With the economic situation as dire as it is, and with Newport sorely in need of investment, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Ryder Cup coming to the city could breath life into the stagnating local economy. Indeed many people felt that the Ryder Cup would be good for Newport, raising the city's profile and establishing a footing on the international stage. What could be better for a town in need of investment than the hosting of a major sporting event?
Since the Celtic Manor resort on the edge of the city was announced as the venue some nine years ago, the local council has been mesmerised by the spectacle of a massive influx of wealthy visitors. Preparations were made in earnest and huge sums of public money were made available for projects that would improve the image of Newport. As the competition got nearer signs, flags and billboards appeared wherever there was space, welcoming the arrival of golf fans. Though many of the planned showpiece projects never materialised, the train station was revamped with a new walkway, and the creation of new jobs was hinted at, something the town really needs.
The knock on effects of the cup included the Severn Bridge tolls starting to accept credit card payments, something motorists have complained about for many years, however once the cup was over, they were promptly removed. In an effort to tidy up the city's image, some of the large number of abandoned business premises in the city centre were reopened by the 'Empty Shops Project' as art galleries and drama spaces. Sculptures of dragons were placed around the city and a number of community events got limited council support rather than the usual hostility. All this was designed to bring a much trumpeted "festival atmosphere" to the City.
In order to make sure the glamorous celebrity golf fans weren't inconvenienced by too much traffic, schools were closed across the city and even as far away as Cardiff, much to the inconvenience of local parents. The security operation meant many roads were routinely closed as the 'great and the good' patronised the former site of the Lydia Beynon Maternity Hospital. Special infrastructure was constructing including a special bridge and extra bit of road that cost £2.5 million (closed to as soon as the event was over).
When the event was finally on, the jobs hinted at never materialised, instead there was a call for volunteers to basically act as skivvies. It was apparent that the Ryder Cup crowd had a complete lack of interest in anything to do with Newport. Far from bringing in new trade into the city centre, trade and walking traffic in the dropped to next to zero.The people who had arrived to see the Cup stayed at the Celtic Manor or lodged in rural Monmouthshire and didn't venture into Newport at all. One section who were expected to profit from the event the taxi cab drivers were ushered away from the train station so that a fleet of coaches could ferry people back and forth to the Celtic Manor.
As it was painfully apparent in the pub, club and cafe culture that 'old' Newport was not going to benefit from the event, thousands expressed their distain, proclaiming Bollocks to the Ryder Cup on Facebook. A big screen was erected in John Frost Square so that interested Newportonians and visitors who didn't have a ticket could watch the event. Nothing illustrated local opinion of the event quite like the deserted 'fanzone'.
The huge number of Ryder Cup signs remain all over the city, all the more grotesque with the announcement of the closure of the Passport Office and departure of a major department store from the centre. People are getting angry, what was billed as the beginning of a fresh start for the the city has turned out to be the subsidising of private business whilst Newport is left to rot.
In all the event cost £40 million of public money, a return of next to nothing for the local people who had no choice in funding it. In the context of public sector and benefit cuts by the ConDem government this is clearly a pointless waste of money. Money that could have been spent on the overloaded Royal Gwent Hospital, run down amenities or a whole host of other projects. Despite the talk of boosting the local economy in the press, this event was never about Newport, and the only legacy it leaves is underfunded services and an inflated tax bill.