After this week's winner is known, the Ryder Cup spotlight, which has been focused on Valhalla for the past two years, will slowly fade and attention will turn to the next venue for the biennial contest between the best golfers of the USA and Europe. In 2010, the tiny principality of Wales will be making its grand debut on the Ryder Cup stage, when it's a sure bet that either Team Europe or Team USA will be looking for retribution.
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Wales is a part of the UK virtually unknown to most Americans, yet this might be one of the prettiest corners of Britain that has a long and fascinating, though somewhat blood curdling, history. This is a land of music, castles and home to a nation of sports fanatics who are avid about their rugby and equally crazy about their soccer but have yet to be turned on to golf, despite the 200 excellent courses scattered around the country. From a total population of around 3 million, only 71,000 are registered golfers, providing one course for every 355 players -- uncrowded courses are only the beginning of a long list of reasons making Welsh golf unique and very special.
Venue for the 2010 Ryder Cup will be the Twenty-Ten Course, the pride and joy of The Celtic Manor, a luxury golf and spa resort located in South Wales, not far from the border with England. One of three championship layouts at Celtic Manor, the Twenty-Ten was originally laid out by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and named The Wentwood Hills Course, frequently hosting the Wales Open before it was decided to make the course really tough. Now totally redesigned and rebuilt with only the Ryder Cup in mind, the new Twenty-Ten has emerged from its extreme makeover as a monster tournament course, capable of testing the world's top players to the limits.
Filled with risk/reward dilemmas to be confronted at every turn, many involving hefty expanses of water, the Twenty-Ten is not a layout for the weak of heart and thrills are served in the most generous portions. Long hungry rough, an abundance of greenside swales and bunkers everywhere, only add to an already stiff challenge for even single digit handicappers. But nowhere does this glorious beast show its bloodied teeth as boldly as on the closing sequence, a stretch that culminates with a real scorpion sting in the tail on the 18th.
Measuring just shy of 7,500 yards from the back tees, with water coming into play on half of the holes, including each of its six (yes, six!) signature holes, this is serious golf at its best and maybe the toughest Ryder Cup course ever. Whichever team is seeking retribution in September of 2010, had better come along with their "A-game", it seems anything less will only be doomed to failure.
There's no question that Celtic Manor's Twenty-Ten has provided Welsh golf with a course to be proud of, although with some decidedly American overtones, it may not be every players cup of tea. But for those who are itching for a fight and looking for a real man-sized challenge, this might be their match.
Wales is no newcomer to the Royal and Ancient game and Welsh courses started springing up around the country in the early 19th century with something of a golf development boom taking place in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Many of Britain's leading golf architects were attracted to Wales and its massive expanses of untouched dramatic coastline -- the linksland every designer dreams of and it's along the coast where Wales' true golf legacy is to be found. Magnificent links and dramatic cliff-top courses, every bit the equal of any in the entire British Isles -- and according to the Welsh, even better.
If you want to experience the very best of Wales' seaside courses, they get no better than these - each is a centenarian and all are ranked among the Top 100 Courses in Britain and Ireland.
Royal Porthcawl -- If you have played other links courses that you thought were tough, wait 'til you play this links, ranked as the best in the country. Unlike many out and back links layouts of this vintage, Porthcawl's holes shoot off in every which direction making the testy wind even testier and correct club selection a difficult and sometimes impossible task.
The slightest technical shortcoming is penalized to the extreme and will cost dearly. Take heart in the glorious views across the Bristol Channel to the rolling hills of England, they are free, but don't let your attention wander. Focused concentration, good course management and the ability to take humiliation graciously, will go a long way to help you muster a smile on the final hole.
Royal Porthcawl is a true masterpiece that will have even the most accomplished veteran thinking they may need a few links lessons. Beautifully maintained, this is a Welsh layout for the memory book.
Royal St. David's -- Ranked as # 2 in Wales, this is a links every visitor falls in love with. Spectacularly located in the protective shadow of 15th century, Harlech Castle, there's an aura of majesty befitting of St David's Royal title. But Royalty can be stern and St. David's is certainly that, providing a serious examination of golfing abilities that may and perhaps should deter the high handicappers.
The constant changes in hole direction can be disruptive and those who insist on American style target golf with high flying pitches, inevitably come to a disastrous end, trying to hack their way out of rough that refuses to be hacked. Keep your ball low, taking a traditional, bump and run approach, it's the only way to have a chance of success. Sand dunes and the wide-open spaces of St. David's creates sometimes confusing optical illusions where distances become difficult to judge, only compounding the challenge.
St. David's is a proud layout, jam-packed with variety, excitement and an impressive array of truly great holes. Not incidental, it also happens to be one of the most welcoming clubs in all of Wales.
Aberdovey -- A charmer of a links with a traditional out and back layout, each half playing quite differently from the other. You can have a blustering wind at your back going out, only to have a stubborn headwind all the way home. Or with a wind as cantankerous as this one always is, the reverse. For variety, or perhaps out of spite, that darned wind can make a 180 degree turn on a whim, negating my theory and creating untold problems. Keep a sense of humor; this is the fun of links golf.
True to links tradition there are a few blind holes, a railway line that runs alongside the course (but few trains to worry about) and sand dunes. Just to keep you on your toes, Aberdovey also delights in surprising its attackers from time to time, as it does on the short 3rd hole -- a blind shot to a green tucked behind a gargantuan bunker, all carved out of a sand dune. Mischievous to be sure, but a handsome good looker that's also a pure delight.
Nefyn -- With shades of Ireland's Old Head, near Kinsale, this cliff-top track is an eye-dazzler, sitting perched on its own private peninsula, high above the restless Irish Sea. Nefyn may be a little more forgiving than some of the others, but it's far from a walk in the park.
Count on using every club in the bag and you will still be wishing you had brought more along. This is a course to have fun with and do take advantage of some very special Welsh hospitality, located alongside the 12th green. It comes in the form of a pub and it's perfectly acceptable to take a short break here, accompanied by a glass of liquid refreshment before tackling the remaining six holes. It's a wonderful way to end a week or so, playing the best gems of a tiny country that prides itself on offering golf as it should be.
Wales is still very much an undiscovered golf destination, which brings another important benefit to those who do visit -- Wales offers the best value for money to be found in Britain and indeed, all of Europe. Expect a one week golf trip to Wales, playing only the best courses and staying in delightful country inns to cost 20% to 30% less than other comparable destinations.
But better get there before Ryder Cup 2010. As soon as Wales' golf secret starts getting out, those uncrowded courses will be uncrowded no more and the bargains of today will undoubtedly be far more difficult to find. For more ideas and suggestions on getting the most out of a Welsh golf trip, click here.
©2008 David Brice / Golf International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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