Tenby Golf Club – The Railway, James Braid and Dai Rees

Tenby-Golf-Club-town-beach

Tenby is a town with a lot of history. Originally a Norse settlement, the town has developed fairly peacefully for the greater part of its life.  The architecture reflects the steady progress of history with some of the finest buildings remaining intact. For example the largest parish church in Wales, St. Mary’s. It is thought that this has been the site of a church since Norman times and the tower of the current church is over 700 years old.  The 15th century Tudor Merchant’s House on Quay Street is the oldest furnished building in Tenby and still decorated with authentic Tudor fittings.  However the most striking features of the town are the walls that were built following the destruction of the town by Prince Llewelyn in 1260 that surround part of the streets and alleyways. The narrow streets in some parts of the town give it an air of cosiness and warmth, at least for a great deal of the year. In the height of summer this protection from invading armies can become quite claustrophobic as the visitors push and jostle their way along the narrow, medieval streets.

This is in stark contrast to the golf course, situated close to the town, where the layout of fairway, rough and gorse give it the traditional links feel of being at one with nature. It embodies the word ‘links’ which literally means the linking of the land with the sea.

The town of Tenby is known in Welsh as Dinbych y Pysgod. This translates as ‘little fort of fishes’ which would have perfectly summed up the town and the surrounding walls for much of its long history where fishing has always been a vital part of the town’s’ economy.

The steady historical progress of the town came to an abrupt turn with the arrival of the double-edged sword of the railways in 1853. The town was seen as a health resort and Sir William Paxton, politician and merchant banker invested heavily in the town.  The Napoleonic wars prevented the affluent Victorians travelling to Europe and soon the area became increasingly popular. This elite trickle of tourists in the first half of the 19th century became a flood of popular visitors as the railway arrived at Tenby in 1863.

To accommodate the influx of visitors and their increasing desire for sport and entertainment the business people of the town created the golf club. The club was also a focal point for local business owners to relax, play and meet. Although the club was officially founded in 1888 there is evidence that even 13 years earlier the game was played along the coast. In a report in the ‘Laws of Markets and Fairs’ it is revealed that that court proceedings were delayed as the Mayor of Tenby adjourning a case to play.

Tenby is the oldest golf club in Wales. It was established on September 31st 1888 after a meeting in the Town Hall. At the meeting 6 local residents decided to officially form a club. The first membership fees were 10/6d per year or 5/- per month (equivalent to £280 / year or £130 / month today)

Tenby Golf Club was the first affiliated club in Wales and a founder member of the Welsh Golfing Union in 1895 with Porthcawl (founded 1892), Swansea Bay (1894), Glamorganshire (1890), Caernarvonshire (1890), Borth – Ynylas (1885), Aberdovey (1892), Rhyl (1890) and Merionethshire.

The golf course is as perfect as you can make a golf course. The gently undulating but rugged land running along the coast is perfect for seaside golf. The rough and gorse have been used to its maximum effect. If you hit a good shot you’ll get a good result. It’s a course for thinkers not sloggers. It’s not a long course and each hole is different from each other, and different from the previous day. The wind has a huge effect on the course as it should with a links course. The views across Carmarthen Bay and the monastic Caldey Island are spectacular. The course uses the features of the area in a fascinating contest that echoes the original golfing layouts of Scotland. It especially echoes the course at Prestwick, the setting for the first Open Competition. It can be tough, but always fair. Although there are some blind shots they add to the flavour of an ’old-fashioned‘  course compared to the relative homogeny of today’s courses where WYSIWYG. At Tenby there is still that element of surprise and luck that modern golf architects seem to be determined to take out of the game.

This is no accident. The main designer of the course, and the man responsible for the feel of the course is James Braid. Braid a golf professional and course designer from Fife, Scotland won 5 Open championships at the turn of the 20th century. However, it was as a course designer that he felt his great passion and designed over 200 golf courses in Britain including Championship courses at Carnoustie, Troon, and Prestwick. He worked on 20 courses in Wales. He was prolific and worked the same way. He kept the greens committee happy by charging a low fee and communicating his ideas quickly and effectively.

James Braid was brought to the club early in its existence. In July 1902 he was paid £6 to inspect the course and suggest improvements. Five years later he returned with suggestions and the course was expanded to 18 holes. This new course was opened at Easter 1907 and has largely remained the same ever since.

The course has had a number of famous supporters; Lloyd George, the only Welsh Prime Minister and keen golfer was a frequent visitor and had a holiday home close to the course.

Dai Rees, the Welsh Ryder Cup captain that took the Ryder Cup from USA in the middle of a period where British golf was dominated by America was also a keen player.

An unusual feature of the course is that each hole is named after a feature. Dai Rees is commemorated with the par 3 3rd. Other holes include; ‘Monks Way’, ‘View O’Caldey’, ‘The Railway’ and of course, ‘James Braid’.

***

The American writer and golfer Robert Kroeger toured the links courses of Wales and summed up perfectly many golfers thoughts on Tenby golf course;

“Tenby was my favourite course in Wales. The blind shots didn’t seem overwhelming and the drama of high dunes and deep hollows more than compensated for this lack of visibility. The greens, true, fast, and always undulating, were the best we’d seen in Wales.” – Robert Kroeger

This article first appeared in Cambria Magazine December 2011

War and Peace – Cradoc Golf Club

c4 e

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.

The Old and the New – Royal Porthcawl and Machynys

RPGCcg (compressed)
Royal Porthcawl

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-golf-club-1

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

Winter at West Mon

westmonwinter2-1-of-1

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.

westmon6
West Mon

 

Great Welsh Golf Courses – Cradoc

cradoc-golf-course-hill-backdrop

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

 

Great Welsh Golf Courses – West Monmouthshire Golf Club

westmon990

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)