Although Pennard Golf Club is located only a few miles southwest of Swansea, it’s set on the rugged Gower Peninsula, amongst one of the most dramatic landscapes in Britain. Its cliff-top site provides an ideal vantage point – from the heights, the views across to the beautiful sandy beaches of Three Cliff and Oxwich Bays are simply arresting.
Pennard is one of the oldest golf courses in Wales. Reputedly, golf has been played here since 1896, although the Pennard Golf Club was not founded until 1908. It’s often called “the links in the sky”, because the holes play across links-like ground, full of dunes, humps and hollows but the land is 200 feet above sea level.
The great James Braid originally designed Pennard, and, some years later, he returned with Ken Cotton to implement certain revisions. For many years, the unusual Pennard course was relatively anonymous until the great American architect, Tom Doak, declared in The Confidential Guide To Golf Courses, that Pennard is “One of my all-time favourites, but I hesitate to recommed it for gereral consumption; it's awfully quirky. The site, on a promontory of undulating ground between the sea and the 'Pill' (a deep stream valley), is one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen.” Since Doak’s comments, the course has enjoyed a renaissance.
The ruins of a 12th century Norman Castle stand guard over the course, which measures a modest 6,329 yards from the back tees. It’s by no means a championship test, but there are 18 wonderful holes and Pennard has hosted a number of important amateur events. This is where the inspirational Curtis Cup player, Vicky Thomas, honed her game.
When the strong winds funnel up the Bristol Channel, Pennard will pose a stern challenge to the very best golfers. Don’t let your concentration be affected by the cattle, which graze on the links. Additionally, expect a few blind shots and don’t expect too many flat lies – Pennard is seriously hilly, with more ups and downs than most links courses.
One of the most engaging aspects of Pennard is that there are no average holes. Each and every one has character and there are at least nine great holes. The four par 4s from the 6th to the turn are simply tremendous. The short par four 7th, aptly called "Castle", will remain etched in the mind for a long time – from the elevated tee, the drive must bravely cross a deep chasm to find a distant undulating fairway. The ruins of Pennard Castle watch in silence. A semi-blind approach shot is to a sunken green, which is protected by dunes – fantastic stuff!
High up in the dunes once again, the tee shot from the 493-yard 16th, called "Great Tor", is also nerve-jangling. A solid drive to the rippled fairway below will leave a short, but blind, second shot across a ridge. The approach shot must find the green, perched on the cliff-top, which slopes wickedly from back to front. Don’t leave a downhill putt, or you may find yourself pitching back on to the green.
Pennard is a delightful old-fashioned affair and without doubt, this is one of the very best links courses in Britain & Ireland. No trip to South Wales would be complete without tasting the sheer delight of Pennard.
Tom Doak was appointed as Pennard’s consulting architect at the end of 2015 and his Scottish-based associate Clyde Johnson is working with Ecobunker on the installation of artificial revetted bunkers on the course. Doak will advise on the placement and shaping of the sand traps during the rebuilding programme.
We contacted Clyde Johnson in October 2017 to get his take on the renovation programme:
“Tom Doak and I made our last visit to Pennard in the winter of 2015/2016. The club had decided to re-build their second green without our input, and likewise have continued to do the bunker work on their own following Tom's initial report. I am not sure how much of our advice they heeded, but given the lack of involvement, I don't think there should be any accreditation (good or bad) on our behalf.
In truth, the bunker work was/is simply about replacing the turf revetted bunkers with the artificial turf construction process...with an interest for ensuring that these new bunkers did not appear homogenised as on many links courses, as they would be getting 'locked-in' for 20-plus years. There was to be consideration of moving the odd bunker, but nothing overly significant.
Regardless, it is the adventurous routing of Pennard,
which sometimes lives on the edge, and a handful of wonderfully contoured green
complexes that make it the best course in Wales, and one of the most compelling
anywhere in the world.”
I played this course a few years ago, and thought to myself: “wow, what a hidden gem” but it seems Pennard has been marching up the rankings and its current position at number 2 puts it in the spotlight (and rightly so).
This is a classic links in many respects, with fast firm fairways with heavy undulations, sandy turf, and a strong coastal breeze. The elevated terrain is highly unusual but this provides some great views (if it isn’t raining) and increases the effect of the wind.
Some great holes here, other reviewers have described them in detail, but 16 and 17 provide a strong finish.
The staff and the clubhouse are unpretentious, it has the feel of a typical private members club instead of a big name course. I liked the friendly but low key welcome (and the price). I wish more clubs were like this!
Known as the ‘links in the sky’ this clifftop links course is widely unknown, something that is changing due to Tom Doaks pick in the Confidential Guide as a ‘Gourmet Choice’ for UK & Ireland. Quirky is the first word I would use to describe Pennard, with sheep and cows roaming the links, and small electric fences protecting the green (that you would think come more into play!). Full of natural small mounds and undulations, coupled with the requirement to shape shots, there isn’t many fairway bunkers required. Every hole has some element of intrigue, but the first hole that specifically comes to mind is the par 4 7th. The tee shot is played between the ruins of a church on the left and a castle on the right, which gives the player a feel of the history of the land. The 10th is a short par 5, played over a valley and back, full of risk and reward. There are some great short 4s, but for the finish, the 16th and 17th par 5s, is where rounds are ultimately made or broken. Both dogleg in different ways, and require extreme thought from the player. In general, the greens are fun, with a lot of slope, but appropriate for the usual green speed. This course has beautiful views, but that aside, there is so much genius on the golf course alone, that this place is worth a long journey to get to.
