I have played 16 courses in Wales -all coastal links. Wales can get pretty wet so I can't see much point in playing any inland courses here, particularly since none of them are heathland. The best courses are evenly spread along the coastline and without doubt the pre-eminent course is Royal Porthcawl which is about two thirds of the way to Swansea after you have driven past Cardiff. Every hole will test your skill and the revetted bunkers can be very penal. The opening hole is a glorious site that beckons you to play the lovely holes along the water's edge. Aim just a little left and you are bunkered and a little right then you are likely to find the heather. In a stiff breeze the shot into the 18th green can be very exacting with the clubhouse and sea so close by. I can highly recommend the accommodation and ambience if you stay on site here. The clubhouse is so close to the water you feel as though you could sit on the steps and paddle in the shallows.
Nearby is the interesting hilly course, Southerndown. Although a mile or so inland it is built on sand that has been blown from the shoreline and together with the limestone in the soil it plays as a links. Definitely worth a game but it is a little on the hilly side.
Not far north is Pyle & Kenfig. I'm not sure what it normally looks like but in the summer of 2006 it was very close to becoming a dustbowl. They desperately need fairway reticulation here. Some good holes on the back nine from the 12th to the 14th but overall I didn't rate this course very highly.
Just off the A4118, 8 miles west of Swansea, you will find Pennard. Bring your camera as there are superb views across the Gower Peninsula. At the 7th you play beside the ruins of a castle. I f the fairways are running fast then the 16th and 17th can be treacherous holes along the clifftops. Some bizarre law allows wild ponies to graze on the course and unfortunately they sometimes wander on to the greens. There is never a dull moment here.
Another interesting course that is certainly worth playing is Ashburnham at Burry Port on Carmarthen Bay. The two closing holes are on heavier soil and are out of character with the links nature of the others. Out of bounds on the right is a constant factor here so beware if you have a tendency to slice.
Tenby, the oldest club in Wales, offers views over the lovely bay out to the Isle of Caldey (home to the Cistercian monks for over a thousand years). Make sure you spare a few minutes to look at the sea views from the 12th green. Tenby starts off with some terrific holes, not the least of which is the par 4, 3rd named after Dai Rees. The last four holes provide for a rather unusual finish. Not in my top 4 in Wales but an enjoyable links.
(photo Tenby 12th green)
Further north is Cardigan but I can't say that I would go there just for the golf. It is hilly and wind exposed so make sure the weather is benign if you play it.
Continue along the A487 to Borth and you might like to play the links at Borth & Ynyslas. This is a Harry Colt design with some good seaside holes in low dunes but there are also a few very ordinary holes such as the first three and last three on flat land over the inland side of the road. The bunker conditioning was very poor when I played here in 2006.
On the other side of the River Dovey is one of my absolute favourite golf courses that is just so much fun to play. Aberdovey just has to be on your itinerary. From the rocky hills above the links, the Trefeddian Hotel looks over a layout that encompasses the spirit of the early days of golf. The border on one side is the railway line, and on the opposite side is a line of large coastal dunes and then the sea. Bernard Darwin learned much of his early golf here. So many wonderful holes -the famous par 3, 3rd hole 'Cader', the 12th with its green beside the beach and the mischievous 16th along the railway line. I recommend you stay nearby and play Aberdovey twice.
Continue north to the town of Harlech with the imposing castle standing sentinel over the impressive links at Royal St David's. From above the links you have wonderful views of the sea and the Snowdonian Mountains. This is arguably the toughest of the links in Wales. Every hole is a challenge with dunes, rough and even wet marshy areas to contend with. This is clearly the second best course in Wales behind Royal Porthcawl.
(photo Royal St David's 18th green, clubhouse and Harlech Castle)
A little further north, just past the model village of Portmeirion, you might like to play the interesting course, Porthmadog. The front nine is on higher ground and is more of a heathland feel but the homeward nine is true links with several very good holes. The short par 4,12th will intrigue you as to how you should play it. Only seriously long hitters should try to fly across the sea to the green at Samson's Bay. But when you lay up you need to be precise with your tee shot. The 13th and 14th are equally challenging. Porthmadog is different but certainly worth playing.
(photo Porthmadog 12th hole)
Another of the must play links in Wales is Nefyn on the north side of the Lleyn Peninsula. On the way we passed through Pwllheli on the south coast of the peninsula. The first 7 and last two holes are more of a parkland nature but from 8-16 you will enjoy links golf albeit on rather flat ground. Nothing really special here but ok for a 'holiday golf' experience.
Nefyn features some of the most spectacular clifftop holes outside of playing Old Head at Kinsale in southern Ireland. When I was last there the format was 10 holes followed by two different 8 hole loops. Make sure you play the Old Course which encompasses the exciting cliffside holes. They are trying to solve the problems of congestion on the opening 10 holes and the safety factor as beach goers seem to walk along the fairways completely ignorant of the dangers of flying golf balls. Setting this aside, there are some exciting holes here that you won't find on too many courses anywhere. Nefyn is a must and is clifftop links at its best.
(photo Nefyn - cliff top tee for the par 3, 5th)
Continue north along the coastal road to Conwy. This is a tough test of links golf, particularly in the wind. The Conwy Estuary borders on one side whilst the imposing mountainous Great Orme looks down from behind. In 2006 Conwy had the distinction of being the first Welsh club to hold a Final Qualifying Round for the Open. The final holes on the inland side have the added difficulty of thick bracken and gorse to swallow up anything a little wayward.
On the opposite side of Conwy Bay is North Wales at Llandudno. This is another interesting links, not overly long, and with good greens. Certainly worth a game and I must admit I would love to revisit when it was not so dry as in 2006 the last 5 holes were almost bare of grass.
Prestatyn is the most northerly links course in Wales. There are some good holes here with a wide burn known as the Prestatyn Gutter effectively cutting the rather flat course in two. Holes 14 -17 have the railway line as OOB on the left. As with North Wales, I would like to revisit here when it is more normal. In 2006 it was not just dry -I recall not being able to pick up a bunker rake on the 18th as it was too hot to handle. I am used to that in Australia but you don't expect it in Wales. The following year much of western England and Wales was flooded in mid summer!
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