Largely down to the supreme quality of the links courses in Scotland, England and Ireland, many of which have gotten maximum exposure to the golfing masses through hosting the Open Championship, golf courses in Wales are often overlooked by golfers travelling to the UK from far and wide. However, thanks in no small measure the hosting of the 2010 Ryder Cup by Celtic Manor; Welsh golf is now up there with the biggest hitters in the UK golf break game. While all that is on offer at Celtic Manor is well worth the trip to Cymru, it would be foolish to think that golf in Wales starts and ends at the famous Ryder Cup venue. Newport’s Celtic Manor Resort has just 3 of around 200 golf courses all packed into a country that measures only 60 miles from East to West and 170 miles from North to South, the South coast of which is home to some of the very finest traditional links courses in the world.
Southern Wales boasts one of the UK’s most spectacular coastlines, particularly along the Gower peninsula where the beautiful sandy beaches are washed by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, making it fantastic for surfers. It is also home to the greatest concentration of top class golf courses in the country and the links courses in particular, such as Wales’ finest course, Royal Porthcawl, are among the very best in the world.
Names like Royal Porthcawl, Pyle & Kenfig and Ashburnham may not feature in the bucket lists of your average golfer, but in our humble opinion their quality, history and rugged beauty mean that they most certainly should be! After all…how do you like your golf? Challenging and convivial? Unhurried and unstuffy, played in the true spirit of the game on the greenest of greens? Then the South Coast of Wales is the place for you! It also happens to be the last place I embarked on a golf tour and, in all honesty, I am already considering a return trip this summer!
The 1st at Royal Porthcawl.
First up on my tour was the mighty Royal Porthcawl which, after about 5 or 6 holes, was already the finest links course I have ever been lucky enough to play. I can see now why it was awarded the ‘Royal’ moniker by King Edward VIII in 1909! Every hole is as gem and the position of the first tee could not be better for those looking for a traditional test of links golf. In fact, it is almost as far to the sea as it is to the edge of the 1st fairway!
The first four holes run along the coast with only a rickety yet charming wooden fence separating the course from the beach. As I had arrived just in time for my tee slot I was unsure of the pace and quality of the greens. After leaving a put above the whole on a two tier green early on I quickly found out they were both slick and true!
Following the first four, and a cheeky hole in one from myself on the par 3 4th, the course goes inland and rises up onto slightly higher ground which offers fantastic views across the Bristol Channel. The middle section of the course is slightly different in character to the opening four and closing hole here. This is no bad thing as it offers golfers the chance to sample almost every facet that makes true links golf the exciting test that it is.
The Par 3 14th at Royal Porthcawl.
Yellow flowering gorse and, of course, a great deal of well placed pot bunkers are the course main defence from here on until the 18th but that is not all the golfer has to deal with in order to score well. In places there are dramatic changes in elevation that provide the opportunity to get creative with your approach play. The 5th for example, is a brilliant par that starts off on the flat before rising dramatically to the green. Get you approach wrong here and you could well have your ball arrive back at your feet!
As with any links course the weather can play a big part in how the course plays. Royal Porthcawl doesn’t follow the ultra traditional nine out and nine back routing and in my opinion is all the better for it. At various points in the round the golfer must carefully consider the wind direction due to the fact that the holes all travel towards different points of the compass. This is perhaps Royal Porthcawl’s greatest strength…it truly keeps you on your toes from start to finish.
Royal Porthcawl measures 7,065 yards from the back markers, but position from the tee is just as important as distance. On more than one occasion I belted what I thought was a cracking drive down the fairways only to find my ball in a sneakily placed pot bunker. I for one don’t get to upset when things like this happen. After all golf should be all about carefully planned shots and I can assure you; next time I will be using the appropriate club from each and every tee! The final hole here takes you back towards the clubhouse and the sea, capping off one of the finest links experiences in the UK.
The 18th Green and view up the 1st at Royal Porthcawl.
Despite my concerns over the ‘Royal’ aspect of the club and fears that we would not be welcomed as warmly as we are in smaller local clubs, Royal Porthcawl proved to be a convivial, relaxed place to play golf in beautiful surroundings. All staff members go above and beyond to ensure you enjoy your experience and the members are the same. In fact at one point we got lost on the course before being redirected by the member playing behind us, which caused some notable delay to their round, and rather than scold us for being a pain he was more concerned with whether we were enjoying the course. He also went on to recommend we eat in the club house for lunch and even recommended the hake goujons and chips…something that I will now do for you because they were amazing!
The status of the course is sustained by the many amateur and professional events held at the Club over the years. Among others, the Club has hosted the Amateur Championship, the Walker Cup, the Curtis Cup, the European Team Championship and the Ladies British Open Amateur Championship. This course is simply a must, not just for those planning a trip to the South coast of Wales, but for any ardent golfer based in the UK.
Following our round at Porthcawl we made the exceedingly short trip to Pyle & Kenfig which may not have lived up to its more illustrious neighbour, but that is not to say it is not a top class course in its own right. With hindsight on our side though, we would recommend that those planning on playing both courses on the same day (as we did) save Royal Porthcawl for the afternoon…this is the only fair way to treat dear old Pyle & Kenfig!
Pyle & Kenfig’s back nine takes you on a journey throught the dunes.
Affectionately known as ‘P and K’, Pyle and Kenfig is cut into the majestic sand dunes of the stretch of coastline that also hosts Royal Porthcawl, however it is only on the back nine that you start your adventure into the towering sandhills that add a real sense of drama to each and every shot.
The front eases you into what’s required on the back as you get used to the fast running, springy fairways and the firm yet receptive greens. While the front nine is a decent test of links golf I found it almost impossible to keep myself from gazing over the road to the stunning looking back nine, which as it turned out, was different yet every bit as exciting as Royal Porthcawl. If P&K were set entirely in the dunes I am of the opinion it would give Royal Porthcawl a very good run for its money! As it is though, it is still well, well worth a visit for golfers visiting this part of the country.
Although there are a number of other top class, yet relatively unknown, links courses – the likes of which include Ashburnham, Southerndown, Pennard and Tenby – along the south coast we opted for a change of scenery and played the final round of our Welsh golf tour at the Nicklaus designed Machynys Peninsula.
The 16th at Machnynys Peninsula.
While this course sits overlooking Carmarthen Bay, any preconceptions about a links course will be quickly confounded on first glance. This course is more in the mould of the stadium courses in the USA but with the added and welcome might I say, challenge of a stiff coastal wind from start to finish. This adds a much needed dimension to the course as otherwise it would be very much as case of playing grip it and rip golf. This would be not be the end of the world though because the layout and routing of the holes is exceptional and with a number of well placed hazards around the course, including hidden streams, bunkers and, in places, brutal rough, accuracy and sound course management is a must. While this course measures over 7,100 yards from the tips – it has been designed with professional tournament play in mind – no less than five separate tee positions mean golfers of all shapes and sizes can enjoy the only Nicklaus creation in the whole of Wales.
The clubhouse here is more corporate than the charming and more personable facilities at both Pyle & Kenfig and Royal Porthcawl but it certainly serves it purpose. Delicious and healthy portions of food are available throughout the day and there are also unexpected snippets of information regarding the interesting history of the site on which the course now sits.
All in all I can now whole heartedly recommend the south coast of Wales for golfers looking to embark on a UK golf tour and I for one – and I’m sure my golfing companions would agree – can’t wait to return to sample yet more of the world class links golf on offer in this picturesque, friendly and very affordable part of the country…I may just have to drop back into Royal Porthcawl again as well…even if only for the hake goujons!
To view our extensive photo guide of links golf in Wales, including courses further north, click here.