Yesterday I had lunch in New York with some members of "Wales." I can't say they're with the Wales Tourism Board, because that would be inaccurate. Their business cards simply say, "Wales."
Roger Pride is the "Director of Marketing" of Wales and Maebeth Fenton is a "PR Consultant" for the small country the size of Massachusetts. Wales is a peninsula on the western flank of England with a population of a little over 3 million people.
They had good news: Wales got the Ryder Cup for the first time. (I didn't say it was new news, they won that bid in 2001.) But with that, there's also some potentially bad news: Wales got the Ryder Cup for the first time.
Pride's and Fenton's big-picture mission is simple, and yet complicated. They need to get the word out about the 38th Ryder Cup matches being held at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales, Oct. 1-3, 2010. But in winning the bid, Pride says it will cost his country $100 million in necessary preparations to the course, the resort, general infrastructure, various marketing strategies and that's not all. They agreed to host four European professional tournaments every year leading up to 2010. They are the Celtic Manor Wales Open on the European Tour in June as well as European events on the Senior, Ladies and the Challenge tours.
Pride is not much of a golfer, but he knows the branding business. He has written books and travels the world giving speeches on the subject. Not only does he need the Ryder Cup to be a success, he needs to use the sporting world's third-most-watched event to help put Wales, sans the letter h, on the map of the masses.
Pride told me a funny story. In a cab ride to lunch the driver asked him, "What do you do for a living?"
"I promote Wales," said Pride.
The cab driver was supportive but of an alternate cause. "I love whales. Amazing animals. Do everything you can for them."
So maybe the work that's already been done hasn't helped Wales distinguish itself from whales to the cab driving community, but the numbers are moving in the right direction, especially amongst golfers.
According to Pride, prior to winning the Ryder Cup bid, Wales was getting 30,000 annual golf specific visitors. Their goal was to get that number up to 100,000 by 2010. The numbers aren't back yet for '08, but Pride says they were already at 90,000 annual golf specific visitors in '07.
Maybe "good news/bad news" isn't the right way to phrase it. Maybe we can simply call the winning Ryder Cup bid a combination of pressure and the spotlight Wales has been longing for.
"An event like this and an investment like this is an opportunity to showcase our country on the world stage for more than just a golf destination," says Pride. "Most of our return will happen the week of the Ryder Cup, but we also want to leave a lasting legacy that we can continue to build on."
Wales, England and Scotland make up the island of Britain. Pride likes to say, "Wales offers the tradition of golf in Scotland and the crack of golf in Ireland, but we can offer it for a lot less."
"Crack," in this case, is an Irish term meaning fun. Golf "for a lot less" is what we're all looking for right now.
I've been on the field for a Super Bowl, in the infield at a Kentucky Derby, inside the ropes of a U.S. Open and attended 11-straight Masters. There's nothing more "cracking" than a Ryder Cup. And it's a great excuse to go see what Pride is promoting. Like it says on his card--"Wales."
For more information on the Ryder Cup, golf in Wales and the five-star Celtic Manor, check out: rydercupwales2010.com. To book a golf trip, try this site: travelwales.org. Pride suggests the months of May and September to see Wales in the best weather.