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West end of Aberdovey on A493 adjacent to railway station.
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Herbert Fowler, Harry Colt and James Braid
“If one dare write about Aberdovey at all,” wrote Patric Dickinson in his book, A Round of Golf Courses, “one must begin by letting Bernard Darwin through on the way to the first tee. For this links is ‘his’, and it is all and more than one would expect from a writer and golfer of such style; for it is both a ‘classical’ and ‘romantic’ links.”
Aberdovey Golf Club is set enchantingly within the Snowdonia National Park at the mouth of the Dovey Estuary, and the links are wedged between the Cambrian Mountain range and the shore.
“I can just faintly remember the beginning of golf at Aberdovey in the early eighties,” wrote Darwin in his 1910-book The Golf Courses of the British Isles. “Already rival legends have clustered round that beginning, but the true legend says that the founder was Colonel Ruck, who, having played some golf at Formby, borrowed nine flower pots from a lady in the village and cut nine holes in the marsh to put them in.” A great deal has changed since then and the hands of many great architects have touched Aberdovey: Herbert Fowler, Harry Colt and James Braid. It is not surprising that it is such a revered links.
Despite its old age, Aberdovey is no shorty, measuring over 6,700 yards from the new "Darwin" back tees. It will test, and has tested, the very best golfers, playing host to a number of amateur championships over the years and it was here as a youngster, that Ian Woosnam developed his craft. It isn’t the hardest links course in the British Isles by any stretch of the imagination, but when the wind blows, it can throw the ball off line and into the punishing rough. Only the skilful will score well.
There is so much history at Aberdovey that you cannot help but fall in love with the place. Running alongside this classic out-and-back links is the railway line, reminding us of the days when the trains were full of travelling golfers. Darwin’s short story entitled “Aberdovey” tells an enchanting, romantic and amusing tale about his many pilgrimages to this Welsh links and how he used to love writing down the names of the stations as they passed by. Or as Patric Dickinson said: “A round at Aberdovey is always a brave and gay adventure, whatever the wind’s quarter.”
A dilemma: to go back to Aberdovey and try it again or to file it away in the drawer marked 'did I miss something?'
The ranking last year of the course (here on top100) not to mention the aerial photographs of the club website marked Aberdovey as a 'must play' along with Conwy and Royal St David's on a Welsh sojurn last summer. But I have to report that I was left with a sense of under-whelming sadness that the course didn't match the hype.
Don't get me wrong it's a good course but it's not a Top100 UK course. Firstly, as others have said it's disappointing that the dunes get in the way of the vista that is Cardigan Bay; RSD is similar in that respect but at Harlech there's more of an interesting routing and changes in elevation to enliven matters. Aberdovey started promisingly enough, however, with a tight opening hole and I have no grouse with the blind par 3 3rd hole. The 4th was a decent enough drive and short iron requiring a strategic approach off the tee but after that things went in to something of a hiatus. The par 3 5th seemed like an afterthought, squeezed in, whilst requiring a dash across the shared 15th fairway to avoid other players, was where things went askew. The stretch from there through to the 11th was bland and featureless and the re-built 12th hole, the signature par 3 was a disappointment of monumental proportions; a wedge to a raised green was the shot but the green was roped-off with trolleys disallowed within 50 yards of the putting surface. Both myself and partner found the green with our tee-shots but anyone missing with their tee-shot would have to encounter a guess, from the distance of the parked-up trolley, of how best to play one's second shot and that cannot be what top-class links golf is about. The 13th and 14th both required full-blooded long irons for second shots on holes that seemed almost carbon copies of each other as they ran in a southward line across similar terrain with no change in elevation towards the previously mentioned 15th.
And so my dilemma remains: did I miss something at Aberdovey, something that other reviewers captured and held close or are others rather too generous in their comments because of the Bernard Darwin connection? I'd rate it no more than a 4-ball on the scale and I rather think I'm being a tad generous, Darwin or no Darwin. I shot 72 on the day and my partner holed from 30 feet on the last to half the match and yet we were both left with a feeling of disappointment and emptiness about the course.
For me the tale of Aberdovey rests on two distinct parts -- the outward nine and the inward side. The former is fairly pedestrian with just a moment or two of compelling architecture while the inward half is stellar stuff.
The front nine provides only a bit of fascinating terrain as the return side and the strategic options encountered as you make your long way home for the conclusion are much more rigorous and diversified.
I only wish the club could receive permission to place championship tee boxes on the holes nearest to the sea. The view from the top as one drives back toward the sliver of fairways would be a real top tier experience. I was informed that that option would not be permitted because of environmental regulations dealing with the dunes areas abutting the course.
In my singular time at Aberdovey the weather was fine from a temperature standpoint and the wind did have its moments when blowing at a 2-3 level. It would be interesting to see the course when the wind does pick up the pace.
The trio of par-4's to conclude the round are all memorable. The short 16th starts with a tee box nearly on the adjoining rail line. The hole begs the player to take the bait and gamble with the boldest of plays. Pity those who fail to execute because the punishment is ever swift and certain.
