Is Royal Portchawl in Wales the British Isles' most underrated championship links?
I’m thumbing through the new Golf Magazine World Top 100 Ranking. I like the world rankings better than the U.S. version, because just about all of the world courses offer at least limited public play, versus the private-heavy American list that only helps to justify why country clubs can demand $100K initiation to new members because of it’s ranking. This also explains why I’ve played so many more top world courses than the American ones.
Of course, we all know these rankings, despite all the mathematical categories involved, aren’t perfect. How do you judge man-made, multi-million dollar marvels like Whistling Straits and Shadow Creek with the same criteria as historic, natural links like Portmarnock and Cruden Bay?
Even so, these rankings are taken incredibly seriously by many golfers and clubs. When I was up at Tullymore Golf Club in Michigan, one of the pros told me about a recent guest who was only playing there because he was driving around America in his RV playing every public course on Golf Digest’s Top 100 list.
The biggest snub on this year’s World List from Golf Magazine I can think of has to be Royal Porthcawl in Wales.
I played it a few weeks back during a tour of Wales’ south coast, and found it to be one of the top links I’ve played in the British Isles and Ireland. Seaside beauty at every turn, deep, penal pot bunkers, solid hole and shot variety, a routing that always changes direction, and a fantastic pint of Pimms in one of the most charming clubhouses around. I loved the long, daunting, 14th and 15th holes. The 18th plays downhill towards the water and it feels like there is no fairway from the tee, you’re simply hitting straight into the sea.
Royal Porthcawl held the 1995 Walker Cup, and add a little distance to it (which they’re doing, most notably the par-5 11th hole, building a new green 40 yards further down) could be considered a British Open venue. I’m serious. Don’t rule it out.
For the mid-handicapping links enthusiast, Royal Porthcawl hits the mark in every category you could ask for in a 19th century championship links: beauty, memorability, variety, playability, difficulty.
So where would I rank Royal Porthcawl?
Among links I’ve played, I’d throw it ahead of Kingsbarns (#61), which is too expensive (£155) and has greens that seem too unnatural, and just behind Lahinch (#54) - and way ahead of Dublin’s Portmarnock (#49), which is always ranked in the Top 50, which I never understand.
Once Wales becomes a more fashionable destination in the coming years, it’s safe to assume the panelists will suddenly wake up and smell the Pimms - and put Royal Porthcawl where it rightfully belongs.
The good news is that since it’s not on the Top 100, fewer golfers are rolling up in their RV or making travel plans to play it. The result for my round was a wide-open links on a sunny, August morning. We saw maybe three other groups during our round, none within several holes of us. That doesn’t happen in the summer at Scotland and Ireland’s top courses.
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1. Wales offers gorgeous, challenging, moderately priced golf courses
2. The cources welcome everyone, even children
3. Wales has more castles per square mile than any place in Europe.
Sounds like a great family vacation. What are z' looney Americans waiting for? The Jolie-Pitts to vacation there first?
B-Tuck, I realize it's all a matter of taste - of course, but some travel "experts" prefer Pennard to Royal Porthcawl. No less an authority than James Finegan calls Pennard one of the best 20 courses in the world. To be fair, he loves RP also. Can't wait to try em both myself!
Pennard has a lot of things going in its favor, but its more of a novelty than a championship links. You wouldn't stage a big tournament on it. The first time you play here you'll be lost - it's the kind of course you need to play 10 times before really knowing what's going on. 20 best in the world? No, but probably one of the 20 most unique. It's definitely worth seeing - truly a one-of-a-kind links.
Sounds like a caddy is in order at Pennard. Quirky is fun if you know where you're going. I really enjoyed Prestwick and North Berwick in Scotland, which are also not your usual tracks.
I hit Nairn, Dornoch and Aberdeen in that cycle and I've heard great things about Brora and Cruden Bay. Seems like a pretty compact trip too, so you won't be stuck in the car too much!