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|Royal Porthcawl Golf Club has made Wales' south coast a must-visit golf destination. (Brandon Tucker/TravelGolf)|
For the people of Wales, it seemed like 2010 would never get here.
But the Ryder Cup Matches are right around the corner, with the chance for Wales to showcase itself on its largest stage to date.
Since the Celtic Manor Resort was announced as the host of this fall's Ryder Cup, the country has spared no expense in preparation of maximizing its weekend in the spotlight. This effort has also included reaching out to the country's many golf courses, attractions and hotels in hopes of elevating tourism.
And they've responded.
"There's no doubt Wales is a much stronger destination," said Marty Carr, who operates Ireland-based Carr Golf Travel. "The golf clubs have become more open [to visitors] as well."
Wales will certainly be putting its best foot forward when the Ryder Cup comes to Celtic Manor Resort, and it just might be enough to convince you to pass up your next golf trip to Scotland or Ireland in favor of Wales.
The last time the eyes of the international golf world were on Wales, it was the 1995 Walker Cup Matches at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, about 30 minutes from Celtic Manor Resort. Anyone in Wales will gladly remind you what happened to Tiger Woods in Saturday singles, when Britain's Gary Wolstenholme defeated him en route to a 14-and-10 victory for Great Britain & Ireland.
Royal Porthcawl is the top medal links in Wales by a pretty substantial margin. Stacked up against any traditional links in Scotland or England, Royal Porthcawl holds its own, with severe pot bunkers and slick greens that will make the more careless golfer look really bad on a few occasions. Sea views are at every turn, including the opening stretch of three holes along the coast, and the clubhouse is one of Britain's great 19th holes.
Beyond Royal Porthcawl, Wales' roster of great links doesn't run as deep as its neighbors. Carr says combining Wales with other nearby destinations is the way to make the best of your golf vacation.
"There's a great opportunity to do England's Lancashire coast and Wales," Carr said. "We would be selling it as a combination trip with England. Wales would be three to four days of a longer seven- or eight-day trip."
This tour would include the British Open-worthy venues of Kent, including Royal Birkdale, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham & St. Annes -- all regular stops on the modern Open rotation and within 30 miles of one another.
Also, by flying into London, you can visit both Wales' south coast and the links to the south of London in Kent, including 2011 Open host Royal St. George's, and former Open host Royal Cinque Ports.
Wales can't match its neighboring countries with medal courses, but it can rival anywhere in terms of memorable, must-see-to-believe plays.
Often called a "Poor man's Old Head or Pebble Beach", Nefyn & District Golf Club on the north coast has become the poster child for Wales golf, thanks to its incredible location set high on a promontory. Many holes hug cliffs well above the raging sea, while a few other holes are downright ridiculous. But between the views from each of the golf course's 26 holes (yes, a rare 26-hole layout) and the Ty Coch Pub (a must stop after playing the promontory holes), it's a surefire must play.
The other north coast must play is Royal St. David's Golf Club, a more traditional, low-lying links test beneath the Harlech Castle. But one other sleeper pick is on the Isle of Anglesey: Bull Bay Golf Club. It's a Herbert Fowler-designed heathland overlooking the sea and has some tremendous holes, including a splendid finish.
Other links in the north have flashes of brilliance. Porthmadog Golf Club has about six phenomenal links holes, while the rest are farther inland off the dunes. In Conwy, North Wales Golf Club features two back-to-back par 3s that are among the best links short holes I've come across, while the rest of the golf course is a simple, local friendly play.
The south coast of Wales has more options beyond Celtic Manor Resort and Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, such as nearby Pyle & Kenfig Golf Club and Southerndown Golf Club. To the west, Pennard Golf Club is a must-see-to-believe links with some of the most unique holes in the United Kingdom. It's nicknamed "links in the sky" for its setting well atop Three Cliffs Bay, but the bounces on these firm, severely undulating fairways may very well drive you mad. On some holes, it's practically impossible to guess which way your ball kicked.
It brings you back to the old days of golf, when it was more of an expedition and a game of fortuitous breaks. It will leave you breathless, as the views are perhaps a runner-up only to Nefyn & District Golf Club.
I'm not sure I'd be a member at Pennard Golf Club and play here every week, but there aren't many courses in the world I'm more thankful to have experienced.
September 20, 2010
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.
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