Wales is a part of Britain still unfamiliar to most Americans. Bordered by the Irish Sea to the north and west and The Bristol Channel to the south, this tiny country seems to be holding onto the western counties of England, as it reaches out toward its Celtic cousins on the Emerald Isle. In many ways, Wales is Britain's Cinderella and just like Cinderella, she could be the most beautiful of all and may yet win the hand of Prince Charming.
This is an intriguing country, with a unique culture and rich history, entirely of its own. The scenery is spectacular, the capital of Cardiff is as lively a city as will be found in Britain and it's villages and towns are over-flowing with charm and visitor appeal. But Wales is also filled with exceptionally good golf, boasting more than 200 courses, including a healthy sampling of layouts ranked among Britain's best.
Just like its many other attractions, Welsh golf had always escaped the attention of all but the locals. It wasn't until 2001, when it was announced that Wales would host the 2010 Ryder Cup that the world of golf suddenly sat up and began to pay attention. And the more they see, the more they like it.
The Celtic Manor Resort is the selected Ryder Cup venue and the property's new Twenty Ten Course, will be under the spotlight on center stage, giving many in the global audience, their first taste of Welsh golf. Excellent as this layout is and as much attention as the celebrity status will bring, the Ryder Cup host is just the tip of the iceberg that is golf in Wales.
The Royal & Ancient game has been played here for almost a century and a half and Wales' first official golf club, Tenby, was formed in 1888. This was golf's golden era, when many of the great classic courses were created, some by talents unknown, others by world-renowned names, now established as being the true design maestros of all time -- James Braid, Harry S. Colt and Willie Fernie among them. Wales has benefited from both with a dizzying array of top class layouts, stretching from one end of this small country to the other.
Use Cardiff as a hotel base and the selection of golf courses within a 30-mile radius is impressive, with some of the very best within even closer striking distance.
Royal Porthcawl sits a half hour drive west of Cardiff and is ranked as either #1 or # 2 in Wales (depending upon which ranking list you use) but fits easily into everyone's "not to be missed" category. This is an outstanding links, situated in one of the most exposed locations in the entire country. The wind blows here like nowhere else and with fairways shooting off in every direction, the challenge becomes all the more complex. Only adding to the distractions are the stunning views across the Bristol Channel to the rolling hills of Somerset and North Devon in England. They are there to be enjoyed from virtually every point on this very flat layout, but beware, to be successful at Royal Porthcawl, concentration; careful club selection and solid technical abilities are all essential.
Very close by is Southerndown Golf Club, a 1905 design by 1883 British Open Champion, Willie Fernie. A downland course with some links characteristics; this is a wonderfully natural layout where, as in days of old, sheep are still employed to graze the undulating fairways. The rough of bracken and gorse can be more than punishing and on windy days, which are plentiful, must be negotiated with extreme care. There are longer courses around, but none with a finer collection of short holes and as imposing a close, where the 18th is particularly intimidating. For any who may be under the impression that links courses present the ultimate test, Southerndown could change their mind.
Just to the other side of Porthcawl is the outstanding links at Pyle & Kenfig, a masterly 1922 design from the great Harry S. Colt. Built around, over and through impressive sand dunes, this is true links golf at its best and a layout that will please even the most jaded. From the forward tees, Pyle & Kenfig as approachable by high handicappers but tackled from the back tees, presents a true championship test.
Drive east from Cardiff and 2010 Ryder cup host, the Celtic Manor's Twenty Ten Course can be reached in 20 minutes. A parkland layout, designed by Ross McMurray of European Golf Design specifically for tournament golf, this won't be everyone's cup of tea, though trophy collectors and big hitters will undoubtedly enjoy all 7,493 yards offered from the back tees.
For those of more modest abilities there are two other courses here, The Montgomerie Course, designed by Colin Montgomerie and opened this past summer measures a more human, 6,371 yards and Celtic Manor's original layout, The Roman Road Course. Robert Trent Jones Sr. was responsible for this design which opened in 1995 and has been a regular host to The European Tour's Wales Open, until being dethroned by the longer, rougher, tougher Twenty Ten Course.
The Celtic Manor Spa and Golf Resort, is undoubtedly the catalyst responsible for bringing The Ryder Cup to Wales and for those who are looking for an American style, 5 star resort hotel with 3 modern championship courses, the temptation to stay and play here will be irresistible. There will be others however who may prefer something a little more typical of Welsh golf and for these folks the rest of this southern coast is filled with very special Welsh delights.
But true Welsh golf exists throughout the country and nowhere is it as much in evidence as along the west coast where Aberdovey and Royal St. David's, reign supreme. Aberdovey was much lauded by the fabled golf writer, Bernard Darwin, who considered it the best and prettiest links layouts in the country. But that was decades ago and today, Royal St. David's officially competes with Royal Porthcawl as the best in Wales, a fact few will dispute
Journey only a few miles further to the northern coast line and Nefyn & District Golf Club is another Welsh layout to add to the must play list. Enjoying a spectacular, cliff-top location, reminiscent of Ireland's Old Head, this is picture postcard scenery, with a challenge to match. The original design, started in 1907, comes from James Braid and J.H. Taylor, although the layout wasn't finally completed until 1993.
There's another James Braid design on the Welsh Island of Anglesey at Holyhead Golf Club. Connected to the mainland by a short road bridge, the minor detour will be well worth the golf experience that awaits. Renowned as one of North Wales' most demanding tests of golf, Holyhead is packed with variety always accompanied by narrow, undulating fairways, stiff sea breezes whipping in from the Irish Sea and a cantankerous nature that will keep you on your toes from start to finish.
And so the selection of Wales' north coast golf continues unabated, all the way to the English border, each course with its own, distinctly welcoming, Welsh character. Golf in Wales is quite different to playing the courses of England, Scotland or Ireland, where floods of visitors and in many cases, over-commercialization, have detracted from the real enjoyment of the game. Wales remains, at least for the time being, a place where golf can still be savored and enjoyed in the way it was intended. Better get there before the crowds discover it.
For more ideas and suggestions on enjoying the very best of Welsh golf, click here.
© 2007 David Brice / Golf International Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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