Golff Noir

Finally. It’s finished. At least 5 years after I started thinking about writing a novel. It is finished and published. I should be feeling excited, elated. I’m not. It’s just relief. Pure adulterated relief. Finished. God it’s been painful.
I read that you should “Write what you know”, Mark Twain. I did. I wrote about golf, Wales, and private detectives. I also wrote about “things that you don’t know” Brian Klems. I choose angels, the supernatural and the Book of Enoch. I chose the genre I’m most familiar with – film noir crime fiction in the style of a 62 part box set cult series (Breaking Bad, The Sopranos). I mixed in some advice from the New Yorker ‘show don’t tell” and with the words of Steven King ‘If you want to be a writer you must do two things; read a lot and write a lot”. The result was my first novel – a golff noir, Taff noir, crime thriller fantasy fiction entitled ‘Mynydd Eimon: Private Hell’.
There are some excellent golf books – biographies mainly – by Mark Frost, James Dodson and some wonderful golf writers on golf in general – Bernard Darwin for instance. But when it comes to writing fiction around golf the results as embarrassing as watching a film combining a story and a football match. Cringingly bad. This is the type of PG Wodehouse writing that I’m certainly not familiar with on a cold, windy day stuck at the top of West Mon. Worse yet is the breed of writer – well one writer, Dan Jenkins – who is so appallingly sexist, racist and unfunny it makes one ashamed to play golf.
The book I ended up writing combined (chucked together, some would say) a number of the elements that make up Golff Noir. A phrase evolving from film noir, to Nordic noir, to Taff Noir to golf noir (and yes the double ‘f’ is important).
This is my first attempt and I hope it entertains you. I hope others will try this approach and, who knows, we could end up with a little Celtic enclave of Tartan Noir.

read the opening of ‘Mynydd Eimon: Private Hell – ‘ http://byronkalies.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/mynydd-eimon-private-hell/

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MYNYDD EIMON – PRIVATE HELL – opening chapter of new book

DAY 1

Sky-red – blood red – falling – hit ground hard – not too hard – office – golf club – red carpet – books and books and books – grey safe – easy money – alone – Cai presence outside – falling – vultures – watching – goading – sneering – flying and falling – flying and falling – “destroy the ungodly” – 6 stars – 6 daggers – 1 angel – 3 sticks, vertical like stumps -  mother – Mary – stick – gopher wood – battered old goose-necked putter – Bobby – Mary – Molly – Malone – cockles and muscles alive alive-o – her ghost wheels her barrow through the streets – “Sam” – “Wake up “ – Run Sam run – “Who built the ark, no-one, no-one. Who built the ark, brother? No-one built the ark”– “Wake up” – Bob – Mary – Sam

 1. the lady confesses

It started with a dame. It always started with a dame. Well sometimes it does. This dame was different and unique – like they all were. She was older, a lot older. She was the treasurer, the golf club treasurer. She was respectable, church-going and old. How old? Very old.

It was an ordinary morning, as they all are until something happens. I was walking along grey and grim Malakoff Street and although I didn’t know it I was about to be asked to investigate the possible murder of Cai Tywysog.

What was particularly unusual about this possible murder was that I had dreamt that Cai was dead. I had also dreamt that the sky was on fire. I was looking out of the window when I saw someone fall from the roof. It was Cai and his face cracked as he hit the ground. I wasn’t sure if the fall had killed him or something had happened before. Neither option mattered too much to him at that particular moment.  I also dreamt about an empty safe. Apparently this could signify loss, lack of security or a secret getting out. Or even an empty safe.

Unsurprisingly I felt a little tense this morning.

I knew that Cai wasn’t dead as I had seen him just five minutes ago. I had been in the corner shop talking to Mrs Evans’ when he had walked in. I picked up my packet of Lucky Strikes and a pint of milk from the counter, gave an assertive nod in Cai’s general direction and walked out of the shop. He looked a little pale, but definitely not dead. I walked to the end of Malakoff Street and turned left onto Alma Road.

Alma Road was quiet. Mynydd Eimon was quiet. Not just because it was a Friday morning, but because Mynydd Eimon was quiet. It was boring. It was dull. Mynydd Eimon was a typical Welsh valley village. It looked exactly the same as any other Welsh valley village at any time since the early Victorian Age. It was grey, cold, dull, quiet – calcified in an indeterminate age. It was home. My home.

I walked slowly toward my office. Perhaps office was a little grand in that it was two small rooms on the ground floor of my house. It didn’t look much like an office but it was. It was the office of Sam Watcher, private investigator. That’s me. I was a bone fide ‘ditectif preifat’. I had a business card and everything.

