- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NEWPORT, WALES (AP) - The man who brought the Ryder Cup to the land of his birth hasn’t played more than a dozen rounds of golf in his life.

“Mostly because it takes four hours to go ‘round. And this place,” Welsh billionaire Sir Terry Matthews said with a sweep of his arm, “would take me a month or better.”

The Twenty Ten course, one of three on the grounds of the Celtic Manor Resort that Matthews began work on nearly 30 years ago, is a state-of-the-art layout with an old soul. Located just a 10-minute drive from the Roman ruins at Careleon, the Twenty Ten has set a standard that future Ryder Cup hosts will struggle to match.

“I think it’s a wonderful golf course,” U.S. team member Phil Mickelson said. “It’s in terrific shape, and the holes themselves have a lot of risk-reward, a lot of real big penalties if you mis-hit a shot and a lot of rewards if you pull off a shot. This is going to be a great venue for match play.”

Matthews, who made his fortune in the electronics business, had renowned architect Robert Trent Jones Sr., design the course and then brought in the European Tour’s design team to look after the details. From the intricate drainage system underground to the steeply sculpted hillsides that afford viewers the same panorama whether they’re standing alongside the fairway or dining in a corporate hospitality tent, no detail went unexamined.

“We started with a clean sheet of paper. At the last Ryder Cup at Valhalla (just outside Louisville, Ky.), they had 49 parking spaces for buses. We’ve got 140 and we’re sitting between the main arteries to two of the largest cities in the United Kingdom, so people can come in here just ahead of tee time and leave almost as soon as it ends.

“And yet,” he added, “because we’re sitting in a valley, you can’t even pick up the road noise.”

The attention to detail, ultimately, says more about Matthews‘ discerning business sense than his desire to build a trophy course. He owns a second world-class resort golf complex near his home in Ottawa, Canada, where he emigrated as a young man and it, too, features, a Trent Jones-designed gem. But Matthews rarely plays golf there, either, although he did record a hole-in-one when he was a member at nearby Royal Ottawa.

“Frankly, I think of the resorts more like an extension of my home, or business. It gives me access to a staff of 750, and if I decide I want to throw a party, I don’t need six months notice. I don’t like to plan,” Matthews said, “and I do like to have what I want.”

Even if it means violating those cherished good-business practices on occasion. Included in the $50 million Matthews estimated he spent preparing the facility for the matches is a 330-foot suspension bridge across the River Usk so players can reach the practice area.

“That was really not the smartest use of funds,” Matthews laughed. “So while not everything was a business decision through and through, make no mistake _ that’s what’s driving just about everything. …

“It’s about the brand. If I go to Beijing or Delhi, Sydney, Singapore or Johannesburg, they all know about the Ryder Cup. It’s one of the most important sporting events on the planet. And because of that, people now know about Celtic Manor.”

Matthews concedes $50 million is not a small sum to risk on building his brand, not even to assure he can throw “a hell of a party” at a moment’s notice.”

“I believe that in any situation, you have to look at what is the best-case and what is the worst-case scenario. And if you can live with the worst case, you should damn well go ahead and go after the best case.

“And apart from all that,” he added, with a mischievous grin, “it’s been a bit of fun.”