Next week the Ryder Cup tees off at Celtic Manor Resort in South Wales, marking the end of an 11-year project by the resort to capture the prestigious golf competition. Tom Vaughan finds out how it has been preparing for such a high-profile event, and what legacy it will leave on the resort and the area.
Twenty-four golfers, 250 team members, 650 staff, 50,000 spectators, 11 years in the making. When the 2010 Ryder Cup arrives at Celtic Manor on 25 September, all those numbers will take on an acute reality. Not least because, among those golfers, there will be such luminaries as Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia and the one of the year's most talked-about sports stars, Tiger Woods. It is the kind of star-studded occasion that billionaire entrepreneur Sir Terry Matthews dreamt about when he opened the Celtic Manor Resort in 1999, and the kind of event that needs every one of those 11 years to fully prepare.
When the £100m 330-bedroom Celtic Manor Resort was completed in 1999 - built alongside Matthews' existing Manor House hotel, which now has 70 rooms - the dream was to secure the 2010 Ryder Cup, explains the resort's vice-president Ian Edwards.
"Terry is an ambitious person and wanted something to put the hotel - and this area of Wales - on the map. However, when we put the bid [for the 2010 Ryder Cup] together in 2001, the chances were close to zero that we would win it," he says.
While the five-star hotel's levels of service and accommodation were certainly up to par, that alone is not nearly enough. As well as a championship-level golf course, laid out to accommodate the expected 50,000 spectators, a host resort needs the transportation and infrastructure in place to ensure the vast crowds can arrive and depart safely. The answer: an old-fashioned charm offensive and the promise to deliver whatever was needed.
"Terry went out there and pushed the bid, and when it was won there was that great initial feeling of euphoria," continues Edwards. "Then we all sat down and realised we needed to deliver what we'd promised."
Over the last nine years, at a cost of £25m - all from Matthews - the hotel has added a championship course, designed to allow spectators the best possible views from surrounding ridges, a first-rate clubhouse, coach parks and improved links with the neighbouring M4. The infrastructure is vital - without it no large-scale event would consider using a resort - but Celtic Manor also needs to prove something less tangible; that it can meet the unique challenges of running a high-profile event.
As well as being a premier conference destination, the resort has hosted such high-status events as the EU Foreign Ministers Summit, and is also the venue for the Welsh Open golf tournament. On 25 September, when Celtic Manor closes to the public and hands itself over to the PGA European Tour, it will meet its biggest challenge yet.
special events team
The hotel's special events team is responsible for the overall strategy of the occasion, which runs from 25 September to 4 October (the competition proper lasts from 1 to 3 October). Headed by special events director Rebecca Joy, it is their job to make sure the Ryder Cup is a success, says Edwards.
In the month preceding the cup, the team is overseeing the construction of the vast number of temporary buildings needed to host the press, spectators and golfers, including a three-tier hospitality building, a grandstand, a 700-desk media centre and TV studios.
While the construction work goes up in plenty of time to avoid any mishaps, it is the interaction with the hotel's guests that presents the smallest margin for error. Of the hotel's 400 rooms, 250 will be given over to the golfers and their entourage - doctors, dieticians, partners and so on. The remaining rooms will be put aside for Matthews to host guests and business partners.
With such a distinct group of guests, looking after members of high-profile events is not the same as the day-to-day challenges of the hotel. "You need to switch tack," Edwards says. "The way you look after leisure guests isn't the same as at a high-profile event."
Every one of the hotel's staff will be needed and it is a case, says David Hennigan, general manager at the hotel's Crown restaurant, of ensuring everyone knows exactly what they need to do. "It is then just a case of executing the function on the day. It's all chopped up, portioned out, and everyone has a role."
For example, the Rooms Division team knows exactly what its role is when the golfers and their entourages arrive, says Edwards. "All will arrive at the hotel en masse and expect five-star service. The Rooms Division needs to be very focused on its meet and greet strategy." The hotel's policy is to show each guest to their room individually. To ensure that happens, the whole Rooms Division team will meet the golfers and their entourage at reception with hot towels, then show them to their relevant floors, where separate registration desks will check the guests in and show them to their rooms.