I smiled at the exquisite lettering on the door of the office, “Samael K. Watcher … Investigations”. I didn’t have a middle name but thought the K added a touch of class. I went to unlock the door to the outer office, formerly a coalhouse knocked through, but found it had already been opened. I stepped inside and looked at my little universe. The room contained an old black Davenport, two old, old, grey chairs, a bit of carpet and two doors – one to the outside, real world and the other to my inner sanctum. Everything was neat and tidy just as I needed it. There was the light grey carpet and dark grey walls. I had designed the room myself based on films I had seen.

What the room didn’t contain was my secretary who I had assumed had unlocked the door. I moved carefully toward my private office and opened the door slowly expecting an intruder. I was correct.

My office and refuge being invaded me nervous. I liked things to be where they should be.  My visitor was a dame. She had moved a chair. I looked around to see if anything else had been disturbed. Her coat and bonnet were hanging on the coat stand. I looked around slowly, carefully.  I didn’t notice anything else. I breathed. The room had a similar colour scheme to the outer office with a larger desk, a fireplace, a Reliable wall safe and a little state of the art, Prestcold fridge, a violated coat stand and a moved chair.

I looked hard at the dame in the chair. She was a frail old woman dressed in a long black dress, grey shawl, and tight bun with a lethal looking hair slide.    From the back she seemed very peaceful as she stared into the empty fireplace.  Her coat and bonnet were hanging up on the oak coat stand near the door and she had made herself completely at home. I walked across the room in a business-like manner and placed myself in my chair behind my desk. I turned my chair to face her. I reached in my pocket to get a cigarette, looked at the dame and thought better of it. I picked up a pen from my desk and started twirling it in my fingers.

I breathed. “Aunty Mary.” I said a little too loudly, “What are you doing here?”

“It’s about a murder, cariad, I’m ashamed to say. It’s about the murder of young Cai, my nephew.”

“Cai!” I feigned astonishment for some reason, “but I’ve seen him just now in Mrs Evans’.”

She thought for a minute. ”Well the murder may not be Cai and anyway it’s not today.”

“I see.” I clearly didn’t. I sucked hard on my pen in a way that I thought may convey serious thoughtfulness.

”So what is it you want from me?” I inquired.

“I need some information, some advice if you will.”

“Shoot”

“How am I looking if I were to murder someone?” she asked thoughtfully.

I sat down and continued working on my thoughtful expression, “I imagine you would be put in jail Aunty Mary.”

“Ah,” she paused, “I thought as much. But what about my soul?”

“Well.” I paused. “That would be one for you and the priest to negotiate.”

She looked disappointed.

“And the soul of the victim?”

“Again your priest would be the one to talk to there.”

“Not you?”

“Not me.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Pretty sure.”

“And I would definitely go to prison.”

I paused to consider the question, “Very, very likely.”

She sighed, “So how long would I get?”

“Probably 10 years or life.”

We both silently assessed who would win that particular race.

“I’d like you to investigate the murder, when it happens. Would you do that for me?”

I nodded professionally.

“Thank you Samael,” she continued as she stood up, “You’ve been very helpful. Now how much do I owe you?”

“Aunty Mary you know I couldn’t take money off you.”

“You’re a sweet boy.” she said as she ruffled my hair and handed me a shilling piece, “Now take it and let’s hear no more about it.”

I took it and helped Aunty Mary put on her ancient grey fur coat and black bonnet.  I shivered slightly then I walked Aunty Mary out.

…………….. book now available on Amazon and Kindle

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The Old and the New – Royal Porthcawl and Machynys

RPGCcg (compressed)

Until the Ryder Cup of 2010 Wales would not have been a country people would naturally associate with golf. It isn’t Scotland, to be fair. The Ryder Cup played at the Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, was a huge success with an estimated 615 million viewers around the globe. This single event put Wales on the map for golfers and visitors across the world. It catapulted Wales and Welsh golf into the world spotlight, finally.

Wales has had its fair share of great golfers over the years, from Dai Rees and Brian Huggett to Ian Woosnam and Jamie Donaldson. Wales, less publically, also has a number of exceptional, world renowned golf courses.

There are 176 courses in Wales and they cater for all golfers and all golfer pockets. There is a myth I was brought up with, that golf is a game for the elite. It was thought of as a game for doctors and bankers. There was the belief that you needed to be rich to join a golf club. There were, and in some cases still are, elements of that but this has been generally eradicated over the past few decades. Social change and television  has meant that more children, and adults, believe they can play golf. In the past decade which has seen businesses struggling financially, golf courses have had to open their doors, challenges old habits of elitism and become professional in order to survive. Far more children now play golf in wales than ever before. Part of this is due to the number of Ryder Cup initiatives where an estimated 200,000 people in Wales tried out the game.

Wales has had a surprising long history of golf. The earliest recorded golf game in Wales seems to be at Tenby where a passage from the ‘Laws of Markets and Fairs’ (1875) tells of court proceedings being adjourned whilst the Mayor took time off to play golf. However, this claim as the first golf club is contested by Borth & Ynyslas which has evidence of golf from a similar date.

