It was sunny. It was hot and it was long and it was hilly. We’re in south-mid Wales. In Cradoc to be precise. Cradoc is a few miles north- west of Brecon and remote. Even for a golf course it’s remote. The drive from Bargoed was spectacular and slightly frightening with speedster John driving and Pensioner Dave keeping up a rally-like commentary.
The golf course at Cradoc, however, is well worth the anxiety attacks. It is a really, really nice golf course. It seems a little up-market for the likes of us. But we love it. ‘Us’ being myself, my brother, John, my cousin Andy and Pensioner Dave. At Cradoc they hold regular open days where the likes of us valley’s golfers can mingle and see how the other ninety nine percent of proper golfers live. Out of respect for the club we even changed our shoes in the changing rooms rather than the car park – we like it that much. The staff are friendly and courteous. This is also a novelty to us. We tend to frequent clubs where the pro. pockets our money and indicates the general direction of the first tee with a grunt and a wave of his hand as he disappears with our cash into the bar.
We stroll through the clubhouse to the putting green and the course. It looks like golf looks on the tele. However, it’s starting to feel a little strange for Pensioner Steve. I can see him twitching as he walks into the players’ lounge with helpful staff, immaculate decoration and plate glass windows that give a great view of the course. A far cry from some of the players’ lounges we’re accustomed to. We sit on the veranda outside the clubhouse with a drink, watching golfers drive off at the first. Pensioner Steve keeps looking around him, waiting for someone to throw us out.
One the tee we see – a starter. Yes, a starter. I had to explain it to Pensioner Steve that a starter is not only a prawn cocktail. A starter is an elderly man, I’m not being ageist or sexist here, in my experience it is always an elderly man, whose sole purpose is to chat to anticipatory golfers and tell them they’re next to go, or they’re early and should get a cup of coffee. It’s a person who smiles. Constantly.
“He’s a bit like Jimmy Two Shoes, up the club,” says Pensioner Dave.
“Well no, not really,” says John, “He doesn’t follow you around talking about his dogs and goldfish.” He indicated the starter, “He’s a professional talker.”
We are up next. It’s surprisingly nerve wracking. The starter calls us up and bashes through the rules for the hundredth time with a seemingly sincere smile. “It’s a Texas Scramble today”, he smiles, “each person has to record four tee shots each. You must drop your ball after it has been appropriately marked, within two club lengths,” and on and on and on, I’m amazed there are so many rules in golf. I’ve sort of lived with three – hit it, find it, hit it again.
The starter has finished now and laughs appropriately at the nervous bad jokes and banter from John and Andy. We are good to go. Remember, this is not the first tee at Augusta where there are millions watching on TV. This is a tiny village in south-mid Wales with possibly four people looking up from their drinks and two more on the practice putting green. None of whom we will ever see again.
This is Cradoc golf club. Cradoc is civilised. It has a history that doesn’t just involve coal and steel, struggle and hardship. I was reading about the history, as I am wont to do, and educating my playing partners in the car on the trip up.
“In 1093 there was a battle a mile from the clubhouse.” I informed them.
“Really. I didn’t see any evidence the last time we were there.” replies Andy
John chips in, ‘Well that was nearly a thousand years ago, like. There won’t be too much evidence. Duh.”
“Ah but there is one clue that remains” I continue mystically, “the name of a village close by,”
“Aberyscir?” replies John.
“No.” I say, “Battle. The village of Battle.”
“Ah” replies Andy.
“I was going to say that, but I thought it would be too obvious.” says John.
“That’s a coincidence.” Says Pensioner Dave.
We look at him. He starts to explain.
John wisely interrupts, “No. no. Forget it. Let’s not go there.” We drive on.
We tee off. The first few holes are long and straight and immaculate. One heading away from the clubhouse, the second coming back parallel. There’s the feeling of space here. It’s so different from the valleys’ golf courses we’re used to where the tees and greens are pushed back as far as possible using every possible inch of the available space. Here there’s room to breathe and stretch.
