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Wales Tale

Celtic Manor owner Sir Terry Matthews shares 'the dirt' on the Twenty Ten Course

Q&A with Terry Matthews

"I'd love a nail-biter," Matthews said. "It would seem to me that if it can come down to the 18th hole, that would help a lot."

September 2010

Who is Sir Terry Matthews and how did he get a Ryder Cup to Wales? Anyone who can start an electronics company and eventually sell it for $7 billion -- as Matthews did -- can work miracles. Matthews' only regret is that the man who helped him achieve that miracle, Robert Trent Jones Sr., the famous course architect, won't be around to enjoy it.

I've been to Wales recently. I thought I would ask you some questions and get your take on a variety of things that we, the American golfer, might be wondering. Well, first of all, let me ask you a couple of things: How much time do we have today to discuss this stuff?

That's really up to you, Sir.
Oh, well that's very nice of you. But you don't have to call me Sir. Although the queen did do a good job with the sword.

No cuts?
Right. [Laughs.]

If someone were to come over to the Southern part of Wales, besides the Ryder Cup, what are the top three things they should see?
Well, from the North is a place called the Brecon Beacons, and it is world-renowned for beautiful walks, scenery and waterfalls. A visit to Bath would also be one of them. It is about 40 minutes away, maybe a little less; it is the Roman city of Bath with hot-water springs that have come up for probably 1000 years. The Romans built baths around it. It is really quite spectacular and is one of the most visited sites in the U.K. The next thing is what you talked about, the Cardiff Castle, and there is a very old castle in the middle and then a more modern castle built around it, so I think Cardiff Castle is pretty good.

OK. So how did you meet Robert Trent Jones Sr.?
I'd have to take you back to 1980, and around the corner from my home in Fort Lauderdale is Coral Ridge Country Club, which was the only property owned by Robert Trent Jones Sr. I went there one day for lunch and somebody walked by and said, "That hole No. 2, Mr. Jones, is one hell of a tough hole." And he said, "Well, it sure is." And I said, "Well, Jones would be a Welsh name, isn't it?" And he said, "It sure is." And that started up a long-term relationship until he died about 10 years ago. And it turns out he was probably the best golf course designer ever. He and I became the best of friends.

You didn't necessarily have the game of golf in common, correct?
Well that's right, but this guy could cast a story beyond belief. He had so much history in golf, and his first course was in the Ottawa area, which is were I normally live. He built a nine-hole course in 1936 at a place called Norway Bay, and he and I would get together four or five times a year. He was one of the earliest investors in the technology companies I built. On one occasion, I can't tell you if it is true, but he said he made more money with me investing in technology than he did with building golf courses. It is Robert Trent Jones who introduced me not just to the game of golf but to the senior people of golf, to the European tour people, a guy, as an example, who I got very friendly with, was Ken Schofield. He and I are very good friends.

Eventually you asked Jones to build you a course in Wales?
That's right. We went to Wales, and one day we were driving around some property I owned in a Land Rover. It was raining so hard the Land Rover got stuck; the middle of the car was off the ground and the wheels were spinning. I got out and sank to my shoulders. So I said, "You stay here and I'll go get a tractor to pull us out." So here I am, just starting to move off, squish, squish, and there was a huge splash. He had jumped out. Holy Jesus, it was all soft mud underneath and he could have drowned. I pulled him out of the mud and then he and I, squish, squish, tramped over the field to get the tractor. He wasn't talking, and I thought, OK, so I've screwed this relationship up. He went up to take a shower and when he came back down to the bar, he said, "Terry, I haven't had a day like that in years. What a terrific adventure."

But here is the important part of that trip, and it leads to today. The following day, we were back in the Land Rover -- it wasn't raining -- and we got to this spot overlooking a valley below us, and he said, "This is where you could build an incredible course, right here in the valley." And I said, "Well, I don't own the land." And he said, "You aren't listening to me. To have a really first-class golf course, this is what you want to buy." He was very persuasive. And eventually I bought it. And that became the Twenty Ten, and that was what won me the Ryder Cup venue, this course in the valley.

Before he died, did you ever have a conversation with him about hosting an event such as the Ryder Cup?
Oh, definitely. That was a continuous discussion. It never stopped with him: "You need to do this, and you need to do that." To this day I look back at that time, he was a great friend, he introduced me to a lot of people, and he made excellent returns on his investment by the way. This was a two-way street, you understand?

Is it true you don't actually play much golf yourself?
That is true. But it takes four hours to play and that's a hell of a long time.

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