There are a number of quirky features for welsh golf courses. For instance the West Mon Golf Course, Nantyglo  boosts the highest in the United Kingdom with the 14th tee situated over 1500 feet above sea level. Or Llanynynech, which advertises itself as the only dual country course in Europe. On the 4th hole you drive in Wales and putt out on the green in England.

In the South West of the country there are two of the finest golf courses in the world,

Royal Porthcawl and Machynys. Both of these links courses are ranked in the top dozen courses in Wales. Royal Porthcawl is ranked number one in Wales, and 86th in the world, whilst the up and coming Maychynys course is already ranked just outside the top 10 courses in Wales.

These courses are incredibly different in so many ways but in other ways they are so similar. They are both links courses, that is golf course built along the seaside with numerous bunkers. They both appeal to the whole range of golfing abilities in different ways.

They were designed and developed over 100 years apart. Royal Porthcawl was designed and developed by golf professional Charles Gibson with other legendary golfers and course designers including James Braid, Open winner on 5 occasions, involved at various stages in the development.

Machynys was designed and developed by Gary Nicklaus on behalf of his father the legendary Jack Nicklaus, 18 major wins. The project cost an estimated £3.5 million and introduced 25 acres of salt and freshwater lakes, 12 miles of irrigation pipes and 6 miles of drainage pipes. It opened in 2005 and is an amazing development. Situated just outside Llanelli it is bordered by the Millennium coastal path and Carmarthen Bay to the south and the Wild Fowl and Wetlands Trust at Penclacwydd to the West.This gives the course a natural feel with water being a huge feature.

The club was opened less than a decade ago and was voted best new links course in 2010. In its brief history it has hosted a number of prestigious events, including the R&A Seniors Open Amateur Championship in 2012, the Ladies British Open Championship in 2013 and has become part of the Ladies European Tour holding the ‘S4C Wales Ladies Championship of Europe’.

The reason for the praise is the quality of the golf course. It is a spectacular, flexible, modern golf course that like all of the best courses changes frequently depending on the wind and the weather. Golfers have a challenging course to battle as the course navigates its way through the water, sand and marsh land.

It can be a tough course, especially when the wind blows. Although there is a fair amount of water to contend with, but it is fair. As a golfer you know where it is and need to avoid it. The greens are deep, slick and true. The course rewards good players with no hidden tricks which is all you can ask for really.

Beyond the course there is the club house. This attractive, modern building is the centre for the golf, spa, restaurant, conference centre, bar and pro shop.

Less than 30 miles south east from this modern icon is a golf course that was opened over a century early yet embodies the same challenges and excitement to golfers. Royal Porthcawl was opened in 1892 and is as traditional a golf club as you can get.

The course was founded by a group of coal and shipping businessmen from Cardiff in the later nineteenth century. It has developed with the wind and rain and the encouragement of many of the world’s top golf course architects, James Braid and Harry Colt amongst them. It is a typical natural links course changing subtly over the years like many of the finest Scottish courses.

On 30th march 1909 the club was given the rare privilege of being called ‘Royal’. It was just the 26th golf club to be granted that honour. The story of how that honour was attained is shrouded in mystery. However the result was a letter from the Home Secretary Herbert Gladstone concluding that “after enquiry and consideration I have felt able to recommend the King to permit the club to use the title “Royal” and that His Majesty has been pleased to approve the recommendation.”

Perched on the Bristol Channel, subject to the winds and storms, playing Royal Porthcawl is a unique experience. You are so aware of the history, the traditions. It is the epitome of a links golf course. You can see the sea from every hole. The bunkers protect the course, which is not particularly long, by todays’ standards. The greens are superb and fast.

At Royal Porthcawl no two holes are played consecutively in the same direction. This may seem a minor point for non-golfers. For golfers it means you constantly have to adjust your swing and your aiming to allow for the wind.

The course has many remarkable features. On a clear, windless day it can seem to be an extremely benign course. However like many of the seemingly benevolent links courses the wind is rarely quiet for more than a few hours or days at a time.

There is a great passage in the writing of possibly the finest golf writer of all time, Bernard Darwin. He played Royal Porthcawl in 1910. On the first day there was no wind or rain and at the Welsh Championship meeting; “all sorts of wonders were observed. A competitor holed a full brassie shot and 3s were as plentiful as blackberries.” The following day conditions had changed. He continued;

“I remember being left with a putt of some eight or ten yards, and banging the ball past the hole with a light and careless heart, fully prepared to see it trickling in. Alas! The green was a little wet that morning and the ball stuck firmly on the opposite bank and refused to come back.”

