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This blog gives a review about a number of golf courses in north Wales. In June 2019, I was one of five Germans that decided to follow the idea of a golf nut, Dirk, and spend nearly two weeks exploring the links courses on the Irish sea.
Wales, England’s nasty little brother is a little smaller than Scotland (1/4 of the size) and known for its rugged coastline. The country was once fully covered by an ice sheet and numerous glaciers. Today, with a 1200 km long coastline, the chances are very high to find yourself a links course. There are 200 golf courses in Wales and a lot of these are on the coast.
It’s hard to believe just how undervalued this unique region is. Particularly among (German) golfers and travel agencies around continental Europe.
A Perfect Base for a Trip to North Wales
Wales is quite small and the roads very narrow. However, distances are a bit too far to drive if you want to see the whole country in less than two weeks. So we decided to focus on golf courses in north Wales. The decision on where to stay fell to the city of Caernarfon. It lies along the A487 road, on the eastern shore of the Menai Strait and opposite the Isle of Anglesey. Caernarfon is the unofficial capital of north Wales. The town dates back to a Roman fort from the 1st century AD, still explorable. The center of the town is dominated by one of Britain’s best-known historic fortresses – the mighty Caernarfon Castle. The city also offers a large variety of pubs and restaurants and is worth exploring on foot (even after a long day of golf).
There are several Airbnb’s in the area, as well as some lovely hotels. However, with a hobby cook in our group, we decided to share a house. 6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a kitchen and dining room all for us, and just outside the town too.
Planning the Trip
Dirk, who once lived and worked at the borders of Wales, shared all of his knowledge and experiences. We were also very lucky to gain a lot of additional help from an English/German/Welsh speaking pro from the wonderful Caernarfon Golf Club; Aled Owen.
We handed over our wish list to him in advance. In turn, we received feedback on the whole region, recommendations and finally a full tour program of which golf courses in North Wales to play and when. This also included an amazing discount in comparison to our German experiences. On this list, there were courses that we had no idea about before. I would be more than happy to share it with you.
By the way, Aled offered to share his knowledge to other golfers too:
Aled Owen (PGA Professional)
Royal Town of Caernarfon Golf ClubTel : 01286 678359 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org,
Getting There and Getting to Play the Golf Courses in North Wales
From Frankfurt to Manchester it is only a 99 minute flight and you also gain some time due to the change of time zone. We landed around 10:30 am and rented a van at the airport. It takes less than two hours to get to Caernarfon while driving along the coast of north Wales.
Coming directly from Manchester, you will pass by Prestatyn Golf Club on your way to Caernarfon. However, we decided to take the scenic route along the Irish Sea the first day and start our links experience at Prestatyn on day two. We stopped in Bangor and took the chance to buy all of the necessary golf equipment (mostly balls) and food for the first day. With our pockets full of golf balls and our trunk full of food and beer. We soon arrived in Caernarfon to say hello to Aled.
Day 2: Home of the Welsh Amateur Open in 2019, the 6246 yards, PAR 72 course, is a true links experience. Protected by the huge sand dunes all along the course, its design is easy and efficient. The first 3 holes are into the headwind with the next 5 holes with the tailwind. Then repeat!
Some crosswinds on the Par 3 and many, many natural bunkers. The greens are varying in size and very fast! The ninth hole is quite tricky though. It is surrounded by a watercourse and almost like an island green, however, it is safe to play your approach too long. Holes 10 through 14 are particularly high standard with the final eight being more rugged in nature. The quality of turf is much finer, like walking on a carpet. Fairways are narrow but undulating and a rail track runs the length of the course to give you a true links experience. The 16th green is a final challenge as it sits on top of a little hill plateau, protected by bunkers.
A Great Start
Prestatyn is the perfect beginning to a links experience. Unfortunately, the club houses at most Welsh golf courses have few opening hours during the week. They are mostly built in the mid-to-late 20th century and no architect ever will win a prize for the ugly brick walls. The showers and locker rooms are small and simple. We were happy to leave for a beer to one of Caernarfon’s great pubs after a day in wind and rain. I recommend the Black Boy Inn for dinner and the Harbour Table Table for breakfast.
Day 3: Anglesey Golf Club was, no doubt, the biggest surprise to all of us and a true hidden gem. We heard about this thanks to Aled, it wasn’t on our original wish list.
