West Mon is a course where the wind blows hard – always. It is rough, ragged and the fairways are sheep-lined. Contrary to folklore it doesn’t rain every weekend – it occasionally snows. It’s a traditional valley’s course. It’s harsh, unforgiving and proud of it. There are a few of these courses still left in the South East ex-mining valleys – clubs where a fifty something can have the nickname ‘young un’. Clubs where the official booking time is a week in advance, yet at 1 minute past 7 (official booking time) all times from 7 to 10 have been allocated to ‘the vets’. Not ‘the veterinarians’, but ‘the vets’, ‘the veterans’ – a group so powerful and frightening the Cardiff Mafia ‘the Tafia’ have never even dreamed of trying to open negotiations.
To the untrained eye the course looks like someone just went out one day with 18 brightly coloured flags and placed them around the mountain at random intervals. This isn’t entirely true.
The course was designed over a century ago by a remarkable Scottish professional golfer, Ben Sayers. Born in Leith, Scotland Ben had been an acrobat in his earlier life and took up golf aged 16. He was only 5 feet 3 inches and his life was taken up with his sport. He had every job you could imagine concerned with the sport. He was a golf ball maker, golf club maker, caddy, course architect, professional, and coach to royalty. He was second in the Open twice and unlucky not to win.
In 1906 he designed the West Mon course. The terrain must have been familiar to him brought up on the links courses of Scotland. West Mon has the feel of a traditional Scottish links course, without references to the sea. It’s windswept, sparse on vegetation and generally left to nature to manage. The only thing missing from a links course is the sea. The sea is a long way from the top of Mynydd Carn-y-Cefn.
The course is littered with sheep. Tough sheep. Sheep that own the course. Word in the clubhouse is that one November afternoon on the par 5 eleventh hole a hooked drive found the rear end of a grazing sheep. The force of the stroke would have stunned a fairly bulky human being and killed many small cows. The sheep stopped grazing. He turned around and stared at the perpetrator with a patronising look, “Is that the best you’ve got “, turned back around continued ruminating.
It’s known for being ‘natural’. There aren’t too many modern day ‘features’ to ‘spice up’ the course – no ‘risk or reward’ holes, ‘signature holes’.
The course is tough. The weather is tough. The ground is tough. The people were tough. What Ben Sayers achieved in 1905 was to carve eighteen unique golf holes out of a hostile environment. They have hardly changed since the course opened. He did a decent job of it, although I suspect it didn’t cost the 500 million dollars it will take to develop the Royal India Ocean Club in the Maldives.