It really is a special golf club. It consistently figures in the top courses to play by many magazines and professionals. It has hosted many leading amateur and professional  tournaments, including the Walker Cup, the Amateur Championship (six times) Curtis Cup, European Team Championship, the Home Internationals, the Ladies British Open Amateur, Dunlop Masters. It’s the course where  Tiger Woods lost his singles in the 1995 Walker Cup to Gary Wolstenholme and the USA team lost 14 -10.

Now it seems there is the possibility of Royal Porthcawl achieving the ultimate accolade for a British golf course – it is being seriously considered to hold the Open Championship. It was always felt that the travel infrastructure and lack of space around the course would never make this possible. It now seems these obstacles could be overcome and who knows, before 2020 Wales could hold its first Open Championship.

article with images first published in Cymru Culture 2014 :

http://www.cymruculture.co.uk/featuredarticles_89967.html

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Winter Golf – Mental as Anything

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“90 % of the game is all mental – the other half is physical” – Yogi Beera

Yogi attempting to explain his philosophy to a group of non-cerebral golfers

You’re on the green at the uphill par 5 514 yard 3rd at West Mon Golf Club (the highest golf club in Great Britain). It’s blowing a gale and there’s that curious West Mon weather which is a mix of wind, rain, hail and snow. It’s like an angry, but dexterous, polar bear throwing hard rice pudding at you. It stings. You’ve hit the best driver, 3 wood, 3 wood, 3 wood and you’ve just 3 putted from 8 feet. You look at your frozen golf partners and silently ask “Why do we do it?”. They silently shrug back at you and you move to the next tee.

The mental side of Winter Golf is pretty much the same as Summer golf except that it’s magnified. It’s tough.The main problem, for me at least, seems to be an accelerated lack of confidence, and a short term memory. There’s also a concept called private logic;


The first day of Winter golf feels like you’ve never seen a golf club in your life before. Where a week ago( at least in your head) you’d hit an 8 iron to the centre of the green today you’re taking a 6 iron and still leaving it short. The logical part of your brain is saying – “hit a 5 next time. It’s obviously wetter – no run on the ball, colder air, bad lie, uphill ” yet the illogical (private logic) part of your brain would remember the 1 occasion you actually hit the green with an 8 iron and conveniently forget the dozens of times it fell short. It would argue that a 5 iron would be ridiculous and that your playing partners were all hitting 7s or 8s (irrespective of the fact that they were better golfers and still leaving their shots short).

Your mind is composed on 2 parts; logic and private logic. The logic part is well… logical. The private logic element taps in to all your private fears, insecurities, doubts.

For instance, setting aside the shot selection angle for a minute and turning to the condition of the course. Winter golf conditions vary considerably. Some days it’s frosty, the next day it’s raining – the same drive can go 290 yards with a good bounce and a following wind one day – then sink into the soft mud at 200 yards on another day. You know this and your logical part of your bran knows this. However your private logic part of your head still goes through the stages of change; immobilisation, denial, anger, bargaining, depression ………

As I said at the beginning everything is magnified. An 80 yard pitch to the green that would be fairly routine (to think about, not execute) in Summer is a potential nightmare in Winter. In Summer you’d select a club, aim for a spot on the green, swing the club, miss the spot, miss the green and trudge after the ball. In Winter you think about the ground (hard, soft, normal), the green (temporary, cut up, slow) the club you choose (pitch it all the way, bounce it in). In the end you’re so busy worrying about everything you’ll concentrate so hard on getting a wedge 2 inches onto the green 3 yards up from the pin that you forget how to swing the club and end up taking an air shot.

Similarly putting – by the time you’ve worked out how much break to allow, what the wind will do, what would be the best position if you don’t make it, whether the mud is lying toward you or against you, you forget to hit it and leave it 6 feet short (which for a 5 feet putt takes some doing).

Now I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in Summer it’s just exaggerated.

The realisation I’ve finally arrived at is that Winter is not a enchanted time. Winter pixies do not sprinkle their magic Winter pixie dust over Bargoed Golf Club and reverse the principles of Nature – downhill is still downhill. The laws of physics still apply to golf balls in December. Greens that are on a slope in August are still sloping in January. The 14th is still 172 yards long.

Roll on Summer ………..

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The Joys of Winter Golf

Llanbobl G.C. Winter Cup winner

Pingu putting out on par 4 with Ping putter

I finally get golf.

I understand all the mysteries of the game.

I even remember the day I achieved this state. It was the final competition of Summer 2013. I had been in a particularly relaxed frame of mind- I’d played some decent shots, some pretty poor shots- but it all seemed to fit. The ball went more or less where I wanted it to – If I hit a bad shot I ended up in a bad place. When I hit a good shot I ended up in a good place. I had reached the golfing equivalent of achieving karuna. Now if only life was as simple as this….

The following week Winter Golf began…

I’m not sure ‘Winter golf’ is the right term. It’s not really golf is it? Or ‘it’s golf Jim but not as we know it’. Perhaps we should call it something else – ‘flog’ perhaps..

