Tom Watson tips Royal Porthcawl for golf's Open

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Wales Sport
Bernhard Langer at Royal Porthcawl
Bernhard Langer finished 13 shots ahead of Colin Montgomerie to win the Senior Open

The eyes of the golfing world tend only to glance towards Wales, though the glare has been long and focused in recent days.

Bernhard Langer won the Senior Open at the Royal Porthcawl on Sunday - the German's 87th professional title but the first major to be staged in Wales.

And after a weekend of lavish praise from the players and 43,503 spectators, the Royal Porthcawl is being tipped to host golf's blue riband event, the Open.

The course has made a bid to the Royal & Ancient, golf's world governing body, to be added to its roster of Open venues, alongside illustrious locations such as St Andrews.

The Royal Porthcawl would need to satisfy a number of logistical and infrastructure requirements but, as far as the course is concerned, opinion is overwhelmingly positive.

Chief among the advocates is the great Tom Watson, who is convinced this 119-year-old course should host the Open.

"I talked to [R&A chief executive] Peter Dawson about the Open being played here and said that, in my opinion, it would be a great course for that," said Watson.

"I played my first practice round on Monday and, from the first hole on, it was just one great hole after another and one great green complex after another. I really fell in love with it immediately. It's a great golf course."

A five-time winner of the Open Championship, Watson is as sound a judge of a links course as anyone.

And there is no doubting the authenticity of his affection for the Royal Porthcawl.

It is not as if the American was turning on the charm to win over the locals - his mere presence was enough to do that, his effortless gravitas a magnetic pull for spectators around the course.

Watson was the main attraction of a stellar group on the opening two days of the Senior Open, playing alongside Colin Montgomerie and Fred Couples.

Although Ryder Cup great Montgomerie and former Masters champion Couples drew a significant following, their popularity paled in comparison to the reverence which met Watson at every tee and green.

Cool and courteous, Watson embodies the statesmanlike grandeur of a bygone era when he, Jack Nicklaus and others dominated golf with a ruthless professionalism but a gentlemanly sense of fairness and class too.

It is his standing in the game which gave his endorsement of the course such credence, and he was not the only notable name praising the Royal Porthcawl.

"I think it's a very underrated and underplayed golf course," said Montgomerie, who captained Europe to a Ryder Cup victory over the United States at Newport's Celtic Manor in 2010.

"The first five holes are particularly tricky, the eighth hole is a particularly good hole, while the 15th is a super par-three."

First Minister Carwyn Jones attended Sunday's presentation
Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones (right) is convinced of country's ability to stage major events

The difficulty of the course is one of its strongest selling points, with Watson and Langer among those to declare Royal Porthcawl a tougher proposition than Hoylake, which hosted the 2013 Open.

Wales is the only one of the home nations never to have staged the Open, though the events of the last week could help end that barren run.

Even before the leading lights of the Senior Open offered their support, there had already been political backing for a bid to host the Open at Porthcawl.

First Minister Carwyn Jones cited the 2010 Ryder Cup as proof of Wales' ability to stage major competitions.

"We have already proven that Wales can host top quality, international golf events," Jones said, at the launch of the Senior Open in 2013.

"We have the facilities, the venues, the infrastructure and, most importantly, the welcome that all add up to us being a great host country."

While the course is generally perceived to be ready for the rigours of an Open, the consensus seems to be that the infrastructure around the Royal Porthcawl requires work.

Roads leading to the course are narrow and residential, while local public transport could struggle to cater for the huge crowds that Open championships attract.

Support in the form of grants and sponsorship could improve the surrounding infrastructure but, even if the R&A gives its blessing, it could be a decade or so before the Royal Porthcawl is added to the Open roster.

It has the history befitting an Open venue, having hosted a number of European Tour events as well as the Walker Cup in 1995, when a 19-year-old Tiger Woods was a part of the United States team which lost to Great Britain and Ireland.

Woods may not relish a return to Wales, having also tasted defeat with the United States in the 2010 Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor.

But if his fellow giants of the game - Watson et al - are granted their wish, golf's leading figures could one day be playing at the Royal Porthcawl on a regular basis.

Top Stories