20 years of the Roman Road
The Roman Road Course celebrates the 20th Anniversary of its opening this month. Here we compile 20 interesting facts about the golf course with the help of Director of Golf Courses Jim McKenzie, who was here from the moment the first earth was cut to construct the golf course back in 1993.
1 Upon opening in 1995, the Roman Road was soon voted the best inland course in Wales by Golf Monthly magazine.
2 Holes 1 and 18 are the only two holes never to have changed their number as the configuration of the golf course has been adjusted on several occasions over the 20 years it has been in play
3 Three Wales Open champions were crowned on the Roman Road Course while the original tournament course Wentwood Hills was being being transformed into the Twenty Ten Course for the Ryder Cup. Quality winners they were, too – Miguel Angel Jiménez, Robert Karlsson and Richard Sterne.
4 The four home nations of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales contest the annual Celebrity Cup on the Roman Road Course and it was also the stage for the All*Star Cup, a celebrity version of the Ryder Cup in 2005 and 2006. “It’s a fantastic tournament golf course,” says Jim McKenzie. “The proximity of the clubhouse and the hotel to many of the holes makes it the perfect setting for an event like the Celebrity Cup.”
5 “The five par 3s stand out for me as one of the best collections of short holes on any golf course,” says Jim. From the steep slopes surrounding the 4th green to the babbling brook meandering down the 17th, they all present a memorable challenge.
6 Celtic Manor was approached to host the British Masters on the European Tour before the Roman Road Course even opened. As it happened, the venue waited six years to stage the first Wales Open in 2000 on the Wentwood Hills Course.
7 The official yardage of the Roman Road Course when it first opened was 7001 yards after every effort was made to make it one of the first few courses in the UK to top 7,000 yards.
8 The present 8th hole is typical of the sloping greens which provide so much of the difficulty of the golf course and place such an onus on the short game. The 8th has a big bank running down the middle gathering into a bowl on the left side so finding the same level as the flag is imperative. “The 8th is probably my favourite hole on the golf course,” said Jim. “The views from the green on a summer evening are fabulous.”
9 Nine months after the opening of the Roman Road and The Lodge Golf Clubhouse, Celtic Manor launched the Golf Academy, the Coldra Woods executive course and Dylan’s Health Club during Easter 1996. So there was little time to celebrate and reflect upon the opening of the Roman Road in 1995.
10 The Roman Road was one of the final sole-design projects completed by the legendary architect Robert Trent Jones. Having lived most of his life in America, Jones was persuaded to build his only course in the land of his fathers after a chance meeting with Celtic Manor owner Sir Terry Matthews in Florida.
11 Recent US Masters winner and World No 1 golfer Ian Woosnam was the natural choice to be the attached touring professional when Celtic Manor opened its first golf courses. He visited on several occasions during the construction of the Roman Road Course and brought friends like Ian Botham and Jonathan Davies to the new golf and leisure resort.
12 The opening of the Roman Road Course was actually delayed by 12 months after a freak storm and two weeks of sustained bad weather in October 1993 washed away the initial seeding and many of the earthworks shaping the holes.
13 To prevent similar calamity, thousands of hay bales and car tyres were lined up the fairways to act as barriers against the water in the reshaped course’s most vulnerable spots. Jim recalls: “!t was the strangest looking golf course I’d ever seen!”
14 The Roman Road was envisaged as a premium tournament course from the outset and was a greenkeeping trailblazer in Wales as the first course to incorporate Valven head sprinklers and use TORO pedestrian mowers and lightweight ride-on fairway mowers.
15 The original 15th hole was a monster 635 yard par five hole played from the present 15th tee to the green which is no longer in play in front of the Resort Hotel
16 The 16th hole is protected by the only lake on the golf course and is seen by many as the signature hole, requiring a straight drive and a carry over the water with the approach.
17 Building the buggy tunnels beneath Catsash Road were no small feats of engineering and required construction on parts of the golf course to halt for long periods.
18 The 18th hole showed its qualities as a finishing hole when Wales came the closest to producing a home-grown champion at the Wales Open in 2007. Bradley Dredge led by one shot on the tee but, just as Richard Sterne rolled in his birdie putt on the green, Dredge drove into the lip of the right-hand bunker and made a bogey to lose by one stroke.
19 The 19th Hole was every bit as impressive as the golf course when the clubhouse was officially opened. Boasting impressive views over both the golf course and the Severn Estuary beyond, the clubhouse is a popular venue for weddings and events as well as the perfect watering hole for thirsty golfers and home of The Grill Restaurant. The clubhouse was originally earmarked for the other side of Catsash Road but planners felt it would have a more intrusive impact on the skyline viewed from Caerleon on that side.
20 Jim McKenzie left the plum job of head greenkeeper on the famous West Course at Wentworth to take on the challenge of overseeing his first course build at Celtic Manor. “It was a bit of a step into the unknown but I was soon persuaded by the energy and ambition of Sir Terry Matthews that this was going to be a venue for the biggest golf tournaments. Twenty years on we’ve certainly achieved that! The Roman Road has been a very important part of the story and is a golf course I think we can all feel very proud of.”