|Traditional golf clubs like Ashburnham are improving their courses to attract a global audience. (Courtesy Visit Wales)|
After years of complacency, one of Wales' finest links golf courses, Ashburnham Golf Club, is back on track and is a 'must play' round on the British Isles.
CARMARTHENSHIRE, Wales - One of the British Isles' century-old golf clubs on Wales' southwest coast is finally coming around to the realities of the 21st century golf industry.
Ever since H.S. Colt upgraded Ashburnham Golf Club in 1910, it has been one of the British Isles' little-known sleepers with a sterling history. Golf legend Harry Vardon went as far as saying, "The course I like best in Wales is Ashburnham."
But over the years, Ashburnham lost its way.
"Like a lot of traditional clubs, [Ashburnham] has rested on its laurels for a long time," said Ian Church, the club's secretary. "They've figured if they stay the same, they'll continue to attract the same amount of people."
With the British Isles and Ireland littered with countless links worthy of the tourist's buck, no club can sit back and watch the golfers - and their coveted guest green fees - pour in. An old-school club traditionally known as standoffish to non-members, Ashburnham has reversed its mentality in the past year or so. Now, visitors from all over the world get a first-rate experience on a championship links.
"The first thing you have to do is upgrade the golf course," said Church, who brought in a new superintendent to restore the course's conditioning.
Now it plays firm and fast, as originally intended, and they're still adding yardage on some holes and touching up bunkers.
The off-course experience has been improved as well. Guests are given free lunch with their £50-65 green fee, along with a souvenir pack, personalized bag tag and yardage book - not to mention a warm and friendly welcome from the club. You'll feel at home here, if just for an afternoon.
Something else Church recognized on his arrival was that the clubhouse bar didn't' serve a local Welsh beer, just usual draughts like Guinness and Carling. Felinfoel, a local brewery claiming to be the first in the world to can beer, was added, and it's been the most popular pour ever since.
Ashburnham doesn't have the visual, awe-inspiring beauty of Royal Porthcawl, Nefyn & District or Pennard, which sit perched overlooking the sea at every turn. At Ashburnham, a row of massive dunes shields most of the coast from view.
Ashburnham is a players' links with a championship yardage around 7,000. Golfers must navigate blind shots, long carries over dunes, bump-and-runs and furiously fast and firm greens. The top players triumph at Ashburnham. Three of Europe's Ryder Cup captains have won tournaments here before moving on to international stardom: Dai Rees, Bernard Gallagher and Sam Torrance.
The first hole is a par 3, playing downhill with some well-placed bunkers surrounding the front entranceways of the green. After a par-4 second hole that takes you out to the club's more rugged dunes area, the third through eighth holes all play the same direction out into prevailing winds. Though the sea is shielded from sight at most points, the wind can be unrelentingly stiff.
The course routing finally turns around on the par-4 ninth hole, which begins a stretch that plays with the wind at your back. This is a relief at first, but then you have to figure out how to control your ball on the firm fairways and greens.
The par-3 16th hole, while offering some of the best views on the course from the tee, perched as it is near the clubhouse looking out over the sea, can be a round-spoiler. It plays 169 yards downhill into the wind to one of the course's smallest, shallowest greens - with thick bush just paces off the back edge.
The finale is one of your quirkier finishing holes - with a two-tiered fairway that starts at the bottom, then runs up a hill to the higher level. The green is drivable with some wind behind you, but it plays so close to the clubhouse patio that hookers might be weary of taking a member's head off, especially if children are on the practice green just off line. The safer play is knocking a 5-iron down the bottom level, then playing a semi-blind short iron up to the green.
Ashburnham ranks among Wales' top links in the southwest corner, where other unique courses worth seeing include Tenby and Pennard. In terms of a championship test full of hole and shot variety, Ashburnham is tough to beat.
Like most Wales links, Ashburnham is a wonderful value at £50-65 for 18 holes plus a souvenir pack and lunch.
The oldest club competition in Wales is between members from Ashburnham and nearby Tenby, who play for the Tenby Putter. The tradition began in 1895.
The obvious choice is the clubhouse, considering golfers are given free lunch with their green fee. Be sure to try the local Felinfoel Double Dragon Ale.
A good hub while you tour southwest courses like Ashburnham, Tenby, Pennard and Cardigan is the St. Brides Hotel & Spa in Saundersfoot, near Tenby. This is a modern, stylish five-star hotel perched on a cliff looking over the town and Carmarthen Bay.
September 11, 2007
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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