In 1924 a group of Llanfairfechan professionals arrived in South Wales looking for work, women, beer and sport. They had had a long drive from the North and had little money or food after the disastrous opening of the Welsh Highland Railway the previous year. All they had were their flock of torddu sheep they drove from field to field, town to town, pub to pub, jail to jail on their journey south. They wandered through the huge expanse of mid Wales to the industrialised valley towns of South Wales looking for work or lodgings for themselves and their sheep.
However there was very little work or lodgings available and they soon became despondent. After a few years of this they had a tip off telling them of the fields and caves of Brawdafad and with no other option started making their way along the mountain pass. On November 30th 1926 they arrived at the village of Mynydd Brawdafad and discovered the ramshackled, rundown, dilapidated golf clubhouse. It was perfect for them. The course was perfect for the sheep and here they found people they could relate to – fellow golfers, miners and people extremely knowledgeable about torddu sheep. They unloaded their gear in the pro’s hut and relaxed for the first time since lambing season. It was a regular Friday evening at Mynydd Brawdafad and the weekend was looming with the prospect of 2 days rest from the relentless search for work. Friday evening at the clubhouse is pretty much as it is today – slow and filled with a handful of men drinking beer and talking about the glories of yesteryear. The Northerners joined in willingly and after a few legal, then illegal beers with the regulars a wager or twelve was inevitably stuck and a weekend competition was agreed.
The travellers from Llanfairfechan played against the team of Mynydd Brawdafad seniors over two days in atrocious weather and won 13½ points to 1½ points. Ianto Ryder, a wealthy Welshman, who made his money from sheep, coal, raccoon coats and the Symington side lacers, played in the competition and at the Sunday post match celebrations drunkenly agreed to provide a trophy to encourage the match to be played on a regular basis.
The inaugural Ianto Cup match was played the following year at Mynydd Brawdafad Golf Club, and thereafter every two years, with the venue alternating between North and South Wales, as the Llanfairfechan team made their biennial sheep migration North, then South following the lay lines of centuries past. The matches were even played during the war years as many of the competitors were too old for the First World War let alone the Second.
The battle didn’t become the ferocious, bitter contest it has become today until the early 1970s. Up until this period The Northern ‘Gogs’ had been winning the contest regularly due to the advent of cutting edge technology and technique far beyond the reach of their Southern counterparts. In the 1930s it was the Northern team that used carbon / titanium composite drivers for the first time whilst the Southerners relied on niblicks and guppies. In the ‘40s the advent of plastic tees and ‘real time DVD analysis’ by the captain and his 4 assistants continued this winning spell as the Northerners regularly defeated the Taff rivals. The 1950s saw the South using balata golf balls for the first time but they inevitably succumbed to the Haskell balls with compressed air core of the North.
However by the end of the 1960s the technology had pretty much levelled out with both teams looking indistinguishable from each other with perms, check trousers and v necked sweaters. The North still had the edge although it was getting closer. By this stage there was pressure from the West Walians and their sponsers, ‘Glynhir Cyflenir Hwrdd’ to get involved in the 1971 the North incorporated the West Walian golfers predominantly from the Abertrallod Golf Club into their team as a means of handicapping them. It was decided that at least 4 West Walians competition. In would play for the Northern team this was designed as a means of making the matches more competitive. It seemed to work. At this juncture the legendary and best West Walian golfer, Dyl Siglen played off a handicap of 24 with borrowed clubs and lost his match 10 and 8. Suddenly it was a real contest.
Since then the contest have become closer and closer and whilst the West Walians in the North and West Wales team still haven’t had a player off single figures this has more than been compensated for by the North Walian regime of taking their best physical children at the age of 4 and rearing them in their Belarusian-style Golf Academy, Coleg Golff Llangefni for 61 years until they are eligible for the team. At present the score remains Southern Taffs 14 wins, Northern and Western Goggs 34 wins with one tied match. However in the past decade the score is 5 wins apiece and the biennial contest still held in November is the flagship event of the S4C calendar year (biennially). The Ianto Cup remains one of the few great Amateur sporting competitions in Wales that is played for no official prize money and a negligible amount of on-course betting. Last year it was voted 43rd most popular sporting event in Wales.