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.”
Pennard wasn’t quite what I expected. It is like a big brother to Perranporth - that was confirmed. But it wasn’t the golfing hipster’s minimalist wet-dream that I’d hoped for. The extreme nature of fairways was just a bit too much. Maybe I’m getting old and the only thing hip about me these days is a potential hip replacement following my round here.
Whether uphill or downhill, landing areas always seemed blind. Aside from being unsighted, it was (as suggested) a tough walk - the next day my glutes burned as though I’d been playing squash with Jahangir Khan. The topographic smorgasbord is also highlighted by the meat & two veg of the Par 3 15th. A very solid links hole that serves to illustrate the madness all around it. Hole 17 was seemingly unfair - death everywhere and no obvious strategy (despite being perhaps the only Par 5 I’ve ever hit in 2 shots & had a good look at eagle - missed it). I only went for the green because the layup seemed just as difficult. The irony is that the terrain at Pennard actually risks becoming monotonous.
But have no fear, lay down your pencils & set down your devices - for there’s plenty of good stuff here too! Second shots are often very cool & the green-sites consistently excellent & varied. I found some spots where a 2 putt was simply impossible & that’s a great thing. The routing moves around like a toddler with ants in his pants & holes come in a diversity of all shapes & sizes. Conditioning of greens very good (and fairways very bad - might be first time we played preferred lies on a dry summer course). The scale of the course is probably bigger than expected - very expansive & offers attractive looks across other holes. Coastal views are delightful.
Beforehand I sneakily hoped Pennard might be, in my twisted judgement, a 6 ball course. To quote the great 20th century Philospher Collins, I would be an Easy Lover. Maybe it took my heart but I don’t feel it? It did offer more than enough to ensure I look forward to returning - but the likes of James Finegan & Tom Doak still have a lot to answer for
A fantastic, challenging links golf course. Everyone was very polite in the clubhouse and bar. The course was in fantastic condition and you enjoy some terrific sea views. Beware of trekkers, who have right of way on some elements of the course. There are a lot of blind shots, which makes this tricky when you're playing it for the first time. Would highly recommend.
Played Pennard in mid July the course was in good condition with the greens true if a little slow. The course is very natural with great sea views, despite playing poor golf and a heavy shower near the end of the round, really enjoyed the day.
Great course to play on a trip and good value for money.
Pennard is called 'the links in the sky', and indeed it is a remarkable site for a golf course, with rolling linksy land on a headland 200 feet above the sea.
The routing twists and turns over hill and dale- with blind shots, significant elevation changes, gorse ready to catch the errant shot, and the ever present wind literally in your face...
It must get very windy from time to time, because there is a lot of sand up on this peninsula!
One quirk you will remember from Pennard is the electric wire fences surrounding the greens. One has to be careful, because they are live! The fences are there to protect the greens from cattle which graze on the golf course property.
The greens are worth preserving- I thought they were one of the highlights of the course- understated, but beautifully shaped- many were 'bowled' meaning any shot actually hitting the green was rewarded with a roll toward the flag. However approaches just wide of the putting surface were deflected...
The cattle weren't the only inhabitants on the property to avoid- one also has to watch out for wild ponies, riders and walkers- all of which have right of way on parts of the course. And local rules give relief from hoof marks, and cow pats... One can easily be distracted at Pennard.
The so called 'links in the sky' occupies a dramatic site with 'views to die for.' The ruins of an old 12th Century Norman Castle dominate the front nine, but the views down through the cliffs to the valley below and the broad beach beyond constantly draw your eye. Meanwhile the course moves up and down, and all around- with no two holes alike.
The back nine heads closer to the bluffs overlooking the sea, and is guaranteed to provide some memorable moments in your round of golf.
Favourite holes include:
- Penmaen- the mid length downhill par 3 fifth hole, with valley beyond.
- Admiral- the long uphill par 4 sixth hole with wonderful views off the tee, and clever punchbowl green
- Castle- the short par 4 seventh hole with tee shot framed by the old castle and church wall either side of the rumpled fairway, and a plateau green set above and left..
- Tower- the medium to long par 3 eleventh plays over a valley to a green set into the hill in an island of rough..
- Colonel- the long par 3 thirteenth hole with the most astounding views off the tee..
- Boscos Den- the par 3 fifteenth hole is a shorter par 3 with a lovely natural green setting surrounded by humps and swales. And the green itself is no different with three different levels. Miss the green and expect a challenging chip. Hit the green and you may still struggle for par!
- Great Tor- the par 5 sixteenth hole usually plays into the wind on top of the cliffs- breathtaking stuff!
- Helwicks- the double dogleg seventeenth hole is extremely tight and has gorse waiting for any errant shot
- Highway- the long par 4 closing hole requires 2 solid and accurate blows. It's a great way to finish.
Pennard should be on everybody's bucket list of great links golf courses to play. There are no weak holes. No two holes are alike. The views are magnificent. And Pennard has a wonderful set of greens.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
A great golf course for the purest that loves links golf! Spectacular views and incredible value, I personally rate many other course in Wales higher and nowhere near the condition or quality of Royal Porthcawl but then it’s also not anywhere near the same price to play either,so don’t let that stop you playing this gem, worth every penny. My tip would be to play in one of their open events in peak season.
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.