|Pennard Golf Club overlooks a valley and 12th-century castle ruins. (Brandon Tucker/GolfPublisher.com)|
SWANSEA, Wales - Eight miles west of the coastal city of Swansea in Wales is Pennard Golf Club, a timeless links sure to garner strong opinions from any visiting golfer.
Experiencing the one-of-a-kind links of Pennard toes the line between driving you mad and blowing you away. On one hand, you've got a century-old links golf course with rugged, uneven fairways that generate plenty of bad bounces, lost balls and miffed golfers.
"They say it's the kind of course you need one leg longer than the other," said Dylan Williams of Wales Golf Vacations, referring to its sloping, rugged fairways. "We get calls from our guests who rave about Pennard and others who ask, 'Why did you send us here?'"
On the bright side, you'll suffer whiplash from all the spectacular views. Dubbed the "Links in the sky," Pennard has a stunning theater on the clifftops of the Gower Peninsula on the southwest coast of Wales. Rather than play through low-lying dunesland, at Pennard you're hundreds of feet overlooking the sea. On a balmy summer day, you can look down 200 feet below to the shoreline and find sun-starved Welsh enjoying the waters in a sandy cove.
The club was established in 1896, and today there is little evidence this course has seen any part of the second half of the 20th century. It was first upgraded in the early 1900s by James Braid, then later by C.K. Cotton to give it its current 'design,' though that word should be used loosely.
Pennard is minimalist in every sense of the word, and visitors who appreciate its natural splendor have sung its praises for years. Architect Tom Doak is one of Pennard's biggest fans, highlighting it in his book, The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, as well as his list of the Top Five Undiscovered British Isles Links for GolfEurope.com.
Wild ponies graze on fields in the distance. Sometimes, sheep and other livestock make their way onto the course to graze its grasses. The 12th century Norman castle ruins lies ominously just off the front nine - and is featured to the right of the outstanding seventh hole, which tumbles down towards the sea. This isn't your run-of-the-mill "hidden gem". Pennard deserves its own sub-category among historic British Isles links.
In fact, you may feel out of sorts lugging with you the high-tech tools of the 21st century golfer. Persimmon woods, hickory shafts and an old blade putter are more befitting at Pennard, which feature fairways rarely wider than 15 yards and are at times indistinguishable from the rough.
So where's the fun in that? Plenty, really, including the jaw-dropping 16th hole, where you might see the most spectacular cliff-top sight in all of your worldly golf travels. The tee shot heads straight out towards the water as a dramatic background. The hole then doglegs right, hugging the cliffs to the left before playing to an elevated green. The panorama from this vantage point is worth the green fees alone.
A subsequent par-5 17th brings you back inland - playing narrowly through gorse and dunes. The 18th is a straight shot par 4 with a sloping fairway right to left hardly even identifiable from the tee box. Simply close your eyes and swing, then hope to find your ball somewhere among the lumpy sea of brown and green.
You may not score well at Pennard, thanks to its quirky bounces, thick rough and narrow fairways. But this is an historic, unspoiled links you simply have to see to believe. Some consider Pennard the best links in Wales, which is a bit of a stretch. That title is more fitting of Royal Porthcawl or Aberdovey. Pennard is nevertheless one of the most distinct links you'll ever play.
Like most of Wales' links, it's an exceptional value, with green fees ranging £30-40.
Love or hate Pennard, you'll certainly remember this course forever.
One of Wales' largest cities, Swansea, is eight miles west of Pennard and a worthy place to stay for several nights as you tour the southwest coast. Its vibrant downtown is filled with loads of trendy bars and restaurants. It's also just minutes away from Mumbles, one of Wales' best little towns. Be sure to eat at Patrick's with Rooms, which offers an ever-changing seafood menu in a charming, casual setting with a view of the sea.
In Swansea, stay at Morgan's Hotel - a fashionable boutique hotel in a historic building right in the heart of town. Rooms are spacious with hardwood floors and high ceilings and windows that stretch the whole wall.
November 15, 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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