Matthews proud to host Ryder Cup gladiators

Around 2,000 years ago Romans used to enjoy the gladiatorial sport on offer at an amphitheatre just up the road from the Ryder Cup venue of Celtic Manor.

Last Updated: Sep 29, 2010, 20:11 PM IST

Wales:Around 2,000 years ago Romans used to enjoy the gladiatorial sport on offer at an amphitheatre just up the road from the Ryder Cup venue of Celtic Manor.

For Terry Matthews, the billionaire entrepreneur from Newport who created the five-star resort that is hosting one of modern sport`s great duels, it is an irresistible subject.
Chatting in the media canteen alongside the beautifully manicured first fairway of the Twenty Ten course, Matthews, a keen historian, needs little prompting to share his knowledge of the Usk Valley, a spectacular landscape just across the River Severn that once marked the western edge of the Roman empire.

"Right near where we are sitting was Via Julia, the road the Romans built to connect to London, it was their M4 (motorway)," the 67-year-old told Reuters while zooming in on various local historical landmarks on his I-phone.

"It was the road to what was called Isca. There is a 5,000-seat amphitheatre still there at nearby Caerleon and if you don`t know about it you should!

"They had hot baths and a 180-foot heated swimming pool," said Matthews. "Where can you find a 180-foot swimming pool in London today?

"A quarter of the 20,000 Roman legionnaires in Britain were based here. Why would they have their M4, why build an amphitheatre? I`ll tell you why ... this was a Roman hotspot."

Few of the thousands of fans descending on the 180 million pounds ($284.5 million) resort to watch the European and U.S. golfers in combat this week will realise the significance of the local history.

"There were competitions here long before the Ryder Cup," Matthews said. "It was big time then, now Celtic Manor has put the area and Wales back at the centre of world golf.

"There have been major things going on here for 2,000 years and I think the Romans would have been pleased to see what`s happening here this week."

Matthews, who was born in a hospital that once stood in the grounds of Celtic Manor, once sold lawnmowers but has now become the principality`s richest businessman through high-tech communications.

Despite living in Canada these days, he remains fiercely proud of his roots and retains the resonating Welsh accent not dissimilar to the country`s well-known singer Tom Jones.

He bought some of the land that now forms the Celtic Manor resort in 1980, renovating the Manor House which was built by Wales`s first millionaire Thomas Powell -- the man who discovered the coal seams that fuelled the Industrial Revolution.
ROMAN ROAD

The first golf course, appropriately named the Roman Road, opened in 1995 and a second, designed by European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, followed.

Matthews`s dream to host the Ryder Cup here began to take shape 10 years ago when plans for the Twenty Ten course were drawn up by designer Ross McMurray. It has not been a trouble-free ride though.

"We had trouble because we discovered so many Roman remains, there was even a gladiators training camp here," said Matthews, who has also had a running battle with the local council to remove a derelict "listed" farmhouse he calls a "crock" from beside the 18th green.

"But it`s been one of the highlights of my career. Business and golf are inherently tied together and now Celtic Manor is known all over the world. This weekend there will be hundreds of millions of people watching on TV.

"They will now know there is a very beautiful course and a hell of a hotel near Newport. The Ryder Cup brand had lifted the brand of Wales."

Surprisingly Matthews rarely plays golf.

"It wouldn`t take me four hours, it would take me a month to go around the Twenty Ten," he said.

"I could have 10 meetings in four hours. The important thing is the players like it.

"This is the best course that has ever staged the Ryder Cup. Logistically it`s perfect, the corporate hospitality is unrivalled and we can have 50,000 people in here a day comfortably.

"I can`t think of another course that could manage that. Come Sunday night I`ll be up on the balcony overlooking the 18th green with a glass of Champagne. I hope it`s a nail-biter because everybody around the world will remember Celtic Manor."

Before heading off Matthews could not resist one more Roman reference.

"The Ryder Cup is gladiatorial ... but let`s hope the end is not quite as bloody as what went on in the amphitheatre up the road. I hope it doesn`t get that rough," he said.

Bureau Report

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