The following week Winter Flog began…

In the course of 7 days the golf course had changed from a pristine, emerald, slightly undulating, tightly mown, interesting, tree-lined, water-featured, offering a different challenge on every hole, sandy bunkered and undulating (oops already said that), slick, challenging, but fair greens into a scene resembling the trenches from World War I. There were temporary greens, temporary tees, temporary everything. There were 487 new rules all designed to stop you hitting the ball, and a totally new attitude to go with it. A week ago there was a riotous rabble of jolly chaps and smiley ladies laughing and having such a hoot of a time. Now this was real male, manly, macho time. The testosterone was so intense you could sense that the neural areas of the brain the metabolites were influencing changing patterns of behaviour due to increased neural connectivity and neurochemical characterization.

Winter Macho Flog had begun…

It doesn’t help that this the golf club is at the top end of the Rhymney valley, feels slightly further north than the North Frigid Zone, is 29,030 feet above sea level and colder than a mother-in-law’s love (oops sorry).

There was a time when I was a big, big fan of 365 days a year golf. I even played in the ultimate macho competition – The Winter League – ‘Cock of the North’ as it was called, which summed it up on so many levels. One of the many, many rules of the league was that you had to play on a Sunday morning – whatever the weather – or forfeit the match ( and feel the shame and derision of not playing). The only way out of this was if you and your partner and your opponents mutually agreed to call it off and call it a draw. The winners of the Cock of the North and the club poker champions were invariably the same pair;

Scene – 8:28 on a Sunday morning in the clubhouse looking out at a blizzard;

“I really fancy it today.”

“Me too. I had an early night and whacked down a load of vitamins so look out today.”

“Me too. I love it when it’s nice and fresh.”

“Bracing”

“I find I play better with a touch of frost bite in my fingers – helps my putting.”

pause…..

“Let’s call it a draw and I’ll get the first round”

“Agreed”

“Agreed”

“Brandy for me.”

……………………………. happy days

But non-league Winter golf is supposed to be fun. When you’re teeing off from a rectangle the size of a small face flannel it’s not too much fun. When you’re slipping around in the mud like Bambi on ice it’s not the best feeling. It has prompted one of the best retorts I’d heard on a course though. After getting harangued for putting his opening drive out of bounds a colleague was heard to remark that it was because he had a bad lie on the tee.

However, you eventually succeed in getting your drive away and march resolutely after it praying it’s in the rough or 151 yards from the green. Because (and I’m not sure how universal this is) in our club if you’re 150 yards or less away from the flag you must play off Winter mats. These abominations ( and yes I know all the arguments about why we use them) are the most annoying piece of gold equipment since tassels on the front of golf shoes, and just as useful. They are roughly 2 feet long, 1 foot wide, six inches thick and curled up at the edges like a 3 day old cheese and lettuce sandwich. To be honest it’s easier to play out of a bunker.

You reach the ‘green’. Green it ain’t. The dictionary describes green as;

a. The hue of that portion of the visible spectrum lying between yellow and blue, evoked in the human observer by radiant energy with wavelengths of approximately 490 to 570 nanometers; any of a group of colours that may vary in lightness and saturation and whose hue is that of the emerald or somewhat less yellow than that of growing grass; one of the additive or light primaries; one of the psychological primary hues.” ,

i.e. a colour

or b “ The culmination of a golf hole, where the flagstick and cup are located and where a golfer will “putt out” to end the hole. The area of closely cropped grass surrounding each hole.

i.e. a green

Well green the colour it definitely is not – more a greyish, reddish, blacky-brown and ‘an area of closely cropped grass” – I don’t think so either. It’s like trying to putt on a field that has been ploughed by an angry farmer with a team of heavy, drunk shire horses.

However this is only part of the problem – the physical. Mentally….. next time………..

You’re on the green at the uphill par 5 514 yard 3rd at West Mon Golf Club (the highest golf club in Great Britain). It’s blowing a gale and there’s that curious West Mon weather which is a mix of wind, rain, hail and snow. It’s like an angry, but dexterous, polar bear throwing hard rice pudding at you. It stings. You’ve hit the best driver, 3 wood, 3 wood, 3 wood and you’ve just 3 putted from 8 feet. You look at your frozen golf partners and silently ask “Why do we do it?”. They silently shrug back at you and you move to the next tee.

The mental side of Winter Golf is pretty much the same as Summer golf except that it’s magnified. It’s tough.The main problem, for me at least, seems to be an accelerated lack of confidence, and a short term memory. There’s also a concept called private logic;
The first day of Winter golf feels like you’ve never seen a golf club in your life before. Where a week ago( at least in your head) you’d hit an 8 iron to the centre of the green today you’re taking a 6 iron and still leaving it short. The logical part of your brain is saying – “hit a 5 next time. It’s obviously wetter – no run on the ball, colder air, bad lie, uphill ” yet the illogical (private logic) part of your brain would remember the 1 occasion you actually hit the green with an 8 iron and conveniently forget the dozens of times it fell short. It would argue that a 5 iron would be ridiculous and that your playing partners were all hitting 7s or 8s (irrespective of the fact that they were better golfers and still leaving their shots short).

