When golfers take to considering a trip to the United Kingdom the list is pretty consistent. Scotland takes top honours while Ireland and England tend to fall neatly behind.
But that could all change after the opening weeks of this October when the world will beat down the door to Wales for the Ryder Cup and golf fans will be sure to follow after they get a taste of what this tiny nation can offer.
Just how excited are the Welsh people about the Ryder Cup being played out on their shores? Native son and their official Golf Ambassador, 1991 Masters Champion Ian Woosnam, provides good representation. “The announcement that the Ryder Cup is coming our way has done wonders for Welsh golf. Golf in Wales has come a very long way in a very short time. From ‘best-kept secret’ it has emerged onto the world stage. A lot of the credit has to go to the fact that the 2010 Ryder Cup is on its way to Wales. Everyone has suddenly woken up to the untapped wealth of golf you can play here on around 200 courses, varying from world-class championship links to hilly nine-hole delights.”
Located to the west of England, facing Ireland, Wales is tiny is stature but is bursting with beauty, much of it in the form of golf courses. The result is a destination more than worthy of the world’s attention. It will have that and more as the finest pros descent on the Celtic manor Resort near Newport, South Wales, from October 1-3 for the hottest rivalry in golf.
But the people of Wales want to ensure that television viewers know there is much more to their country that the specially designed Twenty-Ten Golf Course at Celtic Manor. As such they have developed as brilliant marketing campaign – www.golfasitshouldbe.com. As a result packagers like Canada‘s Ultimate Golf Vacations (www.ultimategolf.ca) are being swamped with requests by people looking to find out more about this country that is about the size of Eastern Ontario.
And one can easily say they are right on the mark in portraying their quality of golf experiences this way; they offer up a buffet of establishments that even the most finicky of golfer would appreciate.
While golfers can easily traipse from coast to coast to coast in Wales in short time they will certainly not feel the need to rush. Time feels irrelevant in Wales, a sense you get by the casual and friendly nature the people who although steadfast, have plenty of time for chats with friends and visitors alike.
Unlike in some locales in the United Kingdom, golf in Wales is more a way of life and free from arrogance. Woosnam, while hardly neutral on the subject, says so himself. “But there is more to golf than playing. The warmth of the welcome is important too. Our clubhouses share a special talent for hospitality – the friendly bar, the inevitable snooker table, the animated discussions. People who think golf is a snobbish game should visit a Welsh clubhouse. Uplifted noses are not encouraged. We specialise more in laughter and banter. The clubhouses haven’t changed throughout the years and I hope they never will.”
So where, against a backdrop of fertile land marked by some 600 castles of varying states, should the pursuit of golf in Wales lead you. The answer truly is wherever you want, as there are no poor choices when it comes to their multitude of playing grounds. Whether you have a preference for parkland or links land, you can’t go wrong.
We’ll take wander in the South first, where the bull’s-eye of the world’s attention will be in October, at Celtic Manor Resort. Owned by a man very familiar in Canada’s national capital region for both his high-tech companies and resort properties of The Brookstreet Hotel and The Marshes Golf Course, Sir Terry Matthews, those golf fans who do not know his name soon will after the Fall festivities.
Easy to reach at just two hours from London, Celtic Manor Resort is home to not just the championship course where the Ryder Cup will play out, but two additional courses as well, The Roman Road and Montgomerie Courses. Each course is of championship quality and conditioning with the sporty par-69 Montgomerie course the most understated of the trio. It also sports three hotel properties, including the five-star 330-room Resort Hotel that as indulgent as imaginable.
Away from the frenzy of Celtic Manor there are plenty of fine strands of links layouts to turn your attention to in the south of the country. The seaside city of Swansea makes a great base for a southern sojourn as would the larger metropolis of Cardiff.
A highlight of golf in the south of Wales would be Royal Porthcrawl, among the most highly rated courses in the world yet still entertains guest-fee players during the mid-week period. The wind-swept links features a clubhouse right next to a bay where 40 foot tides drastically change the scenery with the daily turn of the clock. With no sand hills throughout the course the ocean is always in view. The stunning, low-level clubhouse also features a Dormy with room for 12 that is available for rent.
For those looking for the comfort of more fortified amenities than the Marriott St-Pierre is where you need to head. Recently renovated over the past couple season the two golf courses offered, the Old and the Mathern, are wonderful tree-accented retreats. The resort itself received a massive upgrade in 2008 and combine ancient architecture with modern services.
To the north visitors will find more varied terrain, from rugged coastlines all the way to mountain valleys, and snow-tipped peaks. Seaside resorts can be found all along the coast and scenic fishing villages give you all the local flavour you could ask for. You can expect greetings in the native Welsh tongue but most people speak English as well.
In the north you feel like you are back in medieval times in some places with a new castle to see at every turn. Shopping and sightseeing enhance the golf excursions and towns like Llandudno and Conwy offer access to it all.
One of the most photographed courses in the region is the Nefyn & District Golf Club, a James Braid creation. Often dubbed the “Pebble Beach of North Wales”, several holes are located on a peninsula that juts into the water and provides expansive views of Ireland, some 100 kilometres in the distance. Of course, if you turn full circle you can also catch glimpses of mountains making this a full-featured view of the Northern Welsh terrain.
Those looking to really test their skills must make it to Royal St. David’s. Before long you may find yourself praying to the patron saint of Wales for which it is named as the par 69 track can be a brute. Set in the dune swept shadow of Harlech Castle, Royal St. David’s is among the favourite layouts for many Welsh natives and visitors alike. The closing loop of holes that run through the dunes and bring both sea and jutting mountain peaks into view are simply exhilarating. The club also features a 5 bedroom Dormy where guests are welcomed at a rate of 40 pounds a night, including breakfast.
A trip the north would also not be complete with a visit to Aberdovey, a favourite of golf literary great, Bernard Darwin. The traditional links course, with nine holes out and nine holes in layout will satisfy any craving for golf on true links land.
And that just highlights a handful of the many spectacular golf courses that can be found in Wales. Still relatively undiscovered by the fervent golfers on the rest of the world, the game is as pure in Wales as anywhere you can find. Fees are eminently reasonable and the visitors will find that they are welcomed at every corner.
Come this October, with the Ryder Cup focusing the world-wide spotlight on Wales, it won’t be long before it talks its rightful place among the premier golf destinations in the world.
It’s that good and after your arrival it won’t take you long for you to agree that it truly does offer “Golf as It should be.”
Ultimate Golf Vacations
Celtic Manor Resort
Nefyn & District Golf Club
Royal St. David’s