To keep up with Scotland and Ireland, Wales needs some new links golf courses
With the 2010 Ryder Cup fading from the headlines, the big question among travel and golf industry experts is whether the 2010 surge in exposure for Wales will result in an sustained increase in visitors and more specifically golf tourism.
I’ve spent about the same amount of time in Wales as I have in Scotland and Ireland. Based on what I’ve seen, it’s potential can still be unlocked.
Southern Wales has a collection of traditional, must-play links like Royal Porthcawl, Pennard, Southerndown and Pyle & Kenfig. After that, the region is overdue for a booster shot. Virtually nothing new has been built on the dunes, where golf is greatest, in many decades.
Further inland, Celtic Manor Resort’s three 18-hole courses are worth considering in an itinerary to Wales if you’re not dead set on links, but it’s probably not enough to get someone from America to book an overseas flight.
Scotland and Ireland are full of 19th century links clubs, but have also added to their rosters with modern, but traditionally-inspired courses. You could go to St. Andrews and not play a single course older than a decade and come away with a world class golf experience, thanks to Kingsbarns, the St. Andrews Castle Course, Fairmont St. Andrews’ Torrance course and Kittocks course, as well as Kohler’s Duke’s Course a mile inland.
Southwest Ireland is one of the most popular links tours thanks to 19th century gems Ballybunion and Lahinch, but the tour wouldn’t have the same appeal if it weren’t for Doonbeg, Old Head, and Tralee - all more modern additions.
Scotland’s Machrinahish now welcomes Machrihanish Dunes next door. In the Highlands, Royal Dornoch has a new neighbor everyone is raving about: Castle Stuart. Between Royal Aberdeen and Cruden Bay, it seems Scotland officials are doing everything they can to keep Donald Trump’s proposed golf resort up and moving, despite some local outcry.
Wales certainly has some coastal sites that would make for dynamite links as good as what Trump is building, or Doonbeg or Machrihanish Dunes. At Southerndown, a links high up on a limestone bluff, you can look down towards the Ogmore Estuary and see several hundred acres of magnificent, untouched dunesland. Nearby, there is another seaside piece of dunes land near a big factory off the M-4 near Porthcawl that would have an industrious vibe, but the dunes are second to none. New linksland has been formed on the coast at Royal St. David’s, but as the dunes collect over time, it’s made property of the state - not the golf club, so they can’t build in them.
Tourist officials have scouted sights like these as potential sites for new courses, and rumor has it even several golf course architects have visited some locations and licked their chops. But officials I spoke with seem resigned to the fact that environmental headwinds, plus the current economic climate will keep anything from being built for quite some time.
What I find ironic is that golf was founded on seaside dunes, mostly because the sandy terrain was deemed virtually useless by kings and local governments.
Now, the same kind of land is near-untouchable and very difficult to lay a finger on in many parts of the U.K.
As we all know, money talks, so it will be interesting to see if new investment money comes in the next few years and it’s enough to break ground on Wales’ next big links course. It’s practically a century in the making.
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It is a great and inspiring resources for lovers of links golf. To put Wales in perspective, here are the number of "true links" (see book for their definition) courses: Wales 15, England 53, Ireland 58, and Scotland 84. From a golf trip planning point of view, combining England and Wales makes a lot of sense and from that standpoint their combined 68 true links courses surpasses even Ireland!