Great Welsh Golf Courses – Cradoc

cradoc-golf-course-hill-backdrop

Off The Beaten Track – Cradoc Golf Club

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

Penoyre Park,

Cradoc

LD3 9LP

Brecon

01874 623658

http://www.cradoc.co.uk

Originally Published – Culture Cymru 1/3/16

 

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Great Welsh Golf Courses – West Monmouthshire Golf Club

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Off The Beaten Track 

WEST MONMOUTHSHIRE GOLF CLUB

It was windy. Standing on the 9th tee I could feel the wind through my Primark backswing performance jacket, red, and I’m sure my brother in his Galvin Green Malone limited edition polo shirt (short sleeved) could feel it too. It was windy.

“How come the wind blows into your face on every hole?” John wondered. “Because it does” I replied enigmatically. I had played the course before and had gained this insight.

Pensioner Dave nodded and hit his tee shot. Short and straight. I hit my shot short and straight also. John was long and straight. We waited in anticipation. So far we had never all been on the fairway at the same time (well not the same fairway).

Andy hit his drive. It started straight then went left and left and left bounding over sheep, fairways, rough.

“I’m not looking for that,” came the sympathetic response from Pensioner Dave. John commiserated with Andy, “See you on the green”

I shrugged and went to help him look for it. We battled on.

I had driven from Newport where it was a glorious spring day – 22 miles, 22 years and 11 degrees ahead of Nantyglo. To be fair it was quite pleasant when we arrived at the car park and there was some debate about what to wear. I had played the course before. I opted to wear everything I had in the car.

The first two holes had been deceptive. They were fairly flat along the floor of the valley. The third was a long, long par five up the mountain. It was marked on the card as, ‘Long Pull’. This hole could be described as ‘challenging’. It was an almost vertical tee shot up the steep, steep slope of Mynydd Carn-y-Cefn, the mountain separating the Ebbw Fach valley from the Ebbw valley. Apparently the intense steepness is a result of the action of glacial ice in the Pleistocene era which started around two and a half million years ago.

“When Pensioner Dave was just a boy”, John remarked.

Monmouthshire County Champion 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925 V.H. Smith wrote an understated article describing each hole in the ‘Ebbw Vale Works Magazine’ a few years after the course was founded. He described the 3rd (Long Pull);

“Hole 3. Longest hole on the course. Requires a good tee shot which must clear ravine. Good second shot of 150 yards carry required to carry a hazard forty yards wide; all difficulties now being overcome a good iron shot will reach the green.”

Thirty minutes later we met on the green feeling like we had conquered Everest. We had each taken a variety of routes to the flag and no-one was likely to complete the hole in single figures without holing a twenty foot putt.

It was windy. We moved on.

West Mon is a course where the wind blows hard – always. It is rough, ragged and the fairways are sheep-lined. It’s a traditional valley’s course. It’s harsh, unforgiving and proud of it. There are a few still left in the South East ex-mining valleys. 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.

Once we reached the 3rd green there were a few holes of relative flatness across the mountain top toward Ebbw Vale in the next valley. There a few excellent holes that can feel 600 yards long or 300 yards long depending on the wind direction. The greens are in amazing condition, true and green. For all the natural hazards of the course you can use as an excuse – you can never blame he greens.

The course is littered with sheep. Tough sheep. Sheep that own the course. On the par 5 eleventh hole John hooked a drive straight at the rear end of a grazing sheep. I thought 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 John with a patronising look, “Is that the best you’ve got “, turned back around continued ruminating.

Walking across the mountain top with the greens and fairways subtly fashioned across and around the few features it is easy to imagine it a hundred years ago. It is an incredibly natural golf course. There aren’t too many modern day ‘features’ to ‘spice up’ the course – no ‘risk or reward’ holes, ‘signature holes’.

“I like it” announced Pensioner Dave, ever the traditionalist “hit it – find it – hit it again”. He’s a man of simple pleasures. It’s easy to imagine him and Ben Sayers having a ten second conversation on the design of the course.

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 pretty decent job of it.

The course has a significant claim to fame in that it is the highest golf course in Great Britain. The tee to the fourteenth is the highest tee in Great Britain with a spectacular view of South Wales.

Before you reach this peak though you have to navigate the highest green in Great Britain – the 13th. This hole is truly amazing. It’s a vertical 484 yard par 4 up and across the mountain against the wind – “It’s always against the wind”, the locals informed me.

We staggering toward the green like 2 pair of Hilary and Tenzings. Low on food, oxygen and humour. We reached the green that had the temerity to have a series of subtle slopes and undulating borrows on it. It’s not enough to hit a perfect drive, two perfect woods and an immaculate wedge. You then have to relax, catch your breath and think.

Watching Pensioner Dave attempt to calm down after tacking his way up the mountain put me in mind of the biathlon where the competitors ski furiously for miles then have to stop and relax enough to fire five shots at a target.

We managed it somehow and remarkably everyone scored a point.

Then we had a walk up to the highest tee in Britain. The tee is 1500 feet above sea level. It feels higher. There are spectacular views of the Brecon Beacons to the north with the Sugarloaf mountain to the east. On the card it is called, ‘High Tee’. Really?

From this point it’s, literally, all downhill. The 16th hole is called ‘Round House’. This is a theme for the club. Nantyglo is famous, in Nantyglo at least, for its round towers. On the badge of the golf club there’s a yellow tower. The story of the towers illustrates the attitude of the people in the area better than anything else;

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.

“Ah, the struggles between rich and poor, haves and have nots”, I started to philosophise.

“We get it. Your shot.”

Reaching the end of the round it’s back to reality. Relatively flat final holes. Relatively less oxygen needed as we approach the short, squat, functional clubhouse. It’s been tough. It’s been fun.

The club is full of has function rooms, people and some history. There are framed minutes of the first meeting where a group of doctors and teachers established a golf course with a membership of 183 members. The entrance fees were half a guinea per member with subscriptions of one guinea for gentleman and half a guinea for ladies. There were 120 men, 54 women and 9 juniors intially.

“The prices haven’t gone up that much”, Pensioner Dave remarked to the secretary. The secretary pointed out that the current fees are probably the cheapest anywhere in Wales.

“Less than the cost of an 18 hole two ball at Royal Porthcawl”, he proudly announced.

We concurred.

“I asked once how much green fees were at Royal Porthcawl” he continued.

We waited eagerly.

“I was told that if you had to ask then you couldn’t afford it.”

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.

I’m sure we’ll be back there – When we’ve thawed out.

 

West Mon Golf Club

established 1906,

Golf Road,

Nantyglo,

Ebbw Vale,

Monmouthshire,

NP23 4QT

www. westmongolfclub.co.uk

From the comments book:

“It’s bleak.” – S. Morrissey

 “I creamed a driver, mullered 2 three woods and still ended up 20 yards short of the green.” – John Daly describing the 3rd hole.

 “It’s cold.” – Captain R. F. Scott

– first published Cymru Culture ( 1 / 9 / 15)