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Ross Biddiscombe's guide to Celtic Manor's Twenty Ten course that hosted one of the greatest and most exciting Ryder Cups.
If you turn up on the first tee at the Twenty Ten course at the Celtic Manor Resort now that the agony and ecstasy of the 2010 Ryder Cup is consigned to history, take some advice – don't let anyone talk you out of a spot of match play! Stroke play is not the right form of the game here – settle on 18-hole singles, foursomes or fourball straight match play and you'll be happy.
This three-year-old golf course set in beautiful countryside overlooking the River Usk was made to test one player or one pairing directly against another – and the Ryder Cup underlined that perfectly and defined the course for all time. Sir Terry Matthews might as well re-name it the Twenty Ten Match-play course right now and have done with it.
Sir Terry actually had the Twenty Ten course built specifically for the Ryder Cup anyway. The poor mid-handicappers among us were not really a consideration when the course was laid out by European Golf Design with their nine new holes added to nine re-modelled holes from the original Robert Trent Jones Jnr-designed Wentwood Hills golf course.
The new course measures 7,493 yards from the very back tees with a par of 71 and opened in July 2007. There are only 11 British courses that have staged the Ryder Cup since it was first played in 1927. So the Twenty Ten joined an illustrious and exclusive club that also includes The Belfry, Muirfield, Walton Heath, Wentworth, Royal Lytham & St Annes and Royal Birkdale.
But there is a second reason why a trip to this part of south Wales will be a golfing pilgrimage from now on. The fourteenth, fifteenth and eighteenth on the Twenty Ten can now take their place as among the most dramatic match-play holes anyone could wish to face.
Those three holes are the ones we will all want to play most of all. Like The Belfry's tenth or the eighteenth at Valderrama, the Twenty Ten visitor will make a special effort on these two par-4s and final par-5 all of which vied to become the absolute Ryder Cup signature hole.
Now, that's not to say the other 15 holes are not good enough to test you. The whole course is likely to feel like a monster, particularly if conditions are on the damp side (which they often are as we saw during the Ryder Cup), so bring plenty of energy bars and don't wear new golf shoes because even walking from greens to tees can be a fair distance.
You see, the designers were looking for Ryder Cup drama, Ryder Cup viewing platforms for spectators, Ryder Cup hospitality areas and even Ryder Cup parking. They were not thinking about how tough the course might be for you and me. So the Twenty Ten is made for the pros, something which actually makes it even more pleasurable because – although off the back tees it would be anything up to 1,000 yards longer – it still means that this is a course where I can best test my match-play ability. And that test starts straight away.
Even Monty says the par-4 first is a good test – 440 yards from the white tees or 411 from the yellows – and he's right. Bunkers protect the dogleg and both front corners of the green. You have to begin the Twenty Ten full on. With half the holes offering a chance of a watery grave for your ball, the par- 4 fifth is a good example on the front nine. It's another dogleg (this time left to right), but neither drive nor second shot is easy.
At 433 yards (whites) or 399 (yellows), the tee shot has to be both long and accurate and if either is missing then you really can't take on the green because the water at the front is just too menacing. So this is really a par-4 and a half – beware! Then there's my personal favourite – the par-5 ninth. It's long (580 yards off the whites and 570 off the yellows) with the Usk running all along the left of the fairway (although it's far enough away to avoid unless your hook is really in the groove). Don't be surprised if you're hitting a 5 or a 6-iron into the green – yes, on a soggy day, it's that long!
Soon, you will reach perhaps the two best consecutive match-play holes in the UK – first, the fourteenth is a door- die hole. You either drive your balluto the left of a giant lake (although there's another body of water on the other side of the fairway, if you overhit) or you send your ball directly over the wet stuff with a near 200-yard carry. Either way, you then have to hit a long narrow green with anything from a 5 to 8-iron and there's more agua right up against the left side of the dance floor.
And if you don't drop a hole to your opponent there, try the fifteenth; slightly shorter left-to-right dogleg (379 yards off the whites and 359 off the yellows), but there is a tempting landing area for a blind drive over bushes straight onto the green. That proved to be the preferred route in the Ryder Cup. It's like the tenth at the Belfry, but even longer. And, finally, the eighteenth cannot be ignored. Any match-play course needs a great closing hole and the Twenty Ten does not disappoint. It's a par 5 (575 yards off the whites and 545 off the yellows) and even though that means the pros have an 'on the green in two or not?' question, there is plenty of fun for mere mortals with our third shots.
The green is elevated while the water in front is deep, plus you really don't want to be in the back bunkers because to thin the sand shot will mean your ball rolling back down the front fringe and into the water. Yes, if you come to the last all square then anything could happen as we found out.
So, the question really is not if you should play the Twenty Ten, but when are you going to book your tee time. And play it how it was designed – don't bump it around gently just for a score, enjoy match play there and you'll also better understand how this year's Ryder Cup was won or lost.
Ross Biddiscombe is the author of Golf On The Edge (www. golfontheedge.co.uk).