We’ve traveled throughout Ireland, Scotland, and England in search of links golf, after all there’s only 250 +/- of them in the world, and most of them lie along the coastlines of the British Isles. We’ve been discouraged over the years by our friends in the UK from venturing into Wales, but thought it may have been a bit of a bias. Turning the tables, I doubt that I would refer my friends from the UK to visit West Virginia on their rare visits to the US, not that there’s anything wrong with West Virginia.
After arriving at Heathrow, we made the 3 hour drive west into Wales to Pennard, a mere 1 1/2 hours west of Bristol. Pennard sits on the Gower Peninsula, which was designated Britain’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1956. In a stunning setting just west of Swansea overlooking the Pill River Valley, Oxwich and Three Cliffs Bays on the Bristol Channel.
Golf has been played at Pennard since 1896, but it wasn’t until James Braid undertook design work in 1908 that the present layout began to take shape. Over the ensuing years, the likes of C.K. Cotton, Fred G. Hawtree, and Donald Steel had a hand in modifying the layout, it’s been acknowledged that even Harry Colt was engaged, but his recommended changes were never implemented.
The golf course is routed over very classic links land that is full of humps, hollows, and rippling fairways, but unlike most links courses, it’s not down by the sea, but elevated some 150 feet above the beach, ergo “Links in the Sky”. It’s a short, sometimes quirky course at 6,100+ yards, not of the championship caliber of nearby Royal Portrush, but a fun and very playable course, unless the wind is up.
We were met by Mike Bennett, the head professional at Pennard for years, an affable Welshman, who shared stories and jokes with us before we got off. We learned in advance that he was an NFL and San Francisco 49rs fan, and so we brought a Chicago Bears golf shirt as a gift to him, he was kind enough to reciprocate in kind with a Pennard Hat.
The opening three holes are played furthest from the sea but then winds back along the ridge line for some spectacular views and holes especially on the back nine. We turned home to the stout par 4 finishing hole to find on approach to the green a massive dairy cow that had elected to take a snooze right at the greens opening, so we employed our aerial games, which had been dormant since we left the US.
All in all a delightful experience, the course great fun and very challenging, and quirky in the way most links courses are. Conditions were excellent, we played in 4 hours, the clubhouse welcoming with a traditional Wales menu for lunch, and the professional’s shop well stocked.
If you’re in the southern Wales area to play Celtic Manor, Porthcawl, be sure to take the drive out to Pennard, you won’t be disappointed.