|Though they are wide, gorse guards the fairways at Southerndown Golf Club. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)|
BRIDGEND, Wales -- The final leg on the way to Southerndown Golf Club heads up a hill on a narrow, steep road.
Go slow, because you're sharing the road with sheep that are also making the hike up to the golf course. They have a standing tee time here, and you're just playing through.
Between the roaming sheep, a unique setting high above the sea and a golf course that hosts one of Wales' most prestigious yearly events, Southerndown delivers a one-of-a-kind play in Britain.
The club was founded in 1905, though the course's current form is mostly thanks to Harry Colt, who altered the design previously laid by Herbert Fowler. Colt's biggest contribution was adding four new holes, the seventh, eighth, 17th and 18th.
Donald Steele, a familiar name who helps keep historic links courses relevant in the 21st century, has also most recently altered the golf course. The club is home to the Duncan Putter, named after one of Wales' most famous golfing families and a former member here. Since 1959, the hickory putter is contested each year among some of Britain's top players and is the first event on the Welsh Order of Merit. Previous winners include Gary Wolstenholme, famous victor over Tiger Woods at the 1995 Walker Cup down the road at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club.
Through the years, Southerndown's opening hole has gained a heightened level of notoriety. A trudge up the severely uphill first hole will leave you weak in the knees and wishing you'd taken an extra helping of potatoes at breakfast. At 367 yards but playing much longer, Henry Cotton called it one of the toughest opening holes in golf. It's certainly one of the steepest.
Rest assured, it's the only hole of its kind, and most holes tend to play gently downhill than up. And most holes offer generous landing zones off the tee, while the greens are well-protected by bunkers and run-offs.
"The key is the second shot," said Alan Hughes, Chief Executive at Southerndown. "We haven't got any rough because the sheep graze it."
Set well above the sea, the setting for Southerndown, full of scenic views of Swansea Bay and Ogmore estuary toward Porthcawl from many spots, is more than just a pretty piece of land.
Despite playing well off the coastline on a limestone heath, the golf course's playing surface is as good as any links in Britain: pure, firm fescue turf that is a joy to strike balls off on.
According to "Limestone Downs" by Dr. Mary E. Gillham of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast Wildlife series, it's thanks in part to sandy soil that was blown onto the land 12,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age. As a result, topsoil rarely found on top of limestone led to coastal-type vegetation: crisp fescue turf, gorse and bracken.
The golf course also drains extremely well, thanks to plenty of run-off areas, sandy soil and limestone fishers beneath the course that channel water rapidly. The course is only closed when it snows, and during Ryder Cup weekend when Celtic Manor was soggy, Southerndown was open.
"Wet doesn't affect us," said Hughes. "Groups were transferring to play here on Friday."
Southerndown is as fun a golf course to play as there is in Wales with a great blend of playability and scenery. It's just tough enough to demand your attention, but golf is always better when you can find your tee shot, and even wayward drivers shouldn't lose too many balls here. Those who have played Pinehurst No. 2 will see a similar philosophy here: fairways are wide, but properly placed drives will afford better angles into pins.
Just a few miles from Royal Porthcawl, Southerndown Golf Club tends to take a back seat in rankings panels, but at almost half the cost of Porthcawl, you could play Southerndown twice for the same amount of money -- a proposition certainly worth considering. The two are close enough that you could play each in one day during the summer months.
October 14, 2010
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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