For those who want to enjoy golf without emptying the bank account -- Wales provides an array of different golf options quite good in spots with fun and challenging courses nicely linked together.
Although Wales is not a large country -- the total size is actually just a bit smaller than New Jersey -- I recommend touring the country in distinct sections -- the northern area I covered previously for Luxury Travel Magazine -- Northern Wales: Undiscovered Golf Options Await....
The southern perimeter is centered around Cardiff, the largest city (roughly 350,000) and capital of Wales. I recommend Cardiff as your base of operations because it provides the ideal blending of an active metropolis with close proximity to all the key spots worthy of your time and attention. Cardiff has radically transformed itself from a seaport location known primarily as the loading dock for export of key natural resources -- coal mainly from the mountains to the north. Today's Cardiff -- especially along the waterfront -- is chic and sleek, A vibrant 21st century location -- still connected to its long and storied history -- but far from being anchored and seen as a relic of its ancient past.
On the golf side my tour took me to various key courses -- a few qualifying as legitimate links designs. For many visitors -- especially Americans -- Wales is cloaked in mystery but as I can surely attest the golf and non-golf options provide a most enjoyable journey and one that needs to be on any short list for future visits to the United Kingdom.
Pennard is called "the links in the sky" for good reason. The course is situated 200 feet above the beach and the rolling terrain makes for a sensational ebb and flow of holes in tandem with incredible scenery.
Pennard Golf Club
6,271-Yards / Par-71
I've been a long believer that great golf is usually found on land that is truly special. Pennard -- located just southwest of Swansea sits high atop the Gower Peninsula with Three Cliffs Bays and Oxwich Bays in full view. Golf is a visual game -- the internal dynamics of the course clearly at work here -- but no less are the external dynamics that Pennard so wonderfully provides, which, if you're not careful, can capture your attention away from the task of playing the needed shot.
Pennard is not a long course -- under 6,400 yards from the extended tees -- but it's main emphasis is providing fun holes -- shots you want to play again and again. It's been said that Pennard is a links in the sky and there's little question the views are indeed impressive. The land pitches one way then another -- and the greens are often positioned so any haphazard approach shot will bound away to rather difficult recoveries. Turf conditions have been a issue -- most especially in the fairway areas but the putting surfaces generally are true and consistent.
Keep in mind that even though the listed overall yardage is short - there's rarely a day when the wind cannot blow fiercely throughout the property. Links golf means accepting the vagaries of what is happening on a given day -- so long as you have an eagerness to be tested beyond your comfort zone -- the time at Pennard will be well spent and your desire for another round -- the ultimate test for any superior course -- will prompt you to try it again. www.pennardgolfclub.com.
The long par-4 4th at Tenby features rollicking terrain concluding with a blind approach to a green set in a punchbowl setting -- one of the finest holes in all of Wales.
Tenby Golf Club
6,613-Yards / Par-71 *When 1st hole a par-4
Claimed as the oldest golf club in Wales -- and opened as a 9-hole layout in 1888 and then expanded to 18 by James Braid in 1907 -- Tenby is an interesting mix of holes -- some superlative and others far less so. The starting quartet is quite intense and three of those holes play into the prevailing wind so proper stretching is a necessity to be ready when called upon. The first two holes are strong long par-4's and require a mixture of power and precision. The par-4 3rd is one the best holes you will play in all of Wales. Less than 400 yards -- the fairway does bottleneck so archer-like accuracy is a big time plus the further you go. The green is elevated above the fairway and features drop-offs on all sides. Being short is fine -- going long can be a trying experience. The long par-4 4th bobs and weaves like a stormy sea -- a real gem of a links hole. The approach is to a blind target set in a punchbowl. Knowing the limits of one's game can make a major difference when playing Tenby.
Keep in mind, turf conditions are a vexing issue at the club. Fairways can be spotty at times although there's been a recent effort to keep things a bit more tidy.
The inward half of holes starts strongly with two solid par-4's -- the 10th and 11th. The finish is fairly straightforward but be mindful of the encroachment of the out-of-bounds when playing the 18th -- a round well-played to that point can come undone with the slightest of mishaps. Tenby is well worth playing -- just know the limitations of the course because there are a few holes that are merely bystanders that only cause the more noted holes to really shine. www.tenbygolf.co.uk
The 13th green at Pyle & Kenfig rests within dunes land that provides a clear contrast from the more sedate outward half of holes.
