What we say
Aberdovey Golf Club features one of the best opening stretches of holes in Britain, and the quality barely drops throughout.
Judging by his articles, the peerless golf writer Bernard Darwin rarely left a links course anything other than beguiled by what he had just experienced. But no matter how widely he travelled, or how many stellar courses he witnessed, nowhere could displace Aberdovey in his heart.
“There are several very excellent courses in Wales, but I am quite determined to put Aberdovey first,” he wrote. “Not that I make for it any claim that it is the best, but because it is the course that my soul loves best of all in the world. Every golfer has a course for which he feels some such blind and unreasoning affection.
“When he is going to this his golfing home he packs up his clubs with a peculiar delight and care; he anxiously counts the diminishing number of stations that divide him from it, and finally steps out on the platform, as excited as a schoolboy home for the holidays, to be claimed by his own familiar caddie. A golfer can only have one course towards which he feels quite in this way, and my one is Aberdovey.”
There is good reason for Darwin’s bias and nostalgia; it was his Uncle Arthur who brought golf to this town in West Wales in the early 1880s. Legend has it Arthur Ruck first made golf at Aberdovey possible when he persuaded a lady in the village to give him nine flower pots and then sunk them at various points into the common land by the sea.
By 1892, the club had been formed and Darwin was a teenager hooked on golf. His game developed as impressively as the virgin links on which he learnt it; by the turn of the century he was off plus four, while Aberdovey’s links had been moulded by Arthur’s brother Dicky into one of Britain’s most pleasant courses.
The course that today sits at the mouth of the estuary has been refined from Dicky’s (by all accounts commendable) efforts by a great triumvirate of course designers. Harry Colt was the first engaged to make modifications in 1913, followed six years later by Herbert Fowler, then finally in the 1930s by James Braid – although the latter’s lengthening was rumoured to have been quickly reversed by the members.
Visit Aberdovey today and it is difficult to imagine anything was ever any different here. In suggesting it is a course that time forgot, we do so in a wholly complimentary sense. New tees have gone in here and there to ensure Aberdovey is still capable of hosting events such as this year’s Ladies’ Home Internationals and Welsh Senior Championship – a course with such strong links to the Darwin family could hardly have failed to change and evolve…
Otherwise, though, it feels very much as if it is a layout with strong links to the flower pot era. It’s a feeling that begins the moment you step onto the property, no matter if you arrive by car or train – Aberdovey Golf Club is one of the stops on the gorgeous Cambrian Coast Line, linking the club with the other stellar seaside course in Mid Wales, Harlech.
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Step off the train, as Darwin so evocatively recalls, and you are a matter of metres from the 1st tee. Arrive by car and it is still a very pleasant experience, allowing you to savour the picturesque drive to the coast with your anticipation being no less heightened for the less romantic method of transport. That is until you notice the chilling warning on the gates either side of the railway track between the clubhouse and the car park; a £1,000 fine for failing to shut them!
The sentiment on the sign is not representative of the atmosphere at Aberdovey. After dutifully closing the gate, if you turn right into the clubhouse you will receive a very warm welcome from members and staff delighted you have made the effort to visit their club.
As you climb the stairs to the lounge for a refreshment you’ll notice a wealth of history on the walls, including a course map from 1901 and numerous pictures – of the first clubhouse in 1895, the 1921 Welsh Amateur and of the day Prince Andrew opened a new clubhouse.
There are pictures too of Ian Woosnam, and even he will have had to get a good one away up the 1st to reach in regulation if played into the prevailing wind. It is a robust 443 yards off the elevated back tee and while the view of the picture postcard town and the sound of the waves beyond the dunes to your left are invigorating, your giddiness is tempered by this stiff opener – not least when you notice it is merely SI 10. Aberdovey might well have a feel of ‘golf as it used to be’ but its 6,703 yards are neither short nor forgiving.
Yet even if you make a mess of the 1st, you are probably already beguiled by this Mid Wales links’ seaside charms; the white shell paths, the wispy rough, the dunes, the delicious turf and the salty air.
