PORTHCAWL, Wales -- Back in 2007, I visited Royal Porthcawl Golf Club on a sunny, summer day, and the links were virtually empty aside from our foursome.
I returned the Tuesday after the 2010 Ryder Cup, and the atmosphere was like any coveted Open Championship venue in Scotland. Visitors were everywhere, and groups posed for photos on the first tee wearing their new logo gear.
If the European team was the biggest winner at the 2010 Ryder Cup, second place goes to Royal Porthcawl. Thanks to a rich history and pedigree as a Walker Cup-worthy links, the tee sheet has been stacked with visitor play all summer, especially leading up to and after the Ryder Cup.
Other golf clubs in southern Wales were busy too, filling their tee sheets with visitors from across Europe, the U.S. and as far as South Africa and Australia. Royal Porthcawl was able to charge a premium of 125 pounds during the Ryder Cup -- in line with most must-play golf courses in Scotland -- while surrounding golf clubs charged visitors weekend/holiday rates between 50-80 pounds.
"We should do this every October," Dylan Williams, the head professional at nearby Pyle & Kenfig Golf Club, said with a laugh.
While the Celtic Manor Resort received mixed reviews after a weather-plagued weekend on its valley course, these links clubs along the coast all greatly benefited from the added exposure and increased marketing campaigns of Wales in the years leading up to 2010. Aside from the Ryder Cup week, golf tourism from the U.S. has dropped off in the last couple of years amid economic uncertainty, though groups from nearby London and other English cities have been robust.
"We used to receive a lot of 'society' golf, small groups who came from nearby for the day only," Williams said of golf tours in Wales before the Ryder Cup push. "Now we have more two-to-four-day trips with 8-10 golfers. Wales is now a destination."
Visitors who had tickets to the Ryder Cup but wanted to play some golf had options. The golf courses in southern Wales were the most convenient. But England offers tours in nearby Kent, Cornwall or Lancashire, which is home to three British Open courses.
Aside from one-of-a-kind plays such as Pennard Golf Club and Southerndown, another one of Wales' strong points as a destination is a price point below most of England, Scotland and Ireland. Visit Wales -- the government tourism agency in charge of bringing the country up to speed as a tourist destination -- said they aggressively warned properties for years not to raise prices leading up to the event, and Scotland officials have already followed suit leading up to the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
The Ryder Cup is big business, both in corporate hospitality tents and in the surrounding areas. It has gained a reputation, like any big-time event such as the World Cup or Olympic Games, as a prime event for local businesses to inflate prices during the festivities. Ireland's staging of the event in 2006 was littered with reports of hotel golf clubs and even pubs doubling or tripling their prices.
In Wales, many hotels and golf courses kept their prices flat or charged their normal holiday/weekend rate, though some didn't heed the warning.
"The hotels who raised their rates too high stayed empty," one official said.
The big losers during Ryder Cup weekend were the fans who had Friday tickets. They were only treated to a few holes of action before a washout and their tickets were no good for singles action on Monday. Logistical reasons prevented officials from selling any more tickets or allowing any more people than had access for Sunday.
No Welsh golfer made the Ryder Cup team after its best hope, Rhys Davies, fell short. Despite that, Cardiff pubs and local golf clubs were full with patrons with keen interest.
"The goal was to create a sense of occasion," said Roger Pride, director of marketing for Visit Wales. "And that meant getting the people of Wales involved."
As with any endeavor backed by government funding, not every citizen was on board with the massive infrastructure and marketing efforts. On talk radio, some callers lamented the whole production was a waste. Other critics say northern Wales won't benefit as much as neighboring England destinations.
The lasting impact of the Ryder Cup, between the amount of Welsh juniors who become regular golfers, plus economic and tourist development from investors brought in to visit the country during the event, will be measured in the years to come. But 2010 was a great year for the links of Wales in the south.
With the surplus of funds Southerndown earned this summer, Alan Hughes, chief executive of the club, says they are considering building a Ryder Cup memorial at their club, like a statue or automated front gate.
"It will be a reminder of what was a great occasion for Europe," Hughes said. "And our club as well."
October 13, 2010