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.
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.
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.
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.
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.