Wow! I just watched the Solheim Cup finale and I was in awe. I love watching match play – there is no more entertaining way to watch golf than players teeing off against each other – Mano-a-mano.
It brought to mind the Ryder Cup, one year away, where the best of the best from Europe and the USA will face-off in one of my favorite places in the world – Wales. I love Wales. I’ve been there many times – but always on business, working for a company in the 90’s that was founded by the richest man in Wales, Sir Terry Mathews – owner of Celtic Manor – the home of the 2010 Ryder Cup.
Now, I’ve never played golf in Wales – I was a late bloomer to the game. And my stint at Mr. Matthew’s company was during my pre-golf era. But I have a lot of friends who live there or are from there that tell me regularly that golf on Wales is as good as anywhere in the UK.
I love hearing about the sheep that cut the grass on the fairways and how they put up electric fencing around the greens to keep the sheep “in their place”, as it were. However, the sheep do not take it to the rough to do their business, so be prepared, as my buddy was, to “play it as it lay” in the carcasses or droppings of the 4-legged crew that maintain the course. Ye shall get no relief from these creatures – alive or dead. Ick! Or Haha…not sure which expression I should share with that piece of knowledge 😉
So… this week, after reading Chicken Soup for the Soul – The Golf Book, I thought…Hey, I can write about golf in Wales without ever having played a single hole there because of the great stories my friends have shared with me. I can live vicariously through others who have experienced the beauty, wonder and Wo-is-me factor of golf in Wales.
So…let me share one story in the words of a golfer who is both my colleague and my friend…
“It was 2004 and my annual 4 ball buddy trip was headed again for Wales, now home of the 2010 Ryder Cup. Okay, okay… it may not be the Celtic Manor, but we still took our yearly trek to Nefyn, the final stage for our North Wales Championship pretty darn seriously. Mum did too. Every year we would end up on her doorstep, looking for a place to crash, chowing down huge breakfasts she generously prepared at the most ridiculous hours in the AM (we started early as we played 36 holes every day). Mom was not only a gracious host, she also took very seriously the honor of presenting the trophy to that year’s winner.
Nefyn was the pinnacle of our personal Ryder/Solheim Cup.
Why did we choose Nefyn? Well, it was one of the best courses in the area and rated as one of the UK’s top 100 courses. But to be honest, it was also one of the few local venues available to visitors on Saturday mornings. Members, hmmm…you’d think they owned the course! 😉
Now Nefyn’s location is both good and bad. It is remote and tough to find, but well worth the trip (Hey, I am from Wales and I couldn’t find the course 3 years running!). But when you do finally get there and step out of your car, the feeling of the sea breeze sweeping around the car park is just wonderful!
Yes, Nefyn is a blustery golf course, not unlike the links of Scotland and Ireland, but in all the times I’ve played there, I’ve never felt a drop of rain. The gods of golf have always shone fondly on our 4-some.
Nefyn is also a totally integrated environment – friendly to both men and women – a vacation area where every day you see couples out playing golf. Nefyn is geared for mixed golf and post round relaxation. The food is excellent in a simple pub food way, with reasonable prices. And the clubhouse is a wonderful haven from the strong winds that whip around the course.
Okay, back to the course itself… the 7 holes on the spit are amazing – offering a combination of the freshest air you’ll ever breathe and some of the scariest golf holes you’ll ever play. You are surrounded by craggy rocks and crashing waves.
They added an extra 8 holes by converting adjacent farmers’ fields about a decade ago, and while that offers golfers different options (spit or inland), it has probably diminished the overall feel of the place. My clear advice to any first time visitors would be to play the original 18 with holes 11-17 out on the spit.
You have to love a golf course where your favorite hole is the first. I love #1 because you tee off towards the Irish Sea and the optical illusion caused by a false horizon makes you believe that you could actually drive right into it. But in reality even Tiger Woods on angel dust could not get near the water. It’s an awesome way to start a golf game.
But of course, for every great hole, there’s always that nemesis, and for me, that was the second hole on the spit (#12). It starts with a totally blind tee shot into a right to left sloping fairway. There is also a massive crater in the fairway that gathers any and all weak 2nd shots. And to top it all off, the hole ends with an elevated, and totally unpredictable, green. It is a hole that even after many attempts I have yet to par and am always absolutely delighted to walk off with a bogey 5. I hate this hole, but can’t wait to play it again to show it “who’s boss!”
Now, there are a few quirks about Nefyn, or perhaps I should say the Nefyn clientele/members. We played after a “society” once which hosted over 50 local golfers, and when we reached the clubhouse we discovered the showers and soap were bone dry – not one person had felt the need to seek soap and water after 4 hours of golfing grind. Hmmm…what can I say about that, except…let’s grab the Purell, then shake hands and call it a day. 🙂
As for other memorable moments, we had two (count em) two…. holes-in-one on the same tough Par 3 (9th) two years running from different members of our party. In fact, we’ve had holes-in-one with provisionals on the 9th! Bizarre!
And then there was that temporary green on the spit one day…
The maintenance staff had cut a huge hole over 18 inches wide on a bumpy, sloping patch of fairway and called it the “hole”. Despite the massive target I managed to misread my putt and missed a three footer for par by an embarrassing margin. My partners’ response? …Picture 3 guys lying on their backs laughing helplessly like over turned turtles. Grrr…
Ah…but I had the last laugh. Wales has always been good to me and I often came out the trophy holder at our annual championship there, relishing in a year of bragging rights. Funny…my buddies didn’t enjoy those years as much as I did. I guess that’s why they insisted on changing venues for future championships – courses closer to their own back yards. No problem for me… over the past 6 years, we’ve played in some of the best golf courses in the world including St. Andrews, Turnberry and Birkdale. But I’ll never forget my mum handing me the coveted prize in my home country, announcing me as that year’s North Wales Trophy Champion. It just didn’t get any better than that.”
Golf in Wales is generally not polished and organized as it is in Golf in the US of A. Some good advice…play the original holes and dress warm no matter what time of year. It’s not about pleasure – it’s about experiencing golf as raw and elemental as you will ever find.
Go with the flow and if the greens are unpredictable and the rough is unfair, then so be it. The gains are clear to behold in the views and the wonderful overall experience. Where else can a right handed golfer slice his tee shot into the sea on three consecutive holes at the start of his round and still win the day!
For those of us who are used to playing $300 US for a round of resort golf in the USA, golf in Wales is pretty appealing. Let me say this bluntly…golf in Wales is cheap! But…at the same time, it is golf at its best. The Welsh Golfing Union established in 1895 is the second oldest in the world and in terms of golf courses, Wales has more than 150 from which to choose.
Wales may not share the same notoriety as Scotland and Ireland, but it has as many of the charms, challenges and champions as those countries. Let’s not forget that Welshman, Ian Woosman captained the winning 2006 Ryder Cup Team which won 18½ to 9½ points over the USA. It may have been played in Ireland, but the heart of that Cup was from Wales.
I love golf and I love golf courses. I wish I could play every one in every country, but alas, that is not possible. But what I can do is talk to golfers worldwide who have experienced the joys and heartaches of the game in places I can only dream of playing.
Golf is universal, bonded by players that share a passion for the game and a love for a sport that has no boundaries, custom officials or border checkpoints.
Thank you David for sharing your experiences of golf in Wales. Once again, my bucket list of golf courses to play overfloweth…