Pennard Golf Club in Wales offers sea views and the chance to hit around an ancient castle.
Most golfers know that their favorite game was invented in Scotland, made popular throughout the UK and transformed into a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. Still, golf’s modest Scottish roots grew amidst some of the roughest looking terrain a modern duffer can envision.
Though 21st century golf often involves immaculate fairways and manicured greens slowly drying under warm sunshine, the old Scots looked to invent a game that could be played in any weather across bumpy, hilly terrain marked with clumps of thick, long-stalked seaside grasses. Those ingredients blend into the classic links golf course – presenting a set of challenges no tamed American course can offer.
I didn’t have to go all the way to Scotland to find a genuine oceanside links experience as a journey through Wales brought me through two classic, long-standing, traditional courses.
The quiet, atmospheric port town of Aberdovey nestles along the coast just a short drive from a daunting, but entertaining 18 hole experience. The Abderdovey Golf Club offers classic links style golf with a view of the sea.
Compared to most American pampered public or private courses, staring down the first tee at Aberdovey makes you feel like you’re about to drive into an unkept cornfield. You know there’s fairway out there, but you’ll need to keep your shots in control to find any traces of it.
As though its unusual terrain and demanding layout wasn’t enough reason to seek out Aberdovey, the course is the only one I’ve ever played that was built into such a long, narrow stretch of coastline. Essentially, the front nine at Aberdovey head straight out from the club house, and the back nine bring you straight back. If you wan to play just nine, you have to stop at the fifth hole, switch over to the 15th and play your way back to 18. Quirks like that help to make golf excursions to more remote spots like Aberdovey worth the trip.
You can play a winter round these days at Aberdovey starting around £22.
Further south, the city of Swansea is a sprawling metropolis compared to the tiny fishing village of Aberdovey. The one-time home of Dylan Thomas, Swansea also boasts another fine links course on its outskirts – Pennard Golf Club.
The course stands on a grassy, sandy plateau with views over Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower Peninsula (the UK's first international area of outstanding natural beauty).They’ve been gripping and ripping at Pennard since 1896. At its center are the remains of a 13 century church and castle. Those two mysterious old landmarks decorate the course’s signature seventh hole – overlooking water on two sides. More than 200 feet above sea level, Pennard is known throughout Wales as "the links in the sky."
For an average, mid-handicap golfer, a genuine links course eats golf balls like M&Ms. There is always plenty of tall grass and severe berms creating un-hittable lies. When you lose a ball in that terrain you know you have it coming. You made a bad shot with poor direction, and you’re reaching into your bag for another Titleist or Callaway. But, along some stretches of Wales’ most challenging holes, you can lose your white pellet even after a good shot.
A center cut drive straight down the fairway can hit a hillock and bounce 90 degrees left or right, ending up 30 yards from where you assumed your shot landed.
All of that might’ve sounded like I might prefer some cheese with my whine once I stumble to the 19th hole. You’d be wrong. I never complained once about the challenges of these two Welsh golf treats because those steep challenges are what creates great and memorable rounds of golf.
Fortunately, I had a 30 year club veteran playing with me that day – an amiable local lawyer and former motorcycle racer. He knew the angles and bounces well enough to guide me on both line and distance, allowing me to kick back on one of the prettiest golf courses I’ve ever played.
Pennard is a private club with memberships running around £665. Fortunately, visitors and guests are welcome on the course for standard greens fees.
I chose no favorite between my two links excursions. I was just grateful to both for truly unveiling an entirely new way to approach golf along the Welsh countryside.