Aberdovey is a gloriously old-fashioned, traditional links golf course set on the coast of Cardigan Bay at the mouth of the Dyfi estuary. To the East and North lie the mountains of the Snowdonia National Park which makes for some of the most spectacular views of any golf course. The course has a greater deal in common with the early Scottish courses especially Prestwick designed by Old Tom Morris which is no surprise considering the early designers of the course were obviously influenced by Scottish courses. Whilst the original course was laid out by Colonel Arthur Ruck, a founder member, it was developed by perhaps the three most influential course designers of the time; Harry Colt, Herbert Fowler and James Braid.
In 1910 Harry Colt, legendary architect at Muirfield, Sunningdale made his amendments. In 1920 it was the turn of Herbert Fowler, architect at Walton Heath, Cruden Bay, and in 1931 James Braid who had developed Carnoustie, Gleneagles added his own personal touches.
However, the best and most radical designer of course was nature. The strong winds, moving sand dunes and relentless weathering continually moved and changed the course. The battle against the elements has been a constant one for the greenkeepers throughout the decades. It’s a fine line between rugged and unruly but the golf course seems to be constantly winning.
It’s hardly surprising that many of its members and visitors talk about it as the pinnacle of golfing courses. The most famous member was probably the best golf writer that ever lived – certainly the most prolific, Bernard Darwin. Bernard Darwin, grandson of the famous naturalist Charles Darwin became familiar with Aberdovey and the golf course through the development of the tourist industry in Wales. The boom in tourism, augmented by the expansion of the railways led to a major influx of visitors to the region in the late Victorian age. In 1863 the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway built the track that reached Aberdovey and quickly tourism started to hit Aberdovey. The increased population led to the demand for more activities and signalled the viability of a golf course. The land extending from the village to the coastline was developed and the golf club was officially founded in 1892. In fact it was ten years earlier that Bernard Darwin’s uncle, introduced Bernard to the game of golf and as a child witnessed the creation of the course from a strip of land with holes defined by nine flower pots 9 to a fully formed golf course.
By the turn of the century Bernard was playing off a handicap of plus 4 and competing in the Amateur Championship. In 1907 Bernard Darwin became the first professional golf correspondent and wrote for ‘The Times’, ‘Country Life’ for over 50 years. He also produced a vast number of books on golf.
The actual course follows the traditional Scottish plans, of ‘out and back’. The first 9 holes generally head away from the clubhouse and from the 10th you make your way home. The tees are situated close to the previous greens in the old style. Originally you teed off next to the hole. There are many similarilties with the course at Prestwick, designed by the great Old Tom Morris – there’s a railway line running alongside the course, there are blind shots and even a famous blind par 3 hole. At Prestwick this is the 5th, the Himalayas, at Aberdovey the famous ‘Cader’.
Blind shots, where you can’t see exactly where your ball will land, are generally frowned upon by modern course architects. They do, however, create a different feel to playing golf. Modern golf courses, tend to be a carefully trimmed, long, pretty series of holes where you see all the trouble with strategically placed shallow bunkers and manicured greens. This is lovely to look at and beautiful to photograph. However there are occasions where you want to take a step back in time and play a course that plays pretty much as it did over a century ago.
Playing links courses ensure that there are very few certainties; The 160 yard par 3 that you hit a 7 iron to yesterday with the wind blowing behind you is now a 3 wood as the wind has completely changed direction. The famous, or infamous, 3rd hole at Aberdovey, ‘Cader’ was the epitome of this. Adam Ruck, great grandson of Colonel Arthur Ruck describes it perfectly
“The 3rd is the infamous Cader, a hit-and-hope short hole where in the early days only a fool or a millionaire took a new ball. While the golfer went through his nervous waggles on the tee, the caddies took up their station atop a mountainous sandhill, ready to pronounce their verdict, shrill as a seagull’s cry: “On the green!” or “In the soup!” “
The variety of shots you need to play on a links course makes the experience memorable and unique. To play the course effectively you need to master a variety of shots, the chip shot, the bump and run, the 6 iron under the wind. Each of the par 3 face a different direction to ruin any rhythym you’ve built up on the preceding holes.
The course at Aberdovey is a superb step back to traditional, ‘proper’ golf. It is a course you will certainly remember for a long, long time. Maintaining a traditional course takes a great deal of skill, resource and ingenuity and constant attention. There are new tees laid out to enhance the experience appropriately called The Darwin tees. In the words of the great man himself;
“Aberdovey is the course that my soul loves best of all the courses in the world.”