Golf was first played on a 9-hole course constructed by owners of the Pump House Hotel near the lake at the splendid little spa town of Llandrindod Wells back in 1890. The town council was forced to close the course fifteen years later, however, as it became too dangerous for visitors using the common ground.
Once 140 acres of land at Little Hill had been acquired, overlooking the lake and the town, the then four-time Open Champion Harry Vardon (he would go on to win another two Opens) was enlisted to design a new 18-hole course. And what a grand opening there was in May 1907 when all three of the Great Triumvirate – Vardon, James Braid and John Henry Taylor – came to Llandrindod Wells Golf Club, along with local professional George Humble.
Nothing much has changed in over 100 years since the fairways were first shaped by pick, shovel, wheel barrow and horse drawn cart. The grazing sheep have been removed, trees planted and a small irrigation reservoir installed to water the greens in the summer but the course as it was then is as it is now – without a single sand bunker on any of its 18 holes.
The course measures only 5,759 yards and features a number of old-fashioned design traits, including back-to-back par threes at the 10th and 11th holes, a number of blind holes and several short par fours – five of the nine two-shot holes on the card are under the 350-yard mark.
Many feel the best is kept until last at the driveable “Death or Glory” 18th hole. With a deep ravine between tee and green, do you play safe and lay up or try to reach the other side of a 250-yard carry with one mighty smite?
If I was honest the first two holes start slowly with an awkward and largely unappealing uphill par 4 but one that needs to be climbed to experience the remainder of the course. Dispense then with the straightforward par 3 second and begin to enjoy the unfolding pleasure of the next 16 holes that will hold your attention throughout. The 3rd hole epitomises the picturesque nature and challenge of many of the holes. You are faced with driving over a valley to a semi sloping fairway squeezed by pine tress on both sides. You realise from this point forward that you have to be creative around the greens for whilst there are no bunkers on the course you have plenty of humps, bumps and hollows to figure out.
This course is on the "shortish" side at less that 6000 yards but it makes no difference to its enjoyment for the challenge of Llandrindod is not its length but it unique mix of demanding and exhilarating holes. The 5th is the longest par 4 (460 yards and S.I. 1) and it plays back across and slightly down the hill making a long second shot reachable to a blind green. The 7th and 8th play back and forth with the 8th set to a gorgeous little green surrounded by the trademark birch and pine trees. Approaching the turn, the 9th, affectionately known as “bunny turn” takes you to the highest point of the course and will demand another long iron to find the green. The great par 4’s on the way out are separated by a number of one shot holes that do not have the benefit of seeing the base of the pin.
As you turn for home though you face the challenge of “kitchen” (not sure from where its name derives??), a 236yard par 3 with a narrow entry to a relatively small green and it is certainly unusual to find a short hole of this length particularly from the yellow tees, but rightly assessed as S.I.2. From this point to the finish every hole is pure golfing pleasure with the benefit of slowly traversing back down toward the clubhouse and hence experiencing the joy of a number of elevated tee shots and further drives “down dale and across valley”. Two good par 5’s on the way in give some balance to the par of 69 and then a finishing stretch of the highest order with “Y Pant” being a long par 4 driving down hill from a further elevated tee with the second to a funnelled green with bracken being a tangled grave on each side of the fairway and around the green.
The 17th makes up the 6th par 3 before the pleasure of finishing the round with the signature hole which Harry Varden named “Death and Glory”. 270 yards for a par 4 seems fairly unassuming but with the possibility of carrying to the apron of the green on the other side of the most dramatic of gully’s is a fitting end to this wonderful course. Play the safe option of course and you will have a blind approach with a wedge, clearly no fun with that option whatsoever! This is certainly a famous and dramatic closing hole and rounded the experience off in greatest style.
We certainly heap huge praise on Llandrindod Wells. This is not a “championship style” golf course and may not be as cultured as some of the more illustrious names on our Welsh listings. It well though leave you joyous to have experienced an ingenious golfing test and I can guarantee that boredom will not be an issue!! Ian Henley