NEWPORT, WALES | In his 10-year involvement with The Twenty Ten Course that will be the venue for this year’s Ryder Cup, Ross McMurray, the designer, has never seen what the rest of us see. Far from adhering to the golfers’ mantra of staying in the present, he pictures the place as it will look during the big week, with spectators hugging the hills and everyone in a high pitch of excitement.
“The crowd is going to be a huge factor,” said McMurray, casting his eyes round the glorious golfing amphitheatre. “The Ryder Cup has often been criticised for poor viewing opportunities but this one is going to be different. I’m confident that it will be better than any that has gone before.”
This particular Ryder Cup experience will start with the hilltop gates, which lead into The Twenty Ten complex. As they swing open, there is a staggering view of the course below, one which will inspire the Americans no less than the Europeans.
Colin Montgomerie is all right with that. He is not about to suggest that the Americans enter by a side door because he wants both teams to feel inspired and for the match to be as good as it can be. Though he is happy enough that the European crowd could play a bigger part than usual, he is not interested in trying to set things up to favour one side above the other. To his way of thinking, such a ploy could backfire.
Inevitably, there are a range of opinions on the 18 holes, nine of which are new and nine of which started out as part of the original Wentwood Hills layout. Luke Donald, who came to last week’s Wales Open largely with the Ryder Cup in mind, concurred with the general view that the course was in great shape before suggesting that it had an American feel to it.
When pressed as to whether that made it the right venue, Donald replied, “Sir Terry Matthews, the owner, clearly thinks that it does.” That said, the Englishman, the owner of a second-round 65, hurriedly changed tack to note that the Belfry and the K Club had felt much the same – and that it had hardly done the European cause any harm.
McMurray countered the “American” accusation by pointing to how he is a European designer and one who has been influenced throughout his career by such Scottish gems as Carnoustie, the Kings and Queens at Gleneagles and Elie. In his eyes, the variety of different shots demanded around the greens of The Twenty Ten is just one area in which it is distinctly more European than American. (Paul Lawrie, according to a mischievous marshal at the back of the second green, used “every club in the bag” as he ran up a second-day 11 via a shorn greenside swale.)
Damien McGrane, winner of the 2008 Volvo China Open, noted that the main difference between The Twenty Ten and other courses is that it was made with match play in mind. “Especially towards the finish, you’re always going to get a mix of birdies and out-and-out disasters,” he said.
McMurray agreed with that verdict. He highlighted the number of risk-reward holes, starting with the fifth, which can be played at 460 yards, 360 yards or 300. At 300, it is drivable, though the water is perilously close to the green’s left flank. The 562-yards 11th is similarly disconcerting. Here, Montgomerie asked for a new bunker with raised face to be introduced left of the green, along with a hollow beyond. In the past, players had to hit a long way left to catch trouble. Now, there is the potential for any second or third veering to port to kick from the near side of the hollow into the lake.
The Romans, still more than Montgomerie, have made their mark on The Twenty Ten. Because of a field full of their remains – pottery and graves – the penultimate hole had to be turned from a par-4 to a par-3.
Initially, McMurray was not happy. Then, though, he appreciated the extra scope it gave him to create waves at the now 575-yards 18th. Even into the prevailing wind, a player running on Ryder Cup adrenaline will take aim on the green with his second in the knowledge that if he does not give the shot enough it could spin or slip back into the water.
If there is anywhere that McMurray’s thoughts stand still as he sees the forthcoming Ryder Cup in his mind’s eye, it is at this point. “I’m seeing and hearing the spectators,” he said, “and I’m watching as a European hits over the water to 10 feet to pave the way for the eagle that wins the Ryder Cup.”