishing hole, a par-5 measuring 613-yards, will offer the spectators a chance a glimpsing success and failure, amping up the drama along the way.

Is it great? No. Are people interested because of the Ryder Cup? Yes. Is it better than the last European course to host the Ryder Cup — Ireland’s K Club — absolutely.

After our round (which we were told should take nearly 5 hours, but actually took less than 4), there was a quick 45-minute drive west beyond Cardiff to Southerndown Golf Club. Southerndown is rustic and rugged, intriguing and quirky and considering it is elevated several hundred feet above sea level and isn’t anywhere near the ocean, it plays just like a splendid links.  

The first at Southerndown -- note how high up the course is compared the background.

It starts off strangely enough with a par-5 straight up a steep hill. The hole isn’t long, but the climb must be 80 feet. From there the course levels out, with often open spaces punctuated by patches of nasty gorse. Small pot bunkers with grass-down faces dot the landscape. While the opener is odd — and it isn’t the only strange hole at Southerndown, what follows is good, occasionally exceptional, and always a lot of fun. Our round — including three extra holes that we played when we ran into three foursomes of German players out for a strool (we, in comparison, played the front nine in 70 minutes), took 3 hours and 20 minutes all told.

Worth the admission fee alone: The 5th at Southerdown demonstrates how good a hole can be given a strong natural landscape.

The best holes were nearly all-world, including the astounding par-3 fifth, with its natural landscape defining the hole, and the seventh, a long par-3 that played into today’s prevailing wind and was defended by a series of flanking bunkers on the right. The short fours — namely the 9th, and the 15th, were also charming and testing, while early green sites on the second and fourth holes — both longer fours — were exceptional in their simplicity.

The fascinating thing about Southerndown is that it is entirely consistent with links golf. The soil is sandy and firm and the turf is tight and short. Built on common land, farmers have grazing rights for their sheep on the course, which is why they are everywhere.

In this regard, Southerndown was the antithesis of the 2010 Course. If grooming and decidedly considered design determines where you play, consider the 2010 Course. If , on the other hand, whimsy and quirky are flavours you enjoy, than Southerndown is for you.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • RT – did you hear of any stories of balls hitting the sheep? I haven’t played over there before but I would be curious to hear of any stories…

  • An extract from our Centenary Book:

    A Rare Hole-in-One

    For one man, in particular, Southerndown sheep brought a degree of fame – or is it notoriety?

    In 1995 Peter Croke was driving off the 17th tee and ended up with the strangest hole-in-one ever seen – his ball wedged beneath the tail of a passing sheep. The sheep promptly took off up the fairway and finally dropped the ball 30 yards closer to the hole. To make things worse for John Maher, Peter’s playing partner, it had been a “fluffed drive” – no pun intended – with the ball only travelling forty yards before it hit the sheep’s rear end.

    “I couldn’t believe it,” said Peter. “I followed the sheep which ran away and then obligingly deposited the ball for me on a footpath. It wasn’t out of bounds so I played the ball and got down in five to win by a stroke!”

    The incident made national headlines with articles in The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Star – and there was even a cartoon about the incident in The Sun.

    Attempts to claim membership of Whyte & Mckay’s Hole-in-One club were not successful, however, although the company did send Peter Croke a bottle of whisky to mark the event.

    A tongue-in-cheek letter from John Glover, Rules Secretary of the R&A, in The Daily Telegraph on 7th June 1995 did suggest that the wrong result had been recorded –
    “Under Rule 19-1a of the game, if a ball in motion after a stroke comes to rest in an inanimate outside agency (the sheep), the player shall drop the ball as near as possible to the spot where the sheep was when the ball came to rest in it. The ball may be cleaned.

    “Contrary to the report, the player did not proceed properly and his opponent could have claimed the hole. I feel a little sheepish about bringing this to your attention but felt that matters should be put right.”

    The wrong result may well have been recorded but the story has certainly gone down in Southerndown legend.

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