The 2nd is likely to enhance your developing affair, played from another elevated tee towards the dunes and where you aren’t especially sure where to hit it but are unusually sanguine about that fact. The 3rd offers further soothing, a seminal short hole known as ‘Cader’. It is blind off the back tee and only the top of the flag can be seen from the yellows. Its 167 yards are therefore fairly fearsome, but the green has been moulded over time into a bowl that gathers anything vaguely directed at the target; you almost imagine your ball has undertaken laps of the green like a cyclist on a velodrome.
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The 4th offers another splendid drive from an elevated tee and again the sea is audible but not visible, blocked out by the dunes that line the edge of Cardigan Bay. You do however get a little sight between the sand hills as you approach a green that slopes from left to right towards three pot bunkers.
It concludes a start of rare quality, one that is matched by very few others in the British Isles. The 5th takes you inland, a simple short hole played across the site and notable for the sheep likely to be grazing on the fescue alongside it.
Then follow three holes alongside the railway on flat land where the mountain to your right is more visible than the sea. It protects the village and the links from the north wind and makes Aberdovey an especially good winter destination.
The 9th – a lovely 160-yard par 3 with bunkers built into the bank at the front and a big, undulating surface full of borrows and slopes – takes us back across the site, the top edge of a links laid out in an ‘out and back’ fashion that takes the shape of a rough figure of eight.
The 10th is a chance to open the shoulders before turning round to play towards the sea on the 11th, which takes us to arguably the course’s highlight, the tremendous 12th, but after playing it, don’t be concerned that the fun is now over, because the last section is tremendous.
After the stroke index 1 13th and the solid par-4 14th, you board the 15th tee and drive across the 5th as you start the last curve of the figure of eight. Sheltered between hill and dune, the fairway becomes dominated by mounds 120 yards from the green, and this fun topography is continued up at the long, narrow green. It’s tiered towards the back and ringed by four bunkers in addition to grassy hollows and mounds.
‘Entertainment’ accurately describes the next hole; unquestionably one of the great two-shotters in Wales. A handsome stone wall surrounds a tee on which plenty of pondering will have taken place down the years. It is just 289 yards but with railway and OB to the left and rough-strewn sand hills right, it is more risk than reward to go for it. That said, the right-to-left sloping fairway does not feel especially easy to hit even with an iron, so some will fancy their chances.
The small, narrow green slopes in a similar direction and is surrounded by mounds and hollows, all tighter to the path and railway line than the tee. Even if you find it in regulation, three putts can easily follow. For all that potential distress just described, it is utterly fabulous – a majestic, card-wrecking hole.
The elevated tee on 17 offers a splendid view of the linksland and mountains, while the hilly fairway has water along its final 130 yards leading to an angled green with two traps. All the while, birds will be chirping away, a consequence of the course running through an area of Special Scientific Interest.
You fully expect Aberdovey to have a strong finish and it duly arrives, a 449-yard par 4 with water on both sides and a large green guarded by Royal County Down-esque bunkers that are right next to the neat Dormy House. Walking off, you decide Darwin was being less subjective in his praise of Aberdovey than you had suspected.
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- TG Rating
- Players Rating
- Address Aberdovey Golf Club, Station Road , Aberdovey, Gwynedd, ABERDOVEY
- Tel 01654 767493
- Website www.aberdoveygolf.co.uk
|Course Length||6,535 yards (5,976 metres)|
- Course has: Bar
- Course has: Buggy Hire
- Course does not have: Driving Range
- Course does not have: Practice Green
- Course has: Pro Shop
- Course has: Restaurant
- Course has: Trolley Hire
- Course does not have: Dress Code
- Course does not have: Club Hire
- Course has: Handicap
We played here last week. Day one was cold and very, very wet so much so that we barely lifted our heads up to look at the course. In fact it was so misty we didn't see the mountain at the end of the back nine until day two! We had a lovely meal (a few drinks) and a good nights sleep in the dormy bungalow. Day two was fabulous, no wind, bright sun and a stunning golf course! The green complexes are as good as I have ever played - 15 remains in the memory. The 16th is a terrific "Do I go for it?" par 4. There's not a weak hole on this golf course and many that make you smile when you think of them. Try to pick a nice day to play though.
we used to have a day out here every winter and it was such a joy to play this out and back links (i prefer this to RSD). Best hole is the 16th a driveable Par 4 that has risk + reward with the close by rail line.