Another 80 minute drive took us onto the Island of Anglesey and into Rhosneigr. To my surprise, this unique course is not listed by the Links Association as a ‘True Links Course’. However, you will find all of the typical links challenges at Anglesey for very little money. Undulating fairways and small greens, view-blocking dunes and wind-deformed crippled fir. You’ll also get a hard/sandy soil with water-absorbing grass/moss mixture. This unique turf, gives you the ability to play after the heaviest rainfall. Blind shots, changing winds from the nearby Irish Sea and a few natural bunkers are evident. In addition, there are the “special moving obstacles” – the sheep!
The course is not so demanding, but there are some special features. For example, the fairways are constantly pointing in different directions and thus, exposed to different wind directions. Doglegs in combination with narrow fairways request very accurate play and the rough, whether long grass or crippled pine accumulations, does not allow for any free ball. A few blind shots will demand your self-confidence. The small greens are of medium speed, but undulating to make the short second putts more challenging. The place offers great potential but unfortunately the maintenance was only average.
Just to test you a little more, the many (hidden) rabbit holes offer a danger to all golfers.
Overall however, the course has a breathtaking natural beauty and it is a real pleasure to play there. There is a railway track running alongside the golf course and another special feature is the nearby runway of the Royal Air Force Station. We had a clear view of an A4 Skyhawk, S-Tucano and Eurocopter Jupiter taking off! The clubhouse is simple. There’s a small bar and – of course – very limited opening hours. The price of £15 is great. Absolutely worthwhile!
Day 4: It took us one hour via Porthmadog to get to Royal St David’s Golf Club at Harlech, just a stones throw below the castle. This course is less challenging, however, under certain circumstances the dunes channel the wind. We had to play in these strong winds as well as some heavy rain. very little bunkers protect the greens. The fairways are mostly wide and nearly no dogleg, while all are mostly flat and easy with not so much undulation (except 1 and 3). The first four holes are an easy warm up. Then the distances from tee box to fairway get longer, and you must hit the ball hard while doing your best to avoid a slice. No two fairways point in the same direction and your club selection is very important, especially if it’s a steady wind.
The ‘IN’ is a little harder to play than the ‘OUT’. Unfortunately the dunes mostly limit the view, and it is only at 16 that you’ll see the Irish Sea. The castle on the other side however, can be seen from all holes. Regrettably you won’t play through the dunes, but you do get a little closer towards the end of 15/16. The course is not so typical for a links as most of the fairways are only a little undulated and you can easily identify a good landing zone for your next stroke.
There’s Better Out There
Overall, things could be done better. Missing indications, a lack of trash cans, tee boxes not well kept, no ball washing devices and in the driving range and training area; everything is too simple and not done with any passion. You pay for Miura but it’s a Wilson staff you get. Even after a nice day it’s not really worth the money in my opinion. There are more exciting golf courses around the north of Wales.
Day 5: It has been the pictures of Nefyn & District Golf Club that first got me interested in Wales back in 2017. The experience did not disappoint! It is undoubtedly one of the finest golf courses that North Wales has to offer.
The area is as scenic, challenging and picturesque as it looks in the photos. A must play course! Nefyn old course (9 holes) – combined with the holes 1 – 9 of the new 18 hole course is an absolute joy for the eye and a feasible challenge for the mid-level player. There is a simple and narrow driving range just off the clubhouse with a ball machine, and some covered tees. In front of the putting green there is also a handy little pro-shop. Take your time to warm up though as it’s gonna be cold on the course!
All 27 holes are in an exposed position and the wind whistles over the course for 5 out of the 7 days. This can cut or extend your drive by 60% depending, but in any case it cools the player down after a shot just as quickly! Fairways 1 – 9 of the new course are mostly along the coastline to the south, then lead back in. In some cases they offer good vantage points. The wide fairways are quite forgiving if you happen to miscalculate the wind and the vast greens make it easier to play “Green in Regulation”. However with strong headwinds, holes 2, 3 and 4 get very long and the transverse running 4 requires a full swing long iron.
A Challenging Back Nine
The ‘IN’ track of the old course demands all of your skill! The 10th green sits high on the dunes and requires a blind shot to a minimum of 60 m. The routing then naturally follows the promontory, high on the cliff. Between the pots, you play dunes and punishing rough in severe winds, for several holes out to the ‘Lands End’ watchtower. The par 3, with the tee high on the tower, enriches the view and requires a good sense as it’s downhill and in the wind.
One of the nicest things about the golf course is the Ty Coch Inn, a beachside pub. After you’ve played the par 4, 15th, you can walk down to the beach and have a nice pint. You can then come up and play the last three holes.
After an exhausting par 5, (17th) you have to play the 18th uphill – under the watchful eyes of many pedestrians and clubhouse visitors (golfers only!). It requires a finish with pinpoint accuracy as a ball hit too long, can go into the window panes of the clubhouse.
