Your Guide to Wales
Make no mistake, Wales is a great golfing country. It may be slightly in the shade of the other home countries, but it’s a class act with plenty of quantity and quality to the courses dotted all across its scenic landscape.
Wales had been a special golfing hotspot long before it successfully staged the Ryder Cup for the first time at Celtic Manor four years ago. But since 2010 it has pushed on and moved up a notch or two. The Ryder Cup and ensuing worldwide TV coverage helped to firmly, and deservedly, place Wales on the golf destination map. It enjoyed its spell in the limelight and is continuing to reap the rewards. There is no doubt that in terms of green fee value at top courses, Wales is in a class all of its own.
In golfing terms Wales is a country of two halves – the North and the South. There are plenty of decent venues in between, but the North and South really dominate the scene.
If you’re going to Wales for golf, it’s highly likely you’ll head for the wondrous links of Snowdonia country or venture over the Severn Bridge on the M4 to encounter the collection of courses on offer at three classy resorts (Celtic Manor, The Vale & St Pierre) or the stunning links of Royal Porthcawl, scene of this summer’s Senior Open Championship.
Porthcawl is a links treasure and is ably supported by a plethora of layouts which will similarly blow you away – Ashburnham, Southerndown and Pennard are all guaranteed to do precisely that. Take out Ashburnham’s modest start and finish and you’ve got a course as good as Porthcawl while Southerndown is often described as a links but is more downland in nature. Mind you, the turf is linksy so a delight to strike irons from – but the gorse and bunkers are also seaside-esque. Pennard is even more loftily located – it’s known as ‘the links in the sky’ as it’s perched on clifftops 200ft above sea level. Holes weave in between sand dunes and are routed over classically undulating and tumbling linksland, full of hummocks, hillocks and hollows.
Pyle and Kenfig, simply known as P&K, is another coastal classic: with one of the best back nines in the UK, P&K is a really underrated course. The front half is perfectly decent and well worth its green fee but come the second half you are playing holes which usually cost you three times as much to play. TG can also recommend a visit to Rolls of Monmouth, which is steeped in history with the idyllic, gently undulating parkland layout weaving across the majestic Rolls Estate, former home of Charles Stewart Rolls, co-founder of Rolls Royce cars. It’s fair to say the course has remained an underrated parkland gem since opening in 1982 although in the early days it was represented on Tour by a young but talented Greg Norman. The stately mansion clubhouse is pretty special too.
Both the Wales National at outstanding Vale Resort and Machynys Peninsula, Llanelli, are modern masterpieces: the former, an inland championship layout, is now over a decade old and is maturing well while the Nicklaus-designed Machynys opened in 1995 and is a must-play coastal challenge overlooking Carmarthen Bay and the Gower Peninsula. North Wales is home to over 60 courses and many of them are top drawer – yet this is where the real value strikes home with three money-saving passes up for grabs. Probably the best is the new Snowdonia Golf Pass (www.snowdoniagolf.co.uk) which enables you to play three of Snowdonia’s finest for just £99. That is superb value-for-money when you consider the featured courses are Royal St David’s, Abersoch, Nefyn & District, Porthmadog and Pwllheli.
Hugging the North West coast, the courses are in tip-top playing condition year-round with Royal St David’s, majestically laid out under Harlech Castle, and Nefyn the best known. The latter unusually offers 26 holes including several on the Old Course spectacularly perched on a fairly narrow strip of land on a peninsula towering high above the coastline. The Ty Coch Inn is conveniently located close to the 16th green for a quick refreshment as the round concludes! Porthmadog is a class act, a well-bunkered links with top views of Snowdon and a brilliant back nine. But Abersoch, which sneaked into sister magazine Golf World’s Top 30 Courses in Wales ranking, and inland-links hybrid Pwllheli are pretty special too.
Picking just one to play out of those three courses is a tough call! Also worth considering are the new North East Wales Coast and Anglesey Golf Passes with the former involving four clubs (Prestatyn, Rhyl, Rhuddlan & St Melyd) within three miles of each other – you can play all of them with a £70 pass. The Anglesey pass costs £89 and offers the holder five rounds at any of the following: Anglesey, Baron Hill, Bull Bay, Henllys Hall, Storws Wen and Holyhead. Visit www.gonorthwales.co.uk for more details.
Another northern star of course is Aberdovey: this wonderfully raw natural links thoroughbred is flanked by breathtaking Snowdonia National Park scenery on one side and dunesland on the other. It is loved to bits by everybody who plays it, with former Masters champion Ian Woosnam among its biggest fans. A Top 100-ranked course, it’s come a long way since its first holes were laid out with nine flowerpots to aim at over 120 years ago! Overall, Wales offers great golf at a price to match and on the value-for-money theme it’s worth remembering it’s a 2-FORE!-1 stronghold with many courses accepting 2-FORE!-1 vouchers.