Pyle & Kenfig
6,860-Yards / Par-71
The tale of two different stories. The outward half is on the other side of a public road which splits the two nines. The front is on rolling terrain and devoid of the natural sand dunes and mounds you see on the inner half of holes. The course does play firm and fast befitting a links layout. The golf equation picks up considerably with the back nine. The 10th is a quality par-4 holes and then when you hit the tee at the par-5 11th you are transported to topography that simply adds whisks you away where each every shot and hole are thoroughly relished. The nest several holes that follow are well done and quite fun to play. Like all courses near the water -- the experience can be more testing when the daily winds do pick up. Turf quality is good and the staff at the course make sure you are properly serviced. www.pandkgolfclub.co.uk
The 485-yard par-4 14th on the 2010 Course at Celtic Manor Resort is a daunting challenge with water hugging ever so close to the putting surface.
The Celtic Manor Resort / 54-Holes
The 2010 Course / 18-Holes, 7,493-Yards, Par-71
Roman Road / 18-Holes, 6,515-Yards, Par-70
The Montgomerie / 18-Holes, 6,371-Yards, Par-69
For those seeking opulence across the board a visit to Celtic Manor is a must agenda item. Located on 1,400 acres of land that twists and turns providing an ideal Wales landscape -- Celtic Manor has an array of different golf options backed up with an array of other 21st century items for the most discerning of travelers. There's a quality driving range with the latest video equipment on-hand, plus a health club along with a Roman-style heated indoor swimming pool, spa, steam room and beauty salon. As noted American golf writer Jim Finegan stated about Celtic Manor -- "Wales has come a long way from "How Green Was My Valley."
Celtic Manor is the Welsh answer to other luxurious locations in the UK and Ireland such as Turnberry in Scotland and The K Club in Ireland respectively. In fact, the opulent nature of the varied services and attention to detail in all senses is truly a clear cut above all the pretenders who attempt to do likewise.
The legitimacy of Celtic Manor as a golf location comes squarely from serving as host to the 2010 Ryder Cup Matches. The brainchild and deep pockets of owner Sir Terrence Matthews was the main reason the bi-annual event came to Celtic Manor. On the golf side there are no less than 54 holes. The main choice is the aptly named 2010 Course. The layout is a story of two distinct tales. The higher ground provides and the starting and ending points while the middle holes are served with an array of water hazards that must be carefully avoided on a number of holes. The 2010 Course is sprawling but it lacks overall character. While demanding for the higher handicap player the layout is more a paint-by-the-numbers design.
Roman Road and The Montgomerie are no where near as long as 2010 -- but there's enough ebb and flow to be fun and thought provoking. Roman Road was the Resort's first course and opened in 1995. Created by the legendary architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr. -- the course is an attractive parkland layout that intersects quite well with the native woods and lakes and streams. The Montgomerie may be a par-69 but is vexing for those who opt for the bold play but cannot pull it off consistently. Named for the renowned Scottish golfer and past Ryder Cup Captain -- Colin Montgomerie -- the namesake design features rolling terrain that demands sound decision making on any number of holes. There are also well-placed pot bunkers lurking for the player who fails to heed their location. The best way to describe the course is it provides fun for the full range of players and is well worth playing a second time if the opportunity can be had. www.celtic-manor.com
Golfers on 1st green at Royal Portcawl GC
Caption -- The opener at Royal Porthcawl is the first of three holes that parallel the Atlantic Ocean and provide a glorious start.
7,062-Yards / Par-72
Unquestionably, the finest golf club in all of Wales. Royal Porthcawl opened in 1891 and located to its present site four years later. Located just off the Bristol Channel the layout is a vintage links that magically weaves together land and water with varying wind currents blowing across the property on a daily basis. The routing is well done moving to all corners of the property and mandating constant player adjustments in dealing with the varying weather patterns. lWales has never hosted an Open Championship but if there's any venue that could possibly be considered it is here.
