Welsh open way for Ryder Cup

Peter Corrigan says that golf fans should be proud of new Celtic Manor
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The Independent Online

Thousands of Welsh sports fans headed for Celtic Manor and the Wales Open before breakfast yesterday and drove straight past the gates on their way to Lord's to support Glamorgan's bid to win the Benson & Hedges Cup final.

Thousands of Welsh sports fans headed for Celtic Manor and the Wales Open before breakfast yesterday and drove straight past the gates on their way to Lord's to support Glamorgan's bid to win the Benson & Hedges Cup final.

Torn by a decision that only fate in a more ironic mood could have divined, the fans agonised over that rare summer treat - a big Welsh event. You wait for years for one to come along and two arrive together.

Golf clubs all over the Principality had booked coaches months ago to travel to the outskirts of Newport, where Celtic Manor is perched high in the wooded hills above the M4. It was the European Tour's first appearance in Wales for 10 years. Then, three weeks ago, Glamorgan beat Surrey in the semis to reach their first major final for 23 years. Hasty meetings were convened in the golf clubs, votes were called for and most hands were raised in favour of the cricket. The clinching argument was that there'll be another Wales Open next year but God only knows when Glamorgan will get to another final. Coaches were swiftly rescheduled for the longer journey and a frantic search began; there aren't many Welsh coach drivers who know where Lord's is.

But to the delight of the golf organisers, for every vehicle complete with inflatable sheep that swept past early on there were two or more leaving the motorway at Junction 24 to bring the throngs that were to cheer Ian Woosnam. And there was plenty of mobile phone cross-fertilisation between the fairways of Gwent and the stands of London N1. "Maynard's got his ton", "Woosie's got six birdies on the front nine"; the latest news went from mouth to mouth.

After the 15,000 who attended the first two days of the Wales Open, there was an estimated 12,000 yesterday and even more are expected today hoping to see Woosnam's victory celebrate the return of big-time golf to the area. The need for this tournament to be a success is important for more reasons than the future of Terry Matthews' incredible £100m complex built around the old nursing home in which he was born. The Welsh Ryder Cup bid was officially launched on Wednesday and the acceptance of the giant Wentwood Hills course is vital to its success.

The fact that there isn't a European Tour event south or west of a line drawn between the Belfry and Wentworth makes it imperative for the area to maintain this opportunity for golf supporters in Wales and the West country to see top players at least once a year.

It didn't help that cause when New Zealander Greg Turner cast aspersions on the course on Wednesday. Other players, alarmed at the steepness of the terrain, echoed his words in mutters and moans. Tony Blair facing the Women's Institute was nothing compared to a brand-new course presenting itself to 150 of the top golfers in Europe. But the criticisms lost their sting once the tournament got under way and by yesterday players were visibly warming to it.

By tonight, Celtic Manor's director of golf, Jim McKenzie, should have every reason to be proud. He arrived in 1993 from Wentworth, where he was head greenkeeper of the famous Burma Road course, and has played a key part in Celtic Manor's development.

It says something for the speed of the Wentwood Hill creation that it was still being seeded 18 months ago. "People don't realise this is still a very young course and I'm delighted it's played so well. They may say it is tough but that's the way we intended it. There's still some tweaking to do but there isn't a course in the world that hasn't undergone changes."

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