The par-4 17th is a gem of a hole. The more left you go the better the approach angle but a pesky channel is ever ready to snare your pellet. The concluding hole is a grand closer. The hole again features the same channel down the left side and the approach is protected admirably by out-of-bounds that is literally just a step or so off the green for those missing left. Likely those who do can just as quickly head to the 19th hole and wash their sorrows away.
Aberdovey would gain a good bit with an updating -- especially on the outward side. I enjoyed the course but to be among the best of links the experience must be more uniform in its purpose – not just shine brightly for only half of the time. One final thing -- what a joy it is to ride the rail line to the course and have only a handful of steps to enter the property.
by M. James Ward
Excellent review, and i think a realistic rating rather than sentimental.
Rather like Royal St David's, the lack of interaction with the dunes (for whatever reason) leaves one wondering "what if ?"
I'm not sure I can add much to the conversation on this whole place.
Amazing, classic links ... lovely clubhouse ... picturesque setting ... fantastic accommodation ... postcard town ... welcoming, friendly staff ... running links ... true greens ... strategy abounds ... the running game is rewarded ... unkempt bunkers ... the list is endless.
The best statement I can say is 'just go'! Finding out for yourself is the real pleasure here rather than reading a review from someone gloating or being pompous because they may have played somewhere that is more exclusive or because they have either paid more or have read more. This is THE best quality and value in the world ... end of (or 'period' if you're American)
We played this course four times with the variety of weather which one can get in Wales-wind, rain and sunshine. Deserves the ranking of # 3 in Wales and 64 in the Br & I - true links traditional nine out and nine back with a figure eight starting on the fifth a 200 yard par three which means the golfer must quickly adjust to the prevailing wind. Great par fives on the back nine 13th which is index 1 and 15th index 7 . A bit tight on the second and 17th so when you read the notice on these holes you get a hint where to go. Notwithstanding the third hole a par three being blind (can’t see much pleasure in a blind hole) this is a fine track. A bit off the beaten track in west Wales but worth the visit.
My round at Aberdovey was played in possibly the worst weather conditions that this golf course reviewer has ever experienced on a golf course.
Persistent rain from daybreak and a forecast that showed it was set in for the day meant it certainly wasn’t a morning for playing golf.
The bad weather had deterred even the most ardent of members and meant that we were the only souls on the entire course, once another two-ball had retreated to the warmth of the clubhouse after just half a dozen holes. Even the sheep that freely roam this classic links had disappeared to take shelter. Indeed the rain became so heavy that by the time we had finished our round club officials had closed the course for the day.
For the best part of four hours I had been totally drenched, was freezing cold and soaked to the bone… but I had loved every minute of it!
Despite the driving rain and darkened sky I can vividly remember each and every hole at Aberdovey. It’s not only a testament to the individual holes but the way they come together to create a unique and timeless links.
The out and back routing, flanked by large dunes on one side and hemmed in by the railway line and Snowdonia on the other, exudes feelings of a bygone era yet the course still remains a challenge to the modern golfer.
A round of golf here is a wonderful and enchanting experience in a remote location but not one you should savour only once. This is a place you will want to return to time after time. For those considering a pilgrimage to Aberdovey I would urge them to make it as soon as they can. You will struggle to find better value and with Dormy House accommodation available it is a perfect base to build a trip to the West Coast of Wales around.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Played in April 2017. Some golf courses have a great feel about them, and Aberdovey is certainly one of them. A traditional out and back links with a good variety of holes and a real sense of history about the place. Green fee was exceptional value at £36 and came with a friendly welcome in the pro-shop. Contrary to the rankings I'd give Aberdovey the edge over its neighbour up the coast, Royal St Davids, but both are worth a visit for anyone in the area.
Fortunate to play in glorious sunshine and medium wind, which always help. Out of the way location but brilliant sense of isolation which added to the pure golf experience which was memorable. The front 9 is laid on flatter links land and a really good test of golf. Standout holes were 1, 4, 7 and 9. Back 9 is nearer the coast and more in the dunes. The stretch from 11 to 14 is wonderful. Great finish of 16, 17 & 18. In summary, a really good golf course with some holes that are high quality.
Wow ... wow ... and wow !
All I will say is that this is among the best courses I have ever played in the world and is the best value for money I have ever experienced.
No review can do this course justice, it is the most naturally laid out course I have played anywhere. Literally, cut some grass here and there for tees and greens.
As a Bernard Darwin fan I have long wanted to play Aberdovey, and had been unable to do so on previous occasions due to comps etc. We played this afternoon in still, warm conditions. The review by DS a few down the list pretty much sums up our feelings. Fantastic condition with very true and consistent greens, repairs ongoing on 12th, best holes at start and end, and contrary to rumour a very friendly club. If the course had more varied challenges it would be a five, but it feels like a strong four and I will definitely return when the work used complete, there is more wind and I have time to read in the Bernard Darwin room.