The Worst Kept Secret in Wales

View from the 18th tee

I’m not sure I should be writing this. I may well be ostracised from the South Wales region of the Golf Societies Organisers. As with a number of organisations there is a certain amount of information that is classified. The Rolls of Monmouth is one of those pieces of classified information. It is the venue where a number of golf societies come for a special treat – usually the final outing of the year. But don’t tell anyone else – it’s confidential.

There are many reasons the Rolls of Monmouth is exceptional – the course, obviously but much, much more. There’s the location, probably one of the finest parts of country. It is set in the Monnow Valley, close to the town of Monmouth, at the confluence of the rivers Wye, Monnow and Trothy with spectacular views of the Black Mountains. The thousand year old market town of Monmouth and the story of The Rolls, contain a wealth of history – ancient and modern, drama, danger, death and destruction.

The market town of Monmouth dates back to the time of Roman settlement in Britain. Monmouth, just a few miles west of the English border has been the scene of a number of bloody encounters between the English and the Welsh throughout its history. The town was destroyed in the Battle of Monmouth and although not directly involved in the Glyndwr rebellion was an important stronghold. Notable features of the town include the only Norman fortified bridge remaining in Britain and the 12th century castle overlooking the River Monnow. This castle, developed by Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster in the early 14th century was the birthplace of Henry V in 1387. Geoffrey of Monmouth, educated at a Benedictine monastery in the was the author of a number of books including a fictitious history of Great Britain, Historia Regum Britanniae (1136), which included legends of King Arthur and King Lear.

If you follow the winding B4233 road to Abergavenny, west of Monmouth for a few miles you pass through the tiny village of Rockfield and the innocuous building that is the legendary Rockfield recording studios. Opened in the mid sixties as the first residential recording studio in the world it has been host to some of the finest artists of the past 40 years including Queen, Mike Oldfield, Adam and the Ants, Simple Minds, Manic Street Preachers, Nigel Kennedy, The Stone Roses, Coldplay, etc etc. A little further along the road and you will arrive at the impressive Rolls of Monmouth Golf Club.

As you enter the estate you will be overwhelmed by two aspects – the trees and the tranquillity, and then stunned by the magnificence of the Hendre Mansion House. The house was owned by the Rolls family from 1767 until 1987. John Rolls, MP for Monmouthshire 1880 to 1885 and later became 1st Baron Llangattock, bought a shooting lodge on this site at the beginning of the 19th century. Over the next 200 years John and his descendants expanded and developed the house and garden to form the magnificent 900-acre estate as it is today.

The stone clubhouse is the former workshop and garage of Charles Stewart Rolls, co-founder of Rolls Royce Company. Charles Stewart Rolls was a remarkable man. He was a man with a real passion for speed and danger. Born in 1877 he was part of the late Victorian / Edwardian era of technological innovation. In 1904 he teamed up with Frederick Henry Royce and co-founded Rolls-Royce manufacturing firm. However his passion changed to flight and after a career as a balloonist he gaining his flying licence in 1903 (second licence granted in Britain) he became the first person to cross the channel in both directions in one flight. This passion for flying ultimately led to his death in a flying accident at Bournemouth. He was aged just 32 and was the first Briton to be killed in a flying accident. He is buried in the church at Llangattock-Vibbon-Avel, a mile from the estate. In the 1980s the estate passed from the Rolls family. In 1982 Ubis Planning designed and built the superb, classic parkland golf course.

The course is a mixture of old and new, traditional and modern. The course looks and feels mature. The course is set in mature parkland with huge oaks and mature avenues of trees. The route feels well-established as it winds it’s way around the immense estate. There are also modern aspects in that there are few blind shots on the course and each of the holes are different and have real character. This is perfectly illustrated in the par 3s. There are four par 3s – all very different to each other. The first, the 4th hole is a fairly straightforward 167 yard shot to a tight green surrounded by bunkers. The 13th, a downhill 190 yard to a long narrow green tricks you into believing once you’ve hit the green you’re job is over – it isn’t. The green is extremely tricky and the final hole, of which more later.

One of the things that strikes you when playing the course is the quiet. There could be a number of golfers out but there is rarely any noise. There is so much space and the holes so clearly defined that you feel you could be the only ones playing. The reason is the way the large 900 acres estate has been used. A number of courses in South East Wales valleys, seem claustrophobic. There is the feeling of restriction The courses have been built on sparse land and there is, naturally limited space. Tees and greens are pushed back to the edges of the courses. With this comes the feeling of constraint and limitation. The Rolls has space, lots of space, too much space. It’s nerve racking. It’s almost agoraphobic to a Welsh valley’s golfer like me – but in a nice way.

The true secret of the Rolls of Monmouth golf course however are the greens. The greens are always perfectly maintained and immaculate. They are extremely difficult, fast but fair. Simon Aston, golf professional at the club believes these are the strengths of the course. He maintains that, “the greens offer the best possible protection for the course”. This is one of the reasons the course doesn’t need a mass of bunkers around each green, or excessively tight pin positions. Golfers need to think carefully about every shot. It’s not enough to get on the green and assume you will 2-putt. You need to think carefully about where you want to be on the green. The whole of the course needs careful management. It’s a course you need to play a number of times to get to grips with. It’s the reason that when you finish a round you can’t wait until the next time you play it. It’s a course where you need to keep learning, in order to keep score well.

The round culminates with the par 3, 18th. Standing on the tee you see the final flag 224 yards in front of you over a lake with the historic manor house forming the backdrop. This is perhaps the most dramatic, and dangerous, finishing hole in Wales.

You have to hit your shot between trees on the left and a stream on the right, over a small pond onto a fantastic green. The setting is superb and a fitting finale for a challenging, thoughtful, wonderful round of golf.

The Rolls of Monmouth Golf Club
The Hendre,
Monmouth, Monmouthshire NP25 5HG

Golf professional – Simon Aston

Office manager – Linda Kedward

6733 yards par 72