0 McKenzie has grand designs for ‘Welsh Olympics’ in 2010

Now that the dust has settled after the heat of battle at Valhalla, the Ryder Cup greenkeeping baton has been passed firmly to Scot Jim McKenzie, the director of golf courses at Celtic Manor in Wales, where the 38th contest will be held in 2010.

In Kentucky, Clydebank-born McKenzie was shadowing Mark Wilson, the superintendent at Valhalla, to soak up every scrap of knowledge he could in preparation, but there were some basic climatic differences. "He asked me as we were driving round the course in a temperature of 92F: How often do you hand-water your rough?' I said: "I'm from the west of Scotland and work in Wales and in 30 years I've never had to hand-water rough'."

McKenzie has lived with the threat of a faceful of water ever since the morning after he left Bellahouston Academy at the age of 16 when his aunt threw a potful of the cold stuff over him to get him out of bed to go to Shawlands job centre.

"I had intended to have a long lie and I didn't thank her for that at the time," he recalled, "but when I got to the job centre I couldn't believe my eyes. I had always loved golf and there was a job for a trainee greenkeeper at Haggs Castle."

There he worked under Chris Kennedy who would later take him to Wentworth following spells at Cawder and Renfrew, experiencing at the various courses the Scottish Open, Ladies' Scottish Open and European Boys' Team Championship, and in Surrey the World Matchplay and PGA Championships.

Now, having been top man at Celtic Manor for 15 years, it is all hands to the pump for the big one, and he has it in perspective. "It's the third-largest sporting event in the world in terms of global audience behind the Olympics and the football World Cup," he said. "Newport in South Wales isn't going to get either of these so, as Rhodri Morgan the Welsh First Minister keeps saying, this is Wales' Olympics and I am really excited about it coming to my course."

McKenzie was one of a team of 10 from Celtic Manor, including owner Sir Terry Matthews, who were taking a vested interest in proceedings at Valhalla. They arrived six days in advance of the start of the biennial event. "We wanted to see everything on and off course before the teams were out and security arrived," he said.

At Valhalla, in addition to his usual full-time staff of 15 that goes up to 35 in the summer, he had 120 extra pairs of hands for Ryder Cup week. "I felt that was too many," he said. "There was such a big crew here that by 7am on the mornings of the competition all greens, tees and approaches had been cut in the dark using artificial lighting. Then when play started the dew had come back down. In Wales we'll probably have a smaller crew, like we do in the Wales Open, and it will be a case of staying a few holes in front and keeping the course fresh."

The one great unknown remains the identity of the captain. McKenzie expects to learn that in January, a lot later than he had hoped as he is eager to get working on the Twenty Ten course. Names in the frame are Jose Maria Olazabal, Sandy Lyle, the return of Ian Woosnam, and possibly Colin Montgomerie, even though he says he's holding out for Gleneagles in 2014. "Colin didn't make it this time, and if he doesn't make the team again in 2010 or 2012 at Medina then is he going to wait until 2014? Personally I can't see him missing three Ryder Cups in any capacity," said McKenzie.

The captain has had an ever increasing role to play in course set-up since the Belfry in 2002 when Sam Torrance had the fairways narrowed at the Americans' favoured driving distances and widened it at the European mark. The Twenty Ten course, claimed to be the first to be built specifically for the Ryder Cup, stretches to 7493 yards comprises nine new holes in the Usk Valley designed by Ross McMurray and nine from the former Wentwood Hills layout designed by American Trent Jones.

Source:-The Herald

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