Wales’ north-west coast is one of the underrated links golf regions in Great Britain, writes Andrew Marshall.
There’s something extra special about playing golf by the sea and most golfers travelling to the British Isles want to play links courses when they visit. All the classic coastal ingredients are here in abundance – inspiring ocean views, crashing waves, rumpled fairways, undulating greens, tricky pot bunkers and a taste of salt in the sea air – the type of place where the golfing forefathers once strode the sheep-cropped turf with their hickory clubs and gutta percha golf balls.
When it comes to playing golf by the sea, the majority of golfers will think of Scotland’s Ayrshire coast, Ireland’s west coast or perhaps England’s Lancashire coast – but what follows is a journey to a lesser-known region, one that embraces a cluster of challenging seaside courses along the north-west coast of Wales between Nefyn on the Llyn Peninsula and south to the thriving little harbour resort of Aberdovey – 75 miles of top-notch golf with a uniquely Welsh seaside flavour.
NEFYN & DISTRICT GOLF CLUB
Dramatically positioned on cli tops at the foot of the Porthdinllaen headland, that juts out from the Llyn Peninsula into the Irish Sea, Nefyn & District Golf Club is the Welsh equivalent of Ireland’s Old Head of Kinsale, but much more a ffordable to play.
This spectacular cli -top layout is a unique 27-hole course with sea views from every hole, consisting of the 18-hole, par-71 Old Course and the 9-hole par-33, New Course. The run of holes on the Old Course from the 12th onwards along the peninsula – played into a howling wind with fairways and tees perched above secluded coves and tiny inlets on one side, and a sandy beach on the other – will live long in the memory regardless of your score or the weather.
If you fancy a quick pint before the final three holes, then take the footpath after the par-4 15th that leads down to Porthdinllaen Beach to enjoy a pint at the Ty Coch Inn with marvellous views across the bay to Mount Snowdon. www.nefyn-golf-club.co.uk
PWLLHELI GOLF CLUB
Set on the south-facing coastline of spectacular Cardigan Bay (an eight-mile drive across the other side of the Llyn Peninsula) is Pwllheli Golf Club (pronounced Pwlh-hell-ee), situated on the outskirts of the friendly seaside town of the
...FANCY A QUICK PINT BEFORE THE FINAL THREE HOLES ... TAKE THE FOOTPATH AFTER THE 15TH DOWN TO PORTHDINLLAEN BEACH TO THE TY COCH INN.
This interesting golf course is a tale of two halves, blending a collection of parkland holes (1-7) with a links back nine – the best of both worlds. Standing on the elevated tee of the par-4 8th, with the pebbly shoreline to your left, it is possible to time travel back to 1900 when legendary Old Tom Morris carved Pwllheli’s first nine holes out of the exposed links land bordering Traeth Crugan beach.
The layout was later extended to a full 18-holes in 1909 by another famous Scot of the time, five-time Open champion James Braid. Braid’s tree-lined fairways are routed through mature parkland, with the last of the inland holes, the tough 440-yard par-4 7th requiring two good hits to reach the putting surface. A memorable hole that typifies Pwllheli’s links section is the testing 197-yard par-3 10th, with the beach to the left, and beyond the green well-protected by deep-faced pot bunkers is a white-washed cottage adding to the picturesque scene as you play. www.clwbgol pwllheli.com
PORTHMADOG GOLF CLUB
A 16-mile drive heading east along the coast takes you to Porthmadog Golf Club designed by James Braid in 1905. Like the aforementioned course, this is another hybrid mix of a parkland/ heathland front nine and a links inward half set on a headland at Morfa Bychar, three miles from the attractive harbour town of Porthmadog.
The golf course is something of a split personality – and, although the front nine is decent enough, it’s after playing the downhill par-3 9th and crossing the road to tee o on the
par-4 10th, that the feel and landscape totally changes into 9-holes of memorable links golf. Before hitting o from the elevated tee of the par3 13th, make sure to take a few moments to soak in the stunning panorama of Samson’s Bay on one side and the coastline extending back towards Pwllheli on the other – it’s worth the green fee alone. www.porthmadog-golf-club.co.uk
ROYAL ST. DAVID’S GOLF CLUB
Situated around the other side of the Glaslyn Estuary from Porthmadog, on the outskirts of Harlech is Royal St. David’s Golf Club established in 1894.
“Small wonder if the visitor falls in love with Harlech at first sight,” wrote Bernard Darwin in The Golf Courses of the British Isles, “for no golf course in the world has a more splendid background than the old castle, which stands at the top of a sheer precipice of rock looking down over the links.”
As you play, there are splendid views of the brooding presence of the 13th-century Harlech Castle and a backdrop of the Snowdon Mountains beyond. Royal St. David’s is known for its series of long demanding par-4 holes (seven are over 400 yards) and five short holes, which vary in length and direction, and it’s fair to say your score has to be made on the outward nine as the course just gets stronger and tougher on the inward half.
Notable holes include the gorgeous par-3 11th played through a gap in the dunes to a blind
AS YOU PLAY, THERE ARE SPLENDID VIEWS OF THE BROODING PRESENCE OF THE 13TH-CENTURY HARLECH CASTLE.
green, and the stern signature par-4 15th where two precise shots are called for to reach the green hidden in a hollow. Royal St.David’s represents good value for money, especially if you can book a day rate or a twilight tee time after 3pm. www.royalstdavids.co.uk
ABERDOVEY GOLF CLUB
A quirky way to reach the final course of our north Wales coastal quintet (especially if you are using Harlech as your golfing base) is to catch the train from Harlech station to Aberdovey.
The 75-minute journey is not only very scenic, hugging the coastline and stopping at quaint seaside towns and villages en-route, but once you arrive at Aberdovey, it’s literally only a short chip shot’s walk away to the course on the other side of the train track.
Golf has been played on this narrow strip of links land wedged between beach and railway line since 1892, and three of the legendary architects of the early 20th-century – namely Harry Colt, James Braid and Herbert Fowler have all played a part in shaping Aberdovey.
There’s no better way to finish off a round at this old-fashioned out-and-back links especially if the sun is shining, than t o enjoy a beer on the clubhouse balcony overlooking the 1st and 18th holes. Adjacent to the clubhouse is a dormy bungalow accommodation facility for golfers to stay on site. www.aberdoveygolf.co.uk
HARRY COLT, JAMES BRAID AND HERBERT FOWLER HAVE ALL PLAYED A PART IN SHAPING ABERDOVEY.
Nefyn & District GC offers sea views from every hole as it treks out onto the headland.
Negotiating the turn on a calm day at Nefyn & District GC.
While playing Nefyn & District, enjoy a pint at the Ty Coch Inn on Porthdinllaen Beach.
The pretty par-3 10th hole at Pwllheli (top); the par-4 10th green at Porthmadog (below)
The green of the picturesque par-4 12th hole at Porthmadog with fabulous coastal views.
The stunning dunescape surrounding the 15th hole at Royal St. David’s GC.
Royal St.David’s has been touted as a future Open Championship venue.
Aberdovey’s superb par-3 3rd hole leaves little room for error.
Aberdovey GC from the air.