Newport tees up for Ryder Cup boost
With less than five months to go until the 2010 Ryder Cup tees off in Wales, the host city of Newport is hoping to score an economic hole-in-one.
Taking place from 1 to 3 October at the Celtic Manor Resort, the eyes of the golfing world will be on Newport.
There the best players from Europe and the US will battle it out when golf's most prestigious team competition is held in Wales for the first time.
While the likes of Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood will be focusing their attention on the actual golf, an independent study estimates that the tournament will boost the Welsh economy by at least £73m, with much of that centred on Newport itself.
This figure includes everything from spectators spending money on accommodation and food and drink, to the funds invested in infrastructure improvement projects, Welsh firms supplying goods and services for the event, and the wider boost it will give to the Welsh tourism sector.
For Ffion Lloyd, Ryder Cup project director at Newport City Council, the tournament is already playing a key role in Newport's continuing redevelopment from a former industrial town to a modern city with a diversified and growing economy.
"Much of our role has been about trying to maximise the economic benefit of the Ryder Cup for Newport and the wider area," she says.
"So in addition to helping with the logistics and wider organisation of the tournament, we have a range of events and improvements in place to tie-in with the Ryder Cup."
These include a multi-million pound enhancement to Newport's city centre, and a year-long festival of arts and sports - both to increase the city's tourist appeal.
These come on top of the existing regeneration work in Newport, including a new waterfront development alongside the River Usk that flows beside the city centre.
But of more day-to-day importance, for a city whose unemployment rate is a little above the national average, and heavily reliant upon public sector employment, is the jobs boost that the investment in the Celtic Manor Resort for the Ryder Cup has given the local economy.
With the golf club - owned by Welsh telecoms billionaire Sir Terry Matthews - investing no less than £16m in improvements, Ms Lloyd says most of the contractors, workers and suppliers have come from the local economy.
The Celtic Manor continues to put £14m into the local economy each year though direct employment and via suppliers, she adds, and that this will increase further this year thanks to the tournament.
Bringing the Ryder Cup to Wales for the first time also appears to be boosting the wider appeal of the country as a golfing destination.
Across Wales' approximately 200 golf courses, figures show there was an 18% increase in visitor numbers from outside of Wales in 2009, with many commentators putting that down to the Ryder Cup factor.
"Part of the Ryder Cup bid commitment led by the Welsh Assembly Government was to grow and develop golf tourism in Wales," says Tim Shore, European sales director for Ryder Cup Europe.
"And the golfing authorities in Wales have certainly worked very hard and effectively in highlighting the value for money proposition of playing golf in Wales under the phrase 'golf as it should be'."
With sell-out crowds of 45,000 expected on each of the three days of the tournament, and thousands more on the preceding three practice days, Mr Shore agrees that it will give Newport and Wales a substantial economic boost.
"We have also been working very closely with the Welsh government to contract out as many services as possible to Welsh suppliers, to give everyone attending the event a truly Welsh flavour," he adds.
Back in Newport, and despite the excitement about the Ryder Cup, golf is not the only sport in town.
The city's rugby union team Newport-Gwent Dragons is a mainstay of the Magners League of Welsh, Scottish and Irish professional clubs, and Newport is home to one of the UK's current two Olympic-standard velodromes.
The town's football team, Newport County, is also showing a marked improvement in its fortunes.
Wound up in 1989 due to financial turmoil, and exiled from the Football League ever since, last season it was promoted back to the Blue Square Premier, just one division away from stepping back up from non-league football.
But for the time being the focus of the city is the Ryder Cup.
Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, says the tournament is already putting Newport on the world map.
"I was at a conference in Poland recently and the Polish foreign minister said to me 'Oh, I've been to Newport, what a lovely place'," he says.
"It turned out that he had been to a meeting of foreign ministers at the Celtic Manor, which [in preparation for the Ryder Cup] is very luxurious indeed.
"So winning the Ryder Cup is definitely already helping to change people's perception of Newport.
"It is still a city in transition, but the hope is that the tournament will help us continue to bring in private sector jobs. It is also greatly boosting the city's own self esteem."