Unique in every way. I haven’t played a course like this ever before. So many undulations, swales and burns i felt like I was in an episode of ‘Lord of the rings’.
I loved the course for the adventure and I think that I could play here a 1000 times and never be in the same place twice. The occasional sighting of a grazing cow and the need for an electric wire around every green and tee box made this course even more unique.
The greens were smooth and lovely and the design was a true Braid classic. I’d never get bored here.
Friendly informative staff and spectacular views over the sea and river mouth were delightful. The ‘links in the sky’ did not in any way disappoint.
10 days in Wales, where it always rains, but it didn't. Actually, a drought brought rock hard fairways, which are heaving and hard enough to hit when there's grass! Nonetheless, a spectacular down land course set on cliffs overlooking the sea. Fantastic holes and views! Great caddies! A unique design I'd love to play again under better conditions. Definitely for the links aficionado! It's a tough walk but it was so dry, they didn't let out carts! What could they have hurt?
One piece of advice for any septuagenarian golfer with a dodgy knee… take a buggy! Walking Pennard was close to torture! The course is magnificent albeit you need to cope with many blind shots. Would love to play there again.
Pennard- Having reviewed the Links Mag with Tom Doaks unloved featured, of which Pennard was the pictured course. A visit was in order. I had put together a SW English itinerary and upon reflection thought heck Royal Porthcawl and Pennard are just around the bend....So let's do it. I was quite fortunate to garner a clear brisk day while on the Pennard property. The views are fantastic. The visual appeal to golf probably holds more passion for me than many. I'm a voyeur of golf. Ha. Pennard has several holes which are one of a kinds...The par 3 13th is unlike any I have ever played. The green is situated at a spot which seems illogical. But it is fabulous. The course meanders thru the dunes with hardly a level lie anywhere. It is quirky with its electric fences to guard the greens. There are numerous poles to assist with direction on blind shots. This is just a fun fabulous course which is a must play. The cantilevered 18th fairway is insane. I can't wait to get back. Without a doubt Royal Porthcawl is the best of Wales...but Pennard is a close 2nd.
Fabulous links high up on land by the sea.
Some superb holes. A great club.
My final day of my 3 day wales tour and what an unbelievable place to finish! Definitely ended on a high note as this truly is an awesome course, but be warned it will tire you out as it is extremely hilly. The views you get on this course are spectacular and before you even start your round you are treated to a magnificent view of the whole golf course. It gets its name of 'the links in the sky' for a good reason.
The back 9 in my opinion was the 9 that I preferred it had prettier holes and had a bit more of a linksy feel to it. Some of my favourite holes would have to be the par 4 7th, which is a signature hole as you hit towards Pennard Castle, what a great hole this is but unless you hit a long one up there you will be playing a tricky blind second shot and you do not want to leave it short as the green slopes away from you massively so you'll be left with a hard 3rd shot. Holes 12 through 18 are also fantastic, but a favourite hole of mine would have to be the 16th as it is right at the edge of the cliffs and is up there with the best views I have seen in all my time of golf.
The only reason why I would not say that this is a 6 ball course is because the condition isn't quite up there with Royal Porthcawl which I therefore preferred, but nonetheless this is a magnificent golf course well worth playing.
An interesting course, quite stark in places. Reminded me somewhat of Connemara in Galway, Ireland. Barely a tree or scrub around and a desolate look and feel to it. Naturally these are great ingredients to have in a golf course. A rollicking course played over massive undulations and hills. Not really a heavily duned course and the blind shots are quite obvious – usually they are on long drives with the marker post maybe a 100-200m ahead of you so no real need to guess too much what you need to do. Some heavily sloped fairways means holding the ball on your intended line is impossible, especially in the fast, dusty conditions the summer of 2018 has presented.
The par 3s are tough with some long accurate shots required, otherwise run offs will severely punish any mis-hit or mis-clubbed shot. There are no poor holes and some great ones. The finish, like Pyle & kenfig, is long but with two of the last three holes par 5s, if you are not too tired from the walk, you do have some great opportunities to finish with a score.
This is the last course I have played in my 11 day tour of all links courses (except for Royal Porthcawl which was closed for a tournament and Swansea bay) and whilst not quite the best it was a strong course to finish on. Perranporth was the massive surprise packet and Weston – super-Mare and Channel course the disappointments. For the interested the following is my ranking of these 15 courses. Warren from Aust
1. Saunton East
3. St Enodoc
6. Saunton West
7. Burnham & Berrow Championship
10. West Cornwall
15. Burnham & Berrow Channel
Everyone loves a good list - thanks for sharing yours.
What a great (and pretty unique) trip you’ve completed.
