We’ve had the kind of rain here is Wales that Bob Dylan predicted—a hard rain’s gonna fall, he sang, anticipating the weather at the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor. The long delay from the deluge on Friday, day one, left the players and the rain-soaked galleries a bit subdued, but the energy was back for Saturday’s matches, and even more enthusiasm greeted the conclusion of foursomes and fourballs on Sunday. That the scoreboard was European blue amplified the crowd’s zeal. No one seemed to mind that Ryder Cup Sunday ended inconclusively for the first time ever, with the singles re-scheduled for Sunday. Sunday tickets will be honored on Monday (as Friday tickets were not on Saturday), so there was a brisk business underway in badges all around the course by Sunday afternoon.
Celtic Manor’s Twenty-Ten course sits in the flood plain of the River Usk, which meanders in a big ox bow along which the 2nd, 7th, 8th and 9th holes run. A series of lakes was excavated in the center of the Ten Twenty to generate the earth used to elevate the golf course and manage the storm water running off the steep surrounding hills. But there was so much water on Friday it saturated the soils and made it impossible to play golf, even with lift and place rules in place.
The spectators slogging around the perimeter of the fairways stirred up a quagmire, but the soils mercifully are not clayey, so you could at least get a foothold on the slopes. When I first saw how steep the slopes were running down to the course I was sure the spectators would be dropping like soldiers in the front battlelines, but the galleries managed the slopes with the skill of Welsh goats. Because the higher elevations provided excellent panoramas, people were bunched along the hills above the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes, moving along with the final group on the first day’s matches finally concluded early Saturday afternoon.
I took up a spot to the right of the 15th green, the reachable par four that architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., who I ran into on the shuttle bus on the way to Celtic Manor, told me was his favorite hole. Jones designed the original layout of the Wentwood Hills course at Celtic Manor, part of which was borrowed for the hybrid purpose-built Ryder Cup course, the Twenty-Ten. European Golf Design’s Ross McMurray added nine new holes along the River Usk on land unavailable to Jones when his firm laid out Wentwood Hills.
Historian James Hansen has a piece about the creation of the Twenty Ten Course, which he described in an email to me as “pretty controversial,” in the latest issue of Golf Course Architecture. (http://www.golfcoursearchitecture.net/Article/Another-Ryder-Cup-concession/1917/Default.aspx) The controversy arises simply from Jones asserting his in role in the creation of the revised course as well as his authorship of the original. “Any thoughtful analysis of the golf course’s design history,” Hansen writes, “should therefore give full co-credit to Robert Trent Jones Jr and Ross McMurray.”
Although I had no hand in any of this, I was the CEO of Robert Trent Jones II when this work was done, and I can confirm, as Hansen documents, that a shaper from RTJ II, Bob Harrington, was on loan to the Twenty Ten team during the construction of the course to make sure there was a continuity in the look and character of the course’s details—its green surrounds, its bunker, the lake edges, the tee styles and so on. EGD and Harrington did a good job, as the original holes blend pretty seamlessly with the additions.
The 15th is one of the original holes, a dog-leg right par four playing along and then over a stream feeding into the Usk along the eastern boundary of the property. It makes the transition up into the steepest part of the course, holes 16 through 18, which tuck up into the base of the hills along Twenty Ten’s southern edge. When the hole was originally built, the designers were prohibited from clearing trees along the drainage channel, so the green site was hidden from the tee. The hole plays on the card at 377 yards, but on a direct line of flight is 270 or so. Jones told me that “players could always try to go for the green but it was a blind shot and pretty risky.” Now, with a clean path carved through the trees the players can see exactly where they’re trying to go, and for the Ryder Cup players the fairway along the left might as well not exist. This is essentially a 21st century par three.
I hiked out to a greenside seat at 15 about an hour before the first group, the fratelli Molinari, Edoardo and Francesco, and their opponents, Hunter Mahan and Zack Johnson, arrived in their foursome match. Both teams hit the green, to great cheers. By now thousands of people had arrived to surround the green, a number that continued to swell until the last group to play the hole, Americans Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar, conceded an eagle putt to their Irish competitors, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, after Kuchar drove in the left greenside rough, Cink blasted over the green into high rough, Kuchar bladed it across back into the bunker, where Cink gouged it out for a conceded five. They were the only team not to make at least par, and mostly the hole was halved with birdies.
Our group of spectators to the right of the 15th hole couldn’t see the tee, so we depended on clues coming from the fans gathered directly behind the green to tell us when the drives were launched. As soon as the shot was underway we could gather from their enthusiasm if it was a good or not. Most players hit the green, and almost all of those were long.
There were both Europe fans and USA fans in the group behind the green. About a dozen Yanks in red, white and blue sweat suits set up a chant of “USA, USA…,” which was answered with a less then stirring “Europe, Europe…” Nobody lives in Europe, of course—they live in Ireland, the UK, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Germany—Europe’s a notional place, not home to anyone, so the chant was limp and feeble, an echo of the European parliament.
But the fans still possessed the legendary imagination which has made European sports’ crowds famous. When the third group of foursomes hit its first tee shot on 15, the yobs behind the green yelled “Fore!” and along with everyone around me I ducked, then heard a great laugh when the shot landed on the green. Two groups later, they yelled “Fore” again, but no one moved until Bubba Watson’s tee shot, pulled fifty yards right, crashed into the gallery. Talk about the boy who cried wolf! Jeff Overton was left with an awful pitch and the Americans lost the hole, made memorable by the creativity of the European gallery.