Your mind is composed on 2 parts; logic and private logic. The logic part is well… logical. The private logic element taps in to all your private fears, insecurities, doubts.

For instance, setting aside the shot selection angle for a minute and turning to the condition of the course. Winter golf conditions vary considerably. Some days it’s frosty, the next day it’s raining – the same drive can go 290 yards with a good bounce and a following wind one day – then sink into the soft mud at 200 yards on another day. You know this and your logical part of your bran knows this. However your private logic part of your head still goes through the stages of change; immobilisation, denial, anger, bargaining, depression ………

As I said at the beginning everything is magnified. An 80 yard pitch to the green that would be fairly routine (to think about, not execute) in Summer is a potential nightmare in Winter. In Summer you’d select a club, aim for a spot on the green, swing the club, miss the spot, miss the green and trudge after the ball. In Winter you think about the ground (hard, soft, normal), the green (temporary, cut up, slow) the club you choose (pitch it all the way, bounce it in). In the end you’re so busy worrying about everything you’ll concentrate so hard on getting a wedge 2 inches onto the green 3 yards up from the pin that you forget how to swing the club and end up taking an air shot.

Similarly putting – by the time you’ve worked out how much break to allow, what the wind will do, what would be the best position if you don’t make it, whether the mud is lying toward you or against you, you forget to hit it and leave it 6 feet short (which for a 5 feet putt takes some doing).

Now I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in Summer it’s just exaggerated.

The realisation I’ve finally arrived at is that Winter is not a enchanted time. Winter pixies do not sprinkle their magic Winter pixie dust over Bargoed Golf Club and reverse the principles of Nature – downhill is still downhill. The laws of physics still apply to golf balls in December. Greens that are on a slope in August are still sloping in January. The 14th is still 172 yards long.

Roll on Summer ………..

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War and Peace – Cradoc Golf Club

cradoc

Rhys ap Tewdwr, born 1065, was a descendant of Capell ap Rhodri, King of Seisyllwg, son of Rhodri the Great. He lived a short but eventful life. He seized the throne of  Deheubarth in 1078. It was not an easy time however as he had continual political unrest – alliances and battles with  Caradog ap Gruffudd ap Rhydderch and Gruffydd ap Cynan . In 1088 he was forced into exile in Ireland but returned for more coalition and  chaos with fellow Welsh princes and eventually the Normans.

Rhys was slain in the Battle of Brecon by Bernard de Neufmarche in April 1093. One can only imagine the fear, noise and bloodshed of the battle over 800 years ago. The site of the encounter was the village now called Battle, a few miles from Brecon and a mile from the golf course of Cradoc.

Walking around the tranquil, beautiful course it is impossible to image that 800 years before there would once have been armies, mayhem and destruction. The Battle of Brecon was an important event in Welsh history and for many at the time seemed to indicate the end of the reign of Welsh princes and the capitulation of Wales to their of Norman conquerors.

Rhigyfarch al Sulien, a monk who later wrote a life of St David, wrote a long poem, ‘Lament’ at Llanbadarn Fawr. The opening few lines captures the fear of the time;

“Alas!  that the present time led us into this state of things,

where a cruel power threatens to drive away by its authority

those who are duly reading this poem.

Why have the blind fates not let us die?”

This dire pessimism, however, was not warranted and by the turn of the century most of the territories belonging to the Normans had been reclaimed by a resurgence from the Welsh.  

The stark contrast between this period and a round of golf at a parkland course such a Cradoc could not be greater even though the land is the same.  The course at Cradoc is so quiet, so tranquil. The tree-lined fairways let you believe you are the only players on the course for a good deal of time as it winds along the valley floor and up and across the hills.

It is a remarkable golf course in a remarkable setting.  It was designed and build in 1967with the drive and commitment of local members especially John Morrell and Les Watkins.

The  Scottish course architect CK Cotton has been responsible for designing and remodelling a number of amazing courses, amongst them Royal Lytham and St. Annes, Pennard near Swansea,  St Pierre in Chepstow as well as many in his native land. The courses all  share similar characteristics ; they all use the land effectively. At Cradoc he used the changes in elevation to form spectacular views and some challenging holes.  There are stunning views across the valley from many of the holes.

Another feature of Cotton is the par 3s. These short holes on each course are all unique and each has a different challenge.

