Mid Wales doesn’t have as many courses as the South or North of the country, but two links of rare calibre mean it can still host a golf break to satisfy even the most demanding golf connoisseur. Aberdovey and Royal St David’s are fixtures in any list of the Top 100 courses in Great Britain and Ireland; so good are they, they’re included without discussion. So, travel to this part of the country and they are absolute ‘must plays’. And there is a nice support cast too, in the form of Aberystwyth, Borth & Ynyslas and, further inland Welshpool. As well as the advantages of cost and ease of access which are common to every part of Wales, Mid Wales has the bonus of requiring virtually no travel once you are in the area. Other than Welshpool – which, as it happens, is a good place to break up your journey either at the start or end of the trip – the courses we mention are all within 30 minutes’ drive of each other, with some a mere five minutes apart.
We will start with the highest-ranked course, Royal St David’s, listed at 49th in Golf World’s 2012 GB&I Top 100. ‘Harlech’, as it is known owing to the little town in which it is located, is well known for three aspects: its exacting closing stretch, the castle on the hill and the par of 69. It plays to over 6,629 yards and when the wind is up the last corridor of holes can make that tight par almost irrelevant. It usually plays every yard, because the often flat terrain allows for the wind to sweep across the land. This splendid links has echoes of Royal Lytham given it is not visually exceptional – with the sea not glimpsed until the 16th – but it is a golfers’ golf course, with the short holes playing to the points of the compass in classic fashion. Harlech Castle looks down imposingly from the hill as you try to score well on a links with just two par 5s and numerous par 4s over 460 yards.
Harry Colt, James Braid and Herbert Fowler have all had a hand in Aberdovey, so it is hardly surprising it offers such a well-regarded seaside experience. Played to a par 71 for its 6,710 yards, this is a quintessential links, with classic features of blind shots, sleepered bunkers, humps, hollows, tightly-cropped fairways, dunes and quick greens in evidence. As befits a course worked on by those design giants, Aberdovey asks all sorts of questions of your game, not least creativity round the greens. Oh, and you can get the train from next to the club to Harlech and play Royal St David’s without starting your car. A magical (and efficient) experience.
Borth & Ynyslas is one of Wales’ oldest clubs having been founded in 1885. Stretched out on the estuary of the Dovey River, if you travel to this simple links expecting quirky humps and bumps, exacting bunkers and true greens you won’t be disappointed. Around the turn among the dunes at Ynyslas, part of the Dovey Valley Nature Reserve, it is especially good.
Initially laid out by Harry Vardon, Llandrindod Wells was later revised by James Braid and remains a charming course overlooking the spa town. “You do not need a birdie at the 18th to believe you are in heaven – simply look around you at the best scenery Mid Wales has to offer,” says Walker Cup captain Nigel Edwards. “You are bound to feel life is bountiful and to think that playing at Llandrindod Wells is an experience like no other.” We would not argue with that assessment.
Aberystwyth boasts tremendous views – from the 3rd and 17th in particular. This Harry Vardon design from 1911 is situated on Bryn-y-Mor (Hill on the Sea) and overlooks the well-known university town.
Finally, Welshpool is halfway between the M6 and the west coast of Wales so, as we noted earlier, it’s a great way to start or finish your trip. Braid laid it out in 1929 and it was promptly compared to Gleneagles, a claim which the legendary writer Bernard Darwin did not totally refute when he visited some years later.
A hole you would relish: Royal St David's, 14th Par 3, 221 yards
A fabulous blind one-shotter to a green hollowed out among the sand dunes. It is followed by an equally good par 4.
Eight more Welsh greats
There are lots of superb courses supporting the Top 100-ranked venues. Here are just a few...
1 Langland Bay, South Wales
Super views across the Bristol Channel and Brecon Beacons from its position above the ‘golden Gower’. The 8th and 9th are played along the coast.
2 Cradoc, Mid Wales
A contender for the Top 30 in Wales, the Brecon Beacons scenery is stunning and the CK Cotton design blends in beautifully to the rolling hills and mature trees.
3 Rolls of Monmouth, South Wales
Laid out around the Manor House (former home of Charles Stewart Rolls, co-founder of Rolls Royce), this is a 6,733-yard championship test with water on several holes.
4 Clyne, South Wales
Designed by the legendary architect Harry Colt in two loops of nine which return to the welcoming clubhouse, it is located at the entrance to the beautiful Gower Peninsula.
5 Cardigan, Mid Wales
This host of Golf Union of Wales championships goes way back, to 1895, and is a lovely mix of links and parkland above the shore of Cardigan Bay and the Teifi Estuary.
6 Neath, South Wales
Terrific James Braid heathland from 1934, set on a plateau above the Neath Valley. Expect trees, heather, gorse, dry stone walls and undulating greens.
7 Abersoch, North Wales
Tremendous parkland-heathland course which was elevated to the Top 30 in Wales by Golf World magazine last year. It can still be considered something of a ‘gem’ though, because it still flies under the radar in relative terms... But get there quick, before the masses find out!
8 Pontypridd, South Wales
Set between the Bristol Channel at Cardiff and the foot of the Rhondda Valleys, this is where 2002 Ryder Cup hero Phil Price grew up. Enjoy views across Brecon Beacons National Park.
For more information, see the Visit Wales website.