Welsh hills and vales are setting the distinctive character at the Celtic Manor Resort with the building of nine new holes. The course, as yet to be named, will create a new 18-hole facility – 9 of which will be built on the new land and 9 by utilizing part of the existing Wentwood Hills golf holes.
“The Ryder Cup is growing to such an extent that the more level course, which this creates, allows us to cater for the 50,000 plus visitors expected,” says Jim McKenzie, Director of Estates Management and Ryder Cup Courses Development. “Most of the players and caddies play 36 holes a day and the course as it stood previously was very physically testing.
“Fine for stroke play but the course would not be manageable for a match play event. With a large crowd and only four games at a time in the first two days there would be logistical problems. A major event in the golfing calendar, associated extras, such as marshals and catering staff, means there will be an extraordinary number of people at the course.”
Celtic Manor Estate stretches over more than 1,400 acres and boasts courses designed by Robert Trent Jones (both senior and junior) and European Golf Design. More than £4 million is being spent on the improvements.
MJ Abbott is responsible for the course construction including, drainage, irrigation, the profile of the greens, tees, together with seedbed preparation and seeding on the new development.
Bob Harrington, from Robert Trent Jones Junior, has been flown in from the States to do shaping work and act as site supervisor to maintain continuity of the design. This high-calibre shaper has undertaken projects on the original Wentwood Hills and The Wisley in Surrey.
Work on transforming the Wentwood Hills site commenced in April 2005 and with more than 75 per cent of the project now complete is set to open later in 2006.
“Holes two to five have been completely finished and grassed and green one has also been grassed,” says Jim. “The remaining four holes are at various stages of earth work.”
An interesting facet of the project has been trying to create new greens to match the existing. “We looked at seeding or re-turfing but this would mean extended closure of the course,” Jim says. “Instead we closed the existing Wentwood Hills course for nine months and took all the grass off the nine undulating holes and used it to re-turf the brand new greens. Meanwhile Inturf has grown grass which is being used to replace the stripped turf.”
Meeting Welsh weather conditions Jim says, “Wales is known to be a fairly wet nation so we decided to mix the top soil with pure sand, 50/50, and create a freer-draining soil on the fairways. This seems to be working very well.”
Shaping the course to take into account drainage has led to an increase in the surface area, making less top soil available for re-use. “Mixing the soil with sand meant we had more material to work with,” he says.
As usual the weather has played a major role in the proceedings. Very wet in October – when the heavens opened – from summer to winter had been very dry. “Holes one to five would have been completely finished if this had not happened,” says Jim.
“The maintenance regime will be similar to the existing courses but the new area will be slightly freer-draining and more likely to leach nutrients than the remaining nine holes, so we plan to do some work on those as well,” he says. “Over the years I have learnt you cannot categorically pre-plan maintenance you need to continually evaluate.”
Staff levels are set to increase next year with four more full-time staff and extra seasonal people.
An additional workshop facility will be built to cater for the new course’s requirements and should be fully operational and equipped with Bernhard and Company grinders by early summer in 2007.
“Our current maintenance facility is more than a mile away from the new course but will remain to service the Roman Road and Coldra Woods courses,” says Jim. MJ Abbott has worked with the Celtic Manor Resort since 1996, when they drained half the Roman Road course. Then when the Wentwood Hills course was being improved the company was brought back to complete the drainage works and put in an irrigation system.
“We feel comfortable with the company, as we know them well and have seen the high standard of work they have completed elsewhere. It is vital main contractors can work together and they worked well with Griffiths, says Jim. “As the job has progressed MJ Abbott has proved they can be very flexible. They have undertaken extra work when it was more practicable as their machines were on site.
“They brought experience and the flexibility which many contractors are not prepared to undertake. This makes a dramatic difference when building a golf course as no two days are the same.”
While these works are being carried out the Roman Road course has come into its own, hosting a highly successful Wales Open in 2005. The event will return in 2006.
“In 2005 there were some reservations but it turned out to be the best Wales Open ever held, which was very encouraging,” says Jim “although it is significantly shorter by some 300 yards than a typical European course.”
With the new works situated in an environmentally sensitive area, a number of conditions were imposed
“We have welcomed these because we are in the business of ensuring the environment is maintained and developed down in the valley,” says Jim. “Some Roman artefacts were found so we worked closely with Gwent and Glamorgan Archaeological Trust, the Countryside Commission, Wales Local Planners and all the relevant agencies.”
A huge park and ride facility is being undertaken for the Ryder Cup, along the lines used by The De Vere Belfry, so no private cars will be allowed on site and the logistics will be tightly controlled. As part of the new works, three hospitality areas are being created, near holes 16, 17 and 18, which will hold 8,000 people.
“We will continue growing and developing the holes which are already grassed and finish off the remaining holes and we hope to have everything ready by the end of May,” says Jim. “Gerry Byrne, Course Manager at the K Club, is a good friend and I will be in Ireland for this year’s Ryder Cup.
“By 2010 when we host the event we will have held four more Wales Opens on the new layout, which allows us time to fine tune the course.”
Celtic Manor Resort www.celtic-manor.com
MJ Abbott www.mjabbott.co.uk