Tenby Golf Club (established in 1888) may officially be regarded as the oldest club in Wales but that’s not the case at Borth & Ynyslas where the club protest that they pre-date their Welsh cousins by three years – even though no officially recognised document has ever been produced to substantiate their assertion!
Regardless of its exact date of existence, this Grand Old Lady has been described by one commentator as “a great but often ignored Welsh masterpiece” which is as good a claim to golfing fame as any in our book.
Lying just north of Aberystwyth, on the other side of the Dovey estuary from the more renowned Aberdovey course, the old-fashioned links at Borth & Ynyslas was modified by Harry Colt in 1945 and the great architect’s subtle design touches have been retained.
The length of the course is just over 6,100 yards (for a par of 70) and only two of its par four holes are in excess of 400 yards long so getting to the green in two shots should be no problem. The five par three holes are a difficult proposition though as they all measure at least 170 yards from the medal tees. And if the Borth Breeze blows… well, be prepared for a torrid time here!
We played Borth in early October as we were in the area, plus we are trying to play as many Harry Colt designs as we can. The early holes were featureless, this in itself made them difficult. Once in the dunes at the end of the course things improved and there were 5/6 really good links holes.
Unfortunately when we played the course condition was not good at all. The fairways in particular were very heavy and had poor grass covering.
As we arrived at the course we were greeted by a friendly member who chatted to us about our previous day's golf at Aberdovey, upon which they declared "oh this is a much better course" - as lovely as that member was, I'm afraid they can only be described as delusional.
Borth is bonkers. Its memorable to be fair, but mainly because its so odd. The second is near unplayable in the wrong conditions, there is a reachable par 5 which you cant reach because you arent allowed to cut the corner, or at least thats what the warning signs tell you. Get used to warning signs, there are a lot of them.
My particular favourite warning sign was on a 150 yd par 3, where you are alerted to the risk of the caravan park on the right. The only way anyone could hit the caravans is with an enormous shank, and the warning sign achieves nothing more than putting that very idea into your head.
I dont remember much other than being bewildered. Its certainly a rugged course, and its not one you forget in a hurry, but as a golfing experience its not one I'd rush to repeat.
Borth & Ynyslas is so very very different. To start with, as you approach the clubhouse you realise the course is dissected by and each side of a B road, and very close too without any sort of trees or bushes between. Looks like a holiday course as there are static caravan camps at the end of the road. You are then told the 1st and last 3 holes are the clubhouse side, with remaining holes on the other side extending all the way along one side and then back mainly on the seaward side; they are on a narrow strip of land so you do effectively end up passing people coming the other way. Playing the 1st you realise that severe crosswinds from the sea will affect you on every hole, which on many holes is blowing you towards the road and OB. By the time you cross the road and play the 2nd you realise that there is no course condition, with bare rough areas purporting to be fairways; can't remember a decent lie all the way round. Greens in July 2019 were average at best and slow. You imagine that this is the way links golf used to be, with basically holes cut for 18 pins on a piece of spare land near the sea.
I thought the first three holes were very flat and bland and I was worried what we had let ourselves in for. After that however the course was decent with a number of holes threading through the dunes. Some interesting pot bunkers (some the smallest you will ever see) and a number of tees adjacent and overlooking the beach added to the enjoyment. I thought the short par 4 5th was a cracking hole, however the best stretch was from 10-12; the 10th is a par 4 of 409 yards defined by dunes, the 11th is a short par 3 from an elevated tee adjacent the sea and the 12th a delightful dog-leg par 4 of only 326 yards where direction from the tee was a bit of guesswork. From hole 4 onwards it really was enjoyable. Ranking is a bit high for me (mainly due to conditioning) and in West Wales I would certainly put Cardigan higher.
I can't really think of another course I have played like this. Basic raw links golf on a narrow stretch of land with wind and sea views. Wouldn't want to play it all the time, but so glad we did
Well worth a visit to add this to your list played.
Not up to quality of neighbour but still a good test.
Borth has a wonderful setting, the cliffs to the back of the first tee remind one of being on the South Coast of England or the North York moors ... its a great frame. The course is a minimalistic links, almost a journey back in time. There are a few weak holes, particularly the par 3 7th which is pretty much a green in a farmer's field.
Overall though, it's a classic links ... small greens, tiny bunkers and in a fleeting glances a little like the Old Course.
If you're in the area then play it ... probably the best assessment I can give is that if you're at Aberdovey for 3 days then play Borth. If only at Aberdovey for 2 days the just play Aberdovey twice. That's not to say Borth is bad, just it's neighbour is outstanding.
Borth & Ynyslas is a classic ‘out and back’ true links course. It may not be in the same class as its near neighbour, Aberdovey, located on just the other side of the Dovey Estuary but lovers of links golf will find enough here to warrant a visit.
However, those who have a dislike for the superior form of the game will probably hate it!
Established in 1885 Borth & Ynyslals is one of the oldest, arguably the most senior, in Wales. There is no doubt that it is a traditional links course with a rugged, at times almost scruffy, feel to it. Some of the tees were a little unkempt, the fairways hadn’t been cut for a considerable amount of time and there were animal scrapings on some of them. That said, it kind of works here and I loved it.
There was a real feeling of this is how golf was played many decades ago, almost like going back in time, and so much the better for it.
Equipment may have developed over the years too and where modern technology has rendered many courses obsolete the challenge of Borth & Ynyslas remains. Running on a narrow strip of land just a stone’s throw from Borth beach I can imagine the wind howling off the sea and making the course play a lot more difficult than its 6,086 yards may suggest.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
A really nice traditional links course, and as with all such Welsh courses great value, a quick game and a friendly welcome. As other reviewers have mentioned you really need to be on your game from the off as the first few holes are really tight and intimidating. Given that it is an out and back, there must be many "dog licences" handed out here leading to a subdued walk back. We played in a two club wind from the South West which made a memorable game of golf playing lots of punch shots on the way back from good turf. Highly recommended, definitely worth your support.