The clubhouse offers a small menu, a nice bar with a terrace and a window front with great views of the 18th green. This is backed by the striking cliff guidance of the old course.
Nefyn District GC is not a links course but offers many features of one and is a special experience. The place was – as always – well maintained and the long journey and the green fee of £ 60 well worth it!
Day 6: We began by heading south again, about 30min down the A487 to the beautiful seaside village of Porthmadog. The home of the eponymous Porthmadog Golf Club.
This 18 hole PAR 71 Master Course is 5992 yards in length and is very special. The club offers both a parkland course and a true links course. And after some renovation work in 2018, it got even better than before. The ‘OUT’ is good for warming up and runs mostly through a parkland area, parallel to the beach. It is protected by the woods and many bushes with an Island green as it ́s highlight.
The ‘IN’ is an estuary at the northernmost point of Cardigan Bay which leads to a high, often superior dune! Tees 11-16 are good fun. They require strategy and a dose of luck to find the small landing zones. The greens are either exposed at the top of the dunes – in the wind, or tightly enclosed between the dunes and partially visible.
Finally, long fairways on 17 and 18 guide the golfer out of the dunes and concludes at the clubhouse. The positive changes in the past year have also made the first nine holes much more attractive. The island green on 6, as well as the elevated green area on 8 are particularly outstanding.
Porthmadog is one of the few golf courses in this area of North Wales to provide a driving range, a pitching area and multiple driving nets as well as sufficient putting greens in good condition. The clubhouse is very traditional, with a small menu and a good selection of drinks. Buggies and E-trolleys are also available. I would certainly like to play this well maintained yet very natural course again and again!
Day 7: Following the rule “one day up, one day down” we went north again on day 7. This time to Anglesey Island to play Bull Bay cliff top course. Bull Bay Golf Course is an 18 hole PAR 70 Master Course and 5991 yards in length. The course is located on the northernmost tip of the island of Anglesey at the St. George Canal, surrounded by the Irish Sea. Immediately before Porth Llechog, the access is well signposted.
The way from the mainland is long, but worth it in any case. It has a magnificent view over the sea to Ireland. It’s location offers all the typical features and the special challenges of a links course too. However, the ground is mostly rocky with much less sand. Undulated fairways, a few dunes but lots of rocks and bunkers. It is open and exposed to the wind with no tree cover and the greens are fast. There are fairway intersections at both 5 & 6 and 7 & 8, but these are very clearly marked and warning bells are attached to the few blind shots (e.g. 7). An additional challenge arises from the height differences. So the first green, for example is significantly higher, sitting on a rocky plateau – target golf!
Great Views, Tough Course!
Bull Bay requires a high level of skill. The place is full of ups and downs, the fairways are undulated and a few small sewage trenches provide additional terrain challenges. The greens vary in size, depending on the terrain. They are very fast, well sanded and absolutely consistent, the bunkers always filled and the fairways in proper condition. However the training facilities are hidden and are quite small.
There are ugly little concrete shelters everywhere in case of lightning or bad weather. The clubhouse is pretty unremarkable except for the fact that hole 18 ends just below the terrace. This offers a great view over the course and the Irish Sea.
Day 8: We had to go 70 miles to the south to play Borth & Ynyslas. Established in 1885, it claims to be the oldest golf course in Wales. South of the mouth of the River Dyfi you are no longer in North Wales but we couldn’t pass up one the oldest golf courses!
Borth & Ynyslas is a good place to get in touch with “the links experience”. It is not demanding and quiet cheap using the Golfhäftet Card. It’s traditional routing seems to have been left unchanged for more than 100 years. You will find signs saying ‘hlinc’ everywhere (‘links’), and yes, B&Y is listed in the Links Association. It is a Par 70, 5717 yard, and an easy course – in my opinion. The fairways are mostly flat but the greens are very small. The dunes all around do not block the view and protect from the wind. There are no trees and this unique turf is again like walking on a carpet. The distance from tee box to fairway entry is challenging, even from yellow!
To make it harder, there is a little path with tourist traffic parallel to the course. The layout has 9 holes to the north and 9 holes facing south. The fairways are really narrow and it might appear front and back are overlapping. Sometimes pedestrians cross the fairway going to the beach, which is to the west. Unsurprisingly, there is a railway track running parallel to the whole course.
Unfortunately the course’s maintenance is below average and the thousands of rabbit holes endanger anyone who walks the course. The greens are slow and former holes are clearly visible. The course is not signposted at all while markers are less than visible. The wind and seagulls may have distributed some trash that lays in small piles. These are visible all around the course which slightly minimises its beauty.
