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Royal Porthcawl has made Wales' south coast a must-visit golf destination since the 19th century.
Royal Porthcawl has made Wales' south coast a must-visit golf destination since the 19th century. (Brandon Tucker/GolfPublisher.com)

Ryder Cup host Celtic Manor highlights Wales' emergence as a golf vacation hotspot

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor

As a golf destination, Wales is often in the shadow of neighbors Scotland and Ireland. But the announcement that the 2010 Ryder Cup Matches will be played at Celtic Manor Resort, on the country's south coast, could inspire Wales' emergence as a golf hotspot.

CARDIFF, Wales - Sometimes it takes a little shot in the arm to awaken an old, sleeping giant.

Such is the case with the announcement of the 2010 Ryder Cup Matches coming to the Celtic Manor Resort in the town of Newport on Wales' south coast. The announcement has helped to galvanize not only the nearby golf clubs that stand to benefit from the attention and traffic but all of Wales, which is looking to shift its economy from exporting and steel toward tourism.

The Ryder Cup may go down as the fuse that lit Wales' emergence into a golf hotspot alongside Scotland, England and Ireland, but the southern coast of this tiny country has been host to some of the Isles' most treasured links since the 19th century. They just haven't had the marketing force of its more trafficked neighbors.

Now, its lesser-known links are ripe for discovery. Wales is small enough (roughly the size of Massachusetts) to experience golf in each corner in a week, but those not willing to travel so much will find their best option for a jam-packed itinerary on Wales' south coast.

"If you want to stick to one location, I think south Wales is the best option for the first visit to play links courses," said Dylan Williams, director of Wales Golf Vacations. "Then maybe come back and look at some courses elsewhere in the country on the subsequent visit."

South Wales Must-Play Golf Courses

Royal Porthcawl: Wales' most prestigious links and home to the 1995 Walker Cup, Royal Porthcawl has everything you ask for in a legendary British Isles links. Its famous first three holes hug the coastline to the left, while the rest of the course plays farther inland. The course is always overlooking the sea, however, creating one of Wales' prettiest golf theatres. Its clustered, menacing pot bunkers are deep and plentiful, and the course routing changes direction frequently, adding enough bite to make it Wales' most famous championship course.

Ashburnham Golf Club: Another 19th century club, Ashburnham has seen a resurgence over the past year and is a must-play to any links aficionado once again. The course lies tucked behind a row of dunes, shielded mostly from the sea, which is only visible from the first and 16th tees. Conditions are tournament ready all year, firm and fast. Golf legend Harry Vardon gave this links high praise, saying "the course I like best in Wales is Ashburnham." Visitors today may sing similar praises.

Ryder Cup Course at Celtic Manor: Critics of the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club in Ireland have pointed to the venue's lack of Irish character.

"If all the Irish had been asked to keep quiet for five minutes, you'd never know you were in Ireland," said Jim Mackenzie, director of Golf at Celtic Manor. "You could have been playing golf on the moon."

Not so at the new Ryder Cup Course at Celtic Manor. It's set inland, like the K Club, but will resemble an inland links more than a target-style parkland and can stretch to over 7,500 yards if needed. The first 14 holes play mostly flat through the valley's lowlands, offering beautiful views of the surrounding green mountains, accented with old stone cottages on the hillsides.

From the 15th in, the course plays carved out of the side of the mountain, which creates a natural amphitheater fit to house more than 50,000 spectators, who will be able to watch the action on the final three holes - which culminate with a dramatic par-5 playing over water to an elevated green - from any spot on the mountainside.

South Wales Golf: Solid Seconds

Pennard Golf Club: One of the most raw links you'll find anywhere in the world, Pennard is a 19th century club that seems to be stuck in time. Animals still find their way onto the course to graze its grasses. Nicknamed "Links in the sky," Pennard sits high above the sea, and the par-5 16th hole brings you up close to the jagged shoreline for one of the most stunning views you'll ever witness on a golf course anywhere. Wales tour operators say their groups either call them raving or cursing Pennard's indisputable uniqueness.

Tenby Golf Club: Wales' oldest accredited golf club, established in 1888, Tenby is another quirky 19th century links that, like Pennard, may be a bit frustrating to first-timers here due to blind shots and thick rough. But it offers enough of those "knock your socks off" moments to warrant a visit. The higher points on the course feature spectacular coastal scenery, spanning across to Caldey Island. The course itself remains a test worthy of some of the country's top amateur tournaments.

Pyle & Kenfig: Located just up the road from Royal Porthcawl, "P & K" lies in the shadows of its older and more famous neighbor. An original H.S. Colt design from 1922, nine holes were destroyed in favor of a World War II army base. After the war, architect Mackenzie Ross restored the course to one of Wales' top links. The course lies not overlooking exposed shoreline like Porthcawl, but tucked within rugged and wild downland.

St. David's City Golf Club - A little nine-holer perched on the southwestern cliffs overlooking Cardigan Bay, St. David's City Golf Club is a bit off the beaten path. But if you find yourself nearby with a few hours to kill on a sunny day, you don't want to miss it. It's only nine holes on eight greens, but the cliff top views here rival the best in the British Isles. (Editor's note: don't confuse this club with Royal St. David's Golf Club on the northern coast).

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. 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. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.

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