The course starts impressively with three consecutive par-4's that run parallel to the coastline. Out-of-bounds hovers near to the greensites on four of the first five holes. There's movement to the land so unpredictable bounces of the ball can happen at any moment. The course hosted the '95 Walker Cup Matches that Tiger Woods played in and lost a key singles match that propelled the Great Britain and Ireland side to victory. In 2014 the club hosted the Senior Open Championship won decisively by Bernhard Langer and will do again in 2017. Any visit to Wales must include a round at Royal Porthcawl -- a true golf gem that delivers. www.royalporthcawl.com
The Marriott St. Pierre requires steady driving as you play through hole corridors flanked by dense woods.
St. Pierre Marriott Hotel and Country Club
Championship Old Course / 18-Holes, 7,028-Yards, Par-72
Mathern Course / 18-Holes, 5,730-Yards, Par-68
The Championship Old Course opened in 1962 and is the handiwork of C.K. Cotton. The layout has hosted the Curtis and Solheim Cups and is carved out of dense words which require archer-like accuracy on any number of holes. A recent renovation of the property has wisely pulled back the tree canopy so that better angles of play are now an item of consideration. The turf quality has also improved with rays of sunlight now reaching areas previously shrouded in darkness much of the time. The ending stretch of holes is quite good and the real topper comes with the long par-3 18th -- 230+ yards from the championship tee -- over water and featuring a devilish green that only accepts the best of played approaches.
The Mathern Course provides a sporty recreational outlet for those less inclined to the rigors of the big brother Old Course. As with The Old Course the turf quality has certainly improved.
The accommodations at the St. Pierre are also top tier with service levels to match. www.marriottgolf.co.uk/club/st-pierre
KEEP IN MIND ...
* There are no nonstop flights from any American airport to Cardiff at this time. Connections can be made thru Dublin, Amsterdam or London via Aer Lingus or KLM. Speed train service between London and Cardiff is quite good -- roughly two hours in length.
* Car rentals are available at different locations within Cardiff. Using the capital city as your base of operations provide the ideal connection between the various golf options and city life which is clearly in high speed motion along the newly redeveloped waterfront area.
St. Catherine's Island may be small in overall size but it's location has served well in Welsh history as a strategic fort in prime location for any aspiring sea invaders.
PLACES TO SEE ...
St. Catherine's Island - The small tidal island is located immediately next to Tenby. Plans for public access in 2015 have not been determined thus far -- for those interested in seeking updates on status simply go to the Website for more info. www.tenbyisland.co.uk
Caldey Island is a fascinating link back in Welsh history and visitors to the Tenby area should make plans for the quick ferry to this passage way back in time.
Caldey Island - If time allows during spring and summer time frames -- head to the ferry crossing from Tenby to Caldey Island. The name comes from the times of the Vikings who referred to it as the "cold island." The island dates back 1,500 years to Celtic times and the present day inhabitants are Cistercian monks who are among the 40 or so permanent residents. Be sure to purchase the perfume and toiletries made on the island or available in select shops in Tenby. www.caldey-island.com/
Visitors to Cardiff should certainly make plans to stop at Cardiff Castle -- a vital link in the history of Wales and fun for all ages.
Cardiff Castle - Located in the heart of Cardiff -- the castle is the real deal for understanding what life was like in the medieval time frame. The castle dates back to roughly 50 A.D. and has been a strategic outpost for various www.cardiffcastle.com/
Caerphilly Castle - With 30 total acres it represents the largest in size after Windsor. Caerphilly when finished in 1268 was revolutionary for what it provided -- water as a defense and concentric in its design. The castle is an absolute must see for those who want to experience an authentic connection to the distant past. www.castlewales.com/caerphil.html
Cardiff Bay - The old waterfront has been transformed into a vibrant and contemporary location for various shops, restaurants, cafes, hotels, galleries, and so much more. Formerly known as Tiger Bay -- what was once a long time eyesore has now been transformed into a bustling area of continuous activities. Cardiff Bay is a prime testament to reshape a long time issue into a prime showcase. www.cardiffbay.co.uk/
The Town of Tenby - Perched high on a promontory above the sea -- you get outstanding views of the harbor below. Tenby is a fascinating look back at times from a distant era. You have narrow cobblestone walkways and old medieval walls that serve as a quick reminder of what was present from centuries ago. www.tenbyvisitorguide.co.uk/
All Photos Courtesy of: © Crown copyright (2014) Visit Wales