Cradoc is a nicely balanced course with two par 3s on the front nine and two 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 it looks spectacular, and dangerous.
We hit 3 shots in the water then Andy hits one decent shot onto the green and Pensioner Dave makes a spectacular putt to give us a rare birdie.
“That was lucky,” said Andy, “how would anyone know if we had put the last one in the water and still put a 2 on the card?”
“Because that would be cheating. This is golf not football.” Says Pensioner Dave.
“Do you remember that guy from Pontnewydd that used to cheat?” I ask.
“Aye. Adjer.” Says Pensioner Dave.
“I went to school with him.” I reply.
“Adjer? Why was he called Adjer.” asks Andy.
“That was his name,” answers Dave. He continues, “He would always put his marker in front of his ball on the green and behind it when he wanted to putt.”
Andy thought, “Ah I see he was adjing nearer the hole every time. “
John, “Is he still playing at Pontnewydd?”
“No. Dai Snips sorted him out.” Said Pensioner Dave.
“ Big Snipsy? The barber?” asked John.
“Unisex hairdresser if you don’t mind.” I answered.
“How?” asked Andy.
Pensioner Dave explained, “Well Adjer marked his ball against Snipsy a few times in a competition. You know adjing and adjing and Snipsy is getting more and more wound up, you know, like he does. On the 16th he loses it. Adjer has cleaned and marked his ball a couple of times, getting nearer and nearer to the hole each time. Then Adjer picks the ball up again and starts cleaning it. He puts it down again and Snipsy looks at him hard. “Well,“ he says, “that’s close enough now for a gimme Adjer. So pick it up. Pick it up, put it in your pocket and if I see you in this club again I’ll stick the ball, your marker and your putter”…. Well he did tell him where he was going to put his putting equipment but I don’t want to upset a nice young man as you Andy. Anyway Adjer never played in Pontnewydd again.”
“Well what about him?” Andy asked me.
“Oh. I saw him in Cardiff last Friday.” I replied.
“What was he doing?”
“Same job. Oh but he’s Chief Inspector Adjer now.”
We move up and around as we wind our way up the mountain with the fourth green set in front of the mansion that once belonged to the owners here at Penoyre Park. As we gradually wind our way further up the mountain there are spectacular views of the Brecon Beacons National Park from the par 3 seventh and we go steadily further up.
At the top of the course we needed to wait as the 11th hole is blind and there is a danger of big hitting John hitting the group in front, “Only if they’re in the rough” remarks Andy. It’s been a pleasant few hours – sun, chat and some quite decent scoring.
So we sit and I tell my captive audience the history of the course.
“It was designed and build in 1967with the drive and commitment of local members especially John Morrell and Les Watkins.” I announce, “The Scottish course architect CK Cotton has been responsible for designing and remodelling a number of amazing courses, amongst them Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s, 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
John say he’s going to drive off if I don’t shut up saying he’d rather be banned for life for hitting someone on the head than putting up with another of my stories. Fair enough. I stay quiet and we move down toward the valley floor.
At the final wait, on the spectacular straight par 5 14th I supply my final piece of information, “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. “
“Ah near the village of Battle” remembers Pensioner Dave.
I’m impressed at is memory.
The final holes are fairly flat as we play away from the clubhouse and sweep around to play the final few holes back to the clubhouse.
The final hole is perfect. It’s a nice par four finishing up alongside the clubhouse. There is added pressure as golfers drinking in the veranda can critique your final shots. As it happened none of us made that final perfect approach shot. Pensioner Dave did chip in though and we ended up with an acceptable but unlikely to be winning score of 66.
We changed in the car park, had a drink, spoke to a few old sorts who were on the same ‘Open day circuit’ as us and headed home. A great day and waiting for the next day at Cradoc. As pensioner Dave said, “It’s not he winning that counts it’s the not coming last and making an idiot of yourself that matters.”
Cradoc Golf Club
Originally Published – Culture Cymru 1/3/16