There are so many elements to the event - each portioned up and looked after by a relevant team - that to list them all would be exhausting. Suffice to say, from the 1,500 press looked after by the PR team, to the makeshift beds and catering set up in the clubhouse for the green-keeping team, to the food and beverage director's hard work in organising all the different elements of the food, the operation has an air of military precision.
Food is a vital element to the event's success: golfers' diets are so wide and varied, and often under the control of dieticians, that menu tastings have been ongoing for the past six months. "These days golfers are athletes," says Edwards. "We have needed to know what they expect from the menus, and we have had to make sure we can deliver it all."
The golfers will have breakfast in their rooms before being privately chauffeured to the 2010 course clubhouse, while a normal morning spread will be put on for the remaining guests - who will be made up of team members, partners and corporate guests. Lunch will be served at the clubhouse, and afternoon tea and dinner then put on at the hotel, with dietician-controlled team rooms, run by private dining, catering for the European and American teams.
At the 50-cover Crown, Hennigan expects a full restaurant most nights, although the more informal Olive Tree restaurant (above) and the golfers' catered team rooms will lighten the burden.
The presence of such high-profile sportsmen will come with its own unique challenges for the restaurant's front-of-house staff, continues Hennigan.
"I'm sure Tiger Woods will be roaming around, and that kind of presence makes it easier to take your eye off the ball. If we start buying into the celebrity of our guests we are not going to be able to do what we do normally - it is all about consistency."
While logistically there are countless hurdles to overcome, there are also vast opportunities for the hotel and resort. The coverage afforded the hotel across Europe and America will be huge and Vanessa Russell, head of marketing, says her team is prepped to take advantage of this.
"You get one shot at this kind of occasion and it's up to us to collect as much data as possible and make sure that everyone visiting our website over the period is aware of everything we do and the kind of offers we run," she says.
One vital part of preparation - and one that could be easily overlooked - is to ensure that the hotel and its staff don't go flat when the last guests and golfers depart.
"We sat down five years ago and worked out where we go once the Ryder Cup is over," says Edwards. "And we put a plan in place to go actively after the leisure market. It has grown hugely and we are planning to build on the reputation we will have gained to attract some of that."
New additions to the resort, such as archery, a rope climbing site and a crazy golf area, are all planned, as well as the pursuit of major concerts that the new transport infrastructure has allowed.
"As of 4 October, most people in the world will have heard of Celtic Manor Resort," continues Edwards. "And we want to make sure the Ryder Cup leaves a lasting legacy."
Hosting a high-profile event
â- Plan everything meticulously; make sure every element of the event has personnel responsible for it and they have a strategy in place
â- Avoid becoming star-struck at all costs; a manager fawning unnecessarily over a guest will influence his or her team for the worst
â- Use it as a springboard; a lot more attention than usual will be focused on your hotel, use it to promote yourself and build your customer base
â- Have a long-term plan; don't focus everyone and everything on the one event, or the mood could easily go flat when it's over
Ryder Cup Tourism
As one might expect, the short-term influence of the Ryder Cup on tourism in South Wales is considerable. The weekend of the competition has seen hotel bookings in the area treble. According to market intelligence firm Rubicon, the tournament has prompted room rates to run at 162% ahead of last year, with average room prices rising to just over £141 per night.
As expected, hotels in the region are busiest on Saturday night, with the majority of visitors staying in preparation for the final day's play on Sunday. Hotels as far away as Gloucester are even profiting from the event. Greg Ward, executive director of sales and marketing for von Essen hotels, which has a total of 10 hotels in the Bristol and Cheltenham areas, says that many have been fully booked as a result of the cup.
In the long-term, there is a similarly rosy outlook. A conservative estimate is that the Ryder Cup could be worth in excess of £70m to the Welsh economy. The springboard offered by the Cup is considerable: the event is broadcast into 750 million homes in 100 countries worldwide and the website www.rydercup.com receives over 28 million hits during the week it is played.
A £2m Ryder Cup Legacy Fund is supporting more than 40 projects, which will create over 200 new holes across Wales. Before 2007, golfing tourism was worth £16m to Wales and is now worth £29.4m, a figure that is expected to keep rising.