Cradoc is a nicely balanced course with 2 par 3s on the front nine and 2 on the back. The first short hole you encounter, the 3rd , is only 125 yards. There is however a pond in front of the green waiting for you. The hole is played from an elevated tee and looks spectacular, and dangerous.  The 7th hole looks deceptively straightforward with its large green.  However it can be difficult to 2 putt if you’re on the wrong level.  The 12th hole down the hill is a par 3 with bunkers to the left and right and a steep drop over the back. The final short hole, the 17th is the longest. You need a straight long iron to ensure your round stays on track.  If you can survive the par3s the chances are you are playing well and will be having a decent round. They test your skill and iron play and if the wind blows can be a really challenge.

The journey around the course takes you from the undulating. tree-lined, opening holes to the middle mountain section and then back again on to the valley floor.  Along your path you will encounter different views of the of the Brecon Beacons National Park, a variety of views of  Pen- y-fan the largest peak in South Wales, and some surprises; the   fourth green is set in front of the mansion that once belonged to the owners here at Penoyre Park; a number of the holes are laid out as dog legs where you have to decide if you want to risk cutting the corner or playing safe.

The course is immaculately kept and incredibly peaceful. The greens are green, fast and true. This is only half the charm of the day though. The organisation and running of the club are as immaculate as the layout and maintenance of the course. There are superb practice facilities – large driving range, warm up nets and good sized practice putting green. The pro shop is well stocked and the clubhouse has amazing views of the 1st tee and fairway and the 18th green set against the backdrop of the mountains.

The atmosphere of the club is welcoming, caring and professional and little wonder it was Welsh Golf Club of the year in 2005.

The past decade or so have been difficult for golf clubs across Wales and beyond. The recession bites hard on recreational activities in these times. Fortunately the manager of the club, Richard Southcott has been proactive and instrumental in developing a creative programme for a number of years to help generate interest in golf in the area. The Heart of Wales consortium comprises the golf clubs Cradoc, Builth Wells and Llandrindod Wells. The idea is to encourage golfers to visit this area and play all three unspoiled, quality golf courses at a reduced rate. It seemed to have worked well and has generated a lot of interest in the area.

The serenity of the course is reflected in the relative serenity of the area, even in the traditional market town of Brecon. The town is situated at the confluence of the rivers Usk and Honddu in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons National park. With a population of just under 8,000 Brecon is the focal point of the area. It has established itself as a place for tourism, arts and culture in recent years. Visitors enjoy the activities in the area as well as the peace and quiet.

The cathedral in Brecon has a history tracing back to the year 1093 where Bernard de Neufmarche ordered a priority to be built after his victory. The priority was destroyed  in the reign of Henry VIII and became the site of a parish church and in the 1920s was designated a cathedral.

For a short period each year Brecon loses its tranquil nature as it becomes the centre for music fans from around the world as it hosts the Brecon Jazz Festival. Since its inception in 1984 it has grown and developed into a genuine world-wide phenomena.

Practically all the leading jazz artists in the world have performed at the festival including George Melly, who lived locally, Courtney Pine, Humphrey Littleton, Amy Winehouse, Van Morrison, Joan Armitrading and Hugh Masekela.

The site of Cradoc golf course has seen a great deal of gory history over the centuries but there are few more peaceful places to enjoy a relaxing (well as relaxing as golf can be) game with superb scenery and delightful facilities.

 

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West Mon Golf Club

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Deep in the Ebbw Fach valley  lies the small village of Nantyglo . The village lies at the northern end of the Ebbw and Ebbw Fach rivers that runs from the highest town in Wales, Brynmawr in the north to the city of Newport in the South.

As you leave the village westward you find Mynydd Carn- y –Cefn. This is the large mountain separating the Ebbw Fach vale from the Ebbw valley . The slopes are extremely steep, a result of the action of glacial ice in the ice age, apparently. Whatever the reason, the road gets seep very quickly and within a few hundred yards it becomes a rugged mountain track littered with sheep. This harsh terrain forewarns you of the challenges ahead. Passing the sheep and occasional horse wandering across your path within a few hundred yards you reach the gate then the squat, functional clubhouse of the West Monmouthshire Golf Club.

The clubhouse is squat, functional and stable.  The people are warm and welcoming. It’s a real clubhouse – well used and well loved. It’s like the people and the area – unfussy and real. The members live locally and are at the club because they play golf. There are few ‘non golf’ members. The members are golfers and its ‘their’ club and they are proud of it. There are no airs and graces at the club. On talking to them it’s a firm handshake and an introduction to Brian, Lyn, John and John.  The only grand aspect of the club is the long name ‘West Monmouthshire Golf Club’. It is known locally as West Mon.

It’s fair to say the course would not win any beauty prizes when matched against the majority of parkland courses. There is however a ruggedness and honesty about the land here. It’s a tough course, but a fair one. There won’t be any free drops from sponsors’ hoardings here. There is however a local rule allowing you a free drop should your ball lie in a sheep track through the green.  The sheep act as nature’s green keepers grazing in the roughs and fairways across the course.