Shame you couldn’t get on at Royal Porthcawl (did you tell them what you were up to? If so, it would be pretty cold-hearted not to have squeezed you on).
Where would you rank P&K amongst all these courses?
Yep, love a list. I did play P&K and it is in between RND and Ashburnham. Royal Porthcawl was off limits due to British Seniors Amateur Open.
An excellent list which reminds me there are a few on here that I haven't played and personally I would be trying to edge Pennard and Saunton West a little higher. Royal Porthcawl would go straight in at nr 1 (as the layout is fantastic) provided the greens were in good condition (not always the case). Swansea Bay is worth playing and has some good links holes but a bit like P&K there are some non-links style holes (on the clubhouse side of the main road). DB
Ah Pennard, you’ve truly found a place in my heart. What a stunning location. Situated 200 feet above sea level and offering glorious views across the Gower Peninsula and out to the Pill Estuary and Three Cliffs Bay, Pennard is every bit a true and genuine links. Set perfectly immersed within dunes, every single hole has an abundance of personality.
I admit that Pennard will divide opinion. Sure, the course may be a little agricultural in places, livestock can be found wandering the course at certain times of the year and although they weren’t erected when I played, I understand that a select number of greens are sometimes surrounded by fencing to guard from straying cattle. It’s not immaculately maintained in the way that Open rota courses are, but what a supreme layout this is. It may even be the best piece of land across which I’ve ever played golf.
Pennard shares lots of similarities with James Braid’s other designs at Perranporth and Brora which are also wonderful golfing landscapes and the course feels untouched and as Braid intended. Most holes are played blind, hitting towards marker posts to infinity fairways and hidden green sites. Wickedly undulating fairways merge into heavily contoured greens and the holes themselves are played across an assortment of directions. The course will cause confusion to most golfers experiencing the links for the first time; the 3rd tee for example, with no directional marker post in sight on this dogleg hole surrounded by shallow dunes, the fairway and green are largely hidden from view.
The 4th hole is where you’ll get your first real sight of the wonderful views on offer at Pennard. Don’t become too distracted though as this short par five asks questions of the golfer to find the right angles on each shot if you’re hoping to avoid an early meltdown. The plethora of humps and hollows that are a feature throughout the course begin to come into play on the 6th whilst the 7th, a hole that features a church wall to the left and ruins of a castle to the right has the most wonderfully awkward green complex. Making par at the testing 9th hole is a wonderful score whilst the par five 10th is characteristic of the eccentricities you’ll face at Pennard. Another hole that left me scratching my head on the tee to the point where I had to walk the first hundred yards of the fairway until I was sure of my strategy before hitting my tee shot. A six-iron from the tee followed by a hybrid-three into the elevated green ended up being the perfect play and an extremely satisfying birdie ensued. Quirky as this hole may be and surely not to everyone’s appetites, taking my bias from making birdie aside, I still found Pennard’s 10th to be an absolute beauty.
After this, the drama doesn’t let up and if anything gets turned up a notch. The 11th green is simply perched onto the side of a hill but approach with caution as this tiered green, complete with false front will spit the ball back at you if you’re not accurate for distance.
The slopes at Pennard aren’t subtle, typified by the 12th fairway that will repel any ball away to the right rough. In these burnt out Summer conditions, I could see no way of finding the fairway and this would be my one main criticism of the course with the 18th fairway also being similarly angled. Yet another severe slope greets you on the 13th, this time a par three so only the poor shots go punished here, but no matter what the quality of your tee shot, breathe in the wonderful views of the clifftop campsite and beach in the distance that will surely soften the blow of any poorly timed golf shot.
Signature holes then keep coming head-on, 14 with its massive humps in the fairway, some of which are over 10’ high, playing sharply uphill to a raised green. Then 15, a par three on top of the hill that plays to a tremendous peanut shaped green. 16 is a stunner and the first of two back to back par fives playing out to the corner of the cliff whilst the scenery from the 17th tee is equally breath-taking. I had to wait for the group in front here to clear so was able to soak in the soft afternoon light across the sea and watch horses go trotting along the beach. What a sight.
Once ready and when the group in front rings the bell, you’ll find that the 17th snakes in a double dogleg shape around gorse. I found myself out of position with my tee shot here and discovered the hole to be overly penal; it’s tight, blind and unforgiving. Plop; into the gorse my ball went and my first lost ball. It was the end of my score, but it didn’t dampen my spirits about the quality of this wonderful course. There’s just nothing pretentious about Pennard, and that’s why I loved it. Pennard speaks to my tastes; it’s absolutely my cup of tea, and make that a big mug of welsh brew with a chocolate biscuit on the side.
Pennard might well be known for being the “Links in the Sky” but even that description alone doesn’t quite do the course justice, Pennard is as beautiful as it is dramatic and, in my opinion, one of the finest links courses in the UK.
By the way, did I mention the views?
nice review ! fab course .. should it be higher in the top 100 UK rankings ?
I'll leave that to better educated folk than me to decide David, but I'd have it in my personal top 10 and the equal of some World Top 100 courses that I've played.