Trolleys are available but not in great condition. There is no training area, no pitching green and the driving net needs to be replaced. A small putting green next to the 1st tee is available. A short game Par 3 Course is also available if you fancy it.
At the same time, this place looks especially natural and you can feel the 135 years of golfing history. We also had the pleasure of meeting the friendliest and most helpful staff of all the courses.
Borth & Ynyslas – a course full of golfing stories. Not a must play course but very enjoyable all the same.
Day 10: North Wales Golf Club is one of four links courses at the mouth of the river Conwy. This river encloses the peninsula of Gogarth from the south and it’s only a 30 min drive from Caernarfon. The famous seaside resort and tourism center Llandudno, is just around the corner. We had planned a longer stay after playing the 18 holes to run along the famous pier.
However, the weather got so bad I couldn’t stand it any longer and we decided to take a day off. Hence, I missed this course. This will always be a good reason to come back to Wales for a third time. And by the way, the other courses around Llandudno are very picturesque, too.
Day 11: The British Links association has rated Clwb Golff Pwllheli as No. 91 among the top 100 links. In fact it’s a 5881 yards, PAR 69 links AND Parkland course. It is located between some Parkland area and the dunes at Cardigan Bay, some 600 meters west of Pwllheli town. The driveway was a little difficult to find due to some missing street signs.
Starting as real links with 9 holes only, it was later extended to 18 holes. Fairway 1 – 7 take the course through bushes and woods. The routing is poor however, somehow boring and often just parallels. Easy to identify drainage ditches are the only obstacles to be wary of. There are very few bunkers and the ‘OUT’ is quite easy to play. There is a change at tee box 8 though and the course begins to run parallel to the main dune. This gives an outstanding view over Cardigan Bay and results in a fight with the wind at each raised tee box. Naturally finished fairways and dunes and far more bunkers pose challenges. However, the natural vegetation cover is easy with a few fields of broom but no trees.
A Stunted Pearl
On the whole course you will find only one bothy at the very far end. Signposting is easy and you shouldn’t get lost on that easy routing. The training area is poor, very short driving range next to 18 with no balls and one putting green only. The clubhouse is in the best beach location, with a perfect balcony view. The staff (Pro, Management and Bar) are so friendly and some of the most accommodating I have ever experienced. A family welcome for all strangers. Really great!
Clwb Golff Pwllheli is certainly a true links but not a challenge at all. It is a stunted pearl among the true links of Wales and not really worth its own, unfortunately.
The Final Day
Day 12: A discussion took place on whether to play on our last day. All the way back through the north of Wales toward Manchester, we would pass by several links golf courses such as Rhos-on-Sea Golf Club, Conwy Golf Club and Maesdu Golf Club. However, the fatigue, exhaustion and bad weather won out.
For all of us it was clear though, that this will not end our efforts to explore the Welsh links courses. There are much more to discover all around the long, wind-beaten coastline of the Irish Sea. Wales is worth an even longer golf vacation for sure!
Finally, it wouldn’t be fair to write about these links without mentioning our first day on Caernarfon golf course. It is not a links course, but it was the very first one we played and it was thoroughly enjoyed too!
Day 1: Caernarfon Golf Club is an 18 hole PAR 69 Master Course with 5746 yards in length. The course is located at the top of Menai Street on the St. George Canal. The area is framed by the Colwyn and Seiont Rivers. You have a magnificent view over the Irish Sea to the Isle of Anglesey to the west and to the Snowdonia Mountains to the south-east. A great panorama!
While the first four holes are a little boring they are nice to warm up. The course becomes more challenging and interesting with each hole. Overall, the place has a simple routing and layout with many fairways running parallel to each other. Some doglegs were installed (6, 9, 11, 14, and 16), but thankfully no blind tee off shots and only one blind approach. Danger spots don’t really arise despite the narrowness. The course is on a slope and yet the player always has a safe and balanced stand. The fairways are fairly even too.
Hedges, bush plantations and slate stone walls separate the fairways from each other with small sewage trenches providing sufficient terrain cut. You have a very nice view from the 10th green and 14th tee. We were lucky with the weather and an afternoon round creates significantly better lighting conditions.
A Round to Remember
The location is a true place of rest, magnificent views of the mountains, across the sea and no traffic noise whatsoever. The Pro (Aled) is remarkable, helpful and friendly. Due to his many years in Hamburg, he speaks fluent German which was an extra bonus. The members are very involved in the current development of the course and deserve great respect. The recognizable expansion and conversion measures will have a positive effect on the overall picture within the near future.
An Enjoyable Experience!
Enjoy the game,