It has the feel of a traditional Scottish links course, without references to the sea. It’s wind swept, sparse on vegetation and generally left to nature to manage.  It’s unsurprising it has the feel of a Scottish course as the designer was a golf professional and architect from North Berwick, a traditional links course.

Ben Sayers was a fascinating character. Born in Edinburgh he lived most of his working life in North Berwick as a ballmaker and golf professional. He was a great player representing his country on numerous occasions.  He won 24 tournaments but never the Open where he was second twice. He was a respected teacher and amongst his pupils were Queen Alexandra, the Prince of Wales (later to become King George V) ,  Dorothy Campbell ( the dominant female golfer in the 1910s including Women’s Open and US Open Champion) and Arnaud Massey (the first overseas player to win the Open) . He was also a golf architect designing the East course at North Berwick, and courses at Rothesay and Craigielaw amongst others. However he is most remembered for the range of golf clubs that still bear his name. He was joined by his 2 sons as golf professional and golf club maker and his innovative clubs became more and more popular.

In 1906 Ben Sayers was given the task of designing the original course at West Mon. It is no surprise given the terrain he had to work with, and the environment he was used to, that he designed a very natural, challenging course. The land is heath land and at the mercy of the wind, rain, snow and occasional sun.  There are few water features or bunkers to ‘spice up ‘the course. It is an authentic straightforward test of golf. What Ben Sayers did was to work with the land and make each hole as different as possible. The 3 par 3s are all challenging. There are reachable par 4s and the 3rd is one of the toughest par 5s in Wales with the wind against you. It’s a 519 yards and you feel every one of them up the hill.

The course has one remarkable claim to fame in that it is the highest golf course in Great Britain, with the tee to the 14th being the highest tee in Great Britain. This tee is situated over 1500 feet above sea level and can be a ferocious place in the snow of mid-winter looking across the Welsh valleys.

Another feature of the course that reflects the spirit of the club is the names of the holes; the record 14th is simply called ‘High Tee’; the uphill monster 4th is the understated  ‘Tidy Pull ‘. Other holes reflect the humour of the area – the Cwtch (hug) describes the close to home short 17th and the Ware Teg (fair play) is the name for the tough par 4 5th hole.

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A highlight of the course, unsurprising, is the panoramic view of the area. There are views of the Brecon Beacons to the north with the Sugarloaf mountain East. There are spectacular views of the valleys. You can even see a part of local history, the North Round Tower.  This is the surviving member of a pair of towers built to keep the locals at bay between 1816 and 1822.  At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Ironmasters brothers Crawshaw and Joseph Bailey constructed two round towers to protect themselves against the locals due to the unrest concerning high wheat prices.  There was serious rioting in the village and the industrialists defended their property by building the last castle fortifications to be built in Britain. One stands today as a reminder of a difficult period in the village, and Wales’ history.

The industrial history of Nantyglo mirrors the history of the South Wales valleys. In 1801 the population of Nantyglo was 805. Thirty years later the population was 5,992. The attraction to the area was coal and iron making. In the mid 19th century Nantyglo was one of the largest iron producers in the world, in 1844 employing 3,500 men, women and children in the Ironworks and coal mines.

The next century or so saw a time of relative prosperity and in the Edwardian era that West Mon golf club was established it seemed to be the perfect time for Wales and the people of the valleys. There were many sporting clubs opened; soccer, cricket and of course rugby union. The general election that year returned no Tories in wales for the first time ever. There was more free time for workers. The middle classes were also more affluent and had more time on their hands. So it seemed natural in 1906 that a group of doctors and teachers would establish a golf course with a membership of 183 paying entrance fees of half a guinea per member with subscriptions of one guinea for gentleman and half a guinea for ladies.

Over the past century and a half the industry of the area has moved slowly towards steel and Ebbw Vale. Coal was still a principle product of the area until recent times. The past 30 years or so has seen the decline in coal mining in the area with the subsequent loss of jobs.  Similarly steel making has declined and then finished leaving a hole in the valley.

In the past few decades the financial crisis has hit clubs like West Mon hard. The closure of the steel works and high unemployment in the area have put a  strain on the economy of the locals and a subsequent drop in membership, Fortunately the members at West Mon are a hardy resourceful bunch and the club survives on initiative, hard work and a good social scene. There have been cutbacks and the club manages. There are few visitors and the number of golf societies visiting has declined across the whole of Wales.

“We don’t get much passing trade” one of the members wryly informed me.

The club carries on. There is a community there. The social events held in the clubhouse and function room help a great deal these days. It’s still about the golf though. The members are a tough breed out in most weathers braving the elements. Standing on the highest tee in Great Britain on a sunny day looking around at the view surely makes it all worthwhile.

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