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 Golf Club is also referred to as ‘The Links In the Sky’ and with good reason given its lofty location 200 feet above sea level on the rugged and picturesque Gower Peninsula. We teed off on a sunny afternoon just after 2pm in mid May with the cows looking on intently to our blind approach to the 1st green. A strong opening hole off our chosen (white) tees of the day was followed by a gentle par 3 before the real test began. SI 3 third hole was a dog leg left that had two sucker bunkers on the tiger line, one of which I found and it was a typical penal Braid bunker. The par 3 fifth hole really needs an accurate tee shot to secure a par, my ball started left with a hook and sadly might well have ended up on the beach. ‘Castle’ 7th hole has an inviting tee shot but I ended up behind the old church wall pulling off a Seve esk approach only to three putt but fear not the breath taking view from this green towards the majestic Castle ruins perched on the hill more than made up for it. The approach to the ninth was typical Braid in that he offers you different ways to play the shot, knock down or fly it, I got caught somewhere in the middle and paid the price with another bogey.
The tee shot at the par 5 tenth hole must be thought out given there is a bottleneck of a landing area before the hole turns left and the start of a thee club hill to the green. Not my favourite hole on the course but then again if its good enough for Tom Doak, (who is a big fan of the course), then who am I to argue. As much as the 10th hole divided opinion we were equally in agreement that the par 3 eleventh is a classic. Braid typically desired that holes should be laid out as suggested by the land, well this green fitted perfectly into the Gower sandhills. Tough green to hit given it is only 13yards wide and has a massive false front to-boot. Although we played it on a calm day I would image having the prevailing SW wind on the tail to be helpful when it does blow up from the Bristol Channel. The next stretch of holes offered up a good mix of short and long par 3 and 4’s before the breath-taking par 5 sixteenth. Generous fairway, (I still missed it) and lay-up to wedge distance that again offers multiple ways to play the shot. Seventeen is a double dog-leg that rewards you hitting the fairway by allowing you to go for the green, miss the fairway and it is a three shot par 5.
Eighteen is a difficult fairway to hit but if you do, yes I managed to find one, it will offer up a short iron approach that with the pin up front it was best to fly it on the day before bringing the house down with a birdie for the returning herd of cows from the 1st.
It’s an old school course with rolling fairways and has its little quirks with wired fencing protecting the greens from those cows but it truly is a gem of a course. The par threes are strong with the standout hole being the 11th and still thinking hard to determine if I have every had a friendly welcome to any golf club either side of the Irish sea. Finally a word of advise for anyone with a Garmin Approach S2 in that you best update the latest mapping as I could not get a look in. That said the course planner is value at £5 with tips each hole from the Sean Pearson the resident pro since 2015 and only the fourth pro since the club was founded in 1896.
Like I said a total gem of a course and one I would highly recommend to go play.
M. J. Smyth
If there's anything in golf more important to achieve it's "fun golf" and you see that dimension front and center when playing at Pennard. The location of the course high on the Gower Peninsula gives the course a geographic location of distinction. The wind can blow violently at times but when the weather cooperates it's hard to take issue with what the course provides time after time.
While a number of so-called "championship" layouts overdose on undue length and inane heights of rough just off the fairways -- at Pennard you get an appropriate test for the masses so that success for different levels of handicaps is clearly present. Mind you -- Pennard doesn't give anything away easily. The demands are there but the degree of the test rests on how bold and how much risk the player wishes to take on throughout the round.
The par-4 7th is certainly a gem of a hole - aptly named "Castle." I especially like the par-4 9th which calls upon two solid strikes to get near the long par-4.
For those who need ideal turf conditions a round at Pennard will be a test of one's patience. Fairway lies can be uneven in terms of overall quality and while the ensemble of different animals roaming the grounds is part of the allure -- it can be a bit much to have the menagerie moving about like a lost episode of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins.
Pennard excels in having holes that don't repeat what is needed to succeed. Superior design is about adjustments -- not falling into predictable patterns that make a test of golf far less so.
I have always been a firm believer that no less than 60% of any superior golf course is tied to the land the layout occupies. Pennard is a visual treat to the eyes. The land moves in all sorts of directions and when concluding the round it's likely you'll be yearning for another crack at the track.
by M. James Ward
We played on a glorious sunny if breezy day. Pennard is a very tough and dramatic course, featuring some long carries. it requires you to bring your A game . The course offers lovely views, and is a real links, that is some long rough, blind shots, and you will want to have played before to know where to hit it. Boasts some great holes, the 10th an awesome dog leg par 5, and great variety with quirky short par 4s.
Mmm a very difficult review to write ! Played on a sunny breezy day. Absolutely loved the course and the experience, just great fun and to a certain extent eccentric. From a purists perspective, it is a good course – there are too many slight negatives to be a great course, such as 1/. No really “great” holes. There were some that were “great” off the tee, but lacked in some way thereafter eg 7th. Others had world class approaches but off blind tee shots eg 9, 14 and 17. 2/. 7 dogleg right to left holes against 1 slight left to right moving hole. 3/. The par 5 10th is not a good hole. With the severe slope from the tee and the fairway running out of room at 260, it is a 5 iron off the tee, and everyone is left with the same length shot for their second shot. In summary though, there is far more to love and enjoy (the views (6th fairway, 7th green and approach to 16 (wow), the quirkiness, variety of par 3s, the friendly welcome, proper links turf
Pennard is one of those fantastic links golf courses that has a little bit of everything.
Its remote and rugged location on the Gower Peninsula mixes strategy and quirkiness to good effect and boasts a handful of truly excellent holes. The high cliff-top setting also provides some of the best views you're likely to see from a golf course.
The par three holes at Pennard are particularly strong with the fifth and 11th both contenders for the best hole on the course. The former is played downhill to a delightful green, bunkered on both sides, with multiple pin locations that change the dynamic of the hole whilst the latter is played over a wide, barren expanse to an angled green with a solitary bunker cut into the hill just short of the green. The slope of the land and placement of the green allows a ball to be fed in from the left for those not brave enough to fire straight at the heart of the green. Holes two and 15 are also sound short holes, the 15th has a wonderfully long green with three subtle levels.
The first and third are both solid enough two-shotters but it is the four holes that complete the front nine which catch the eye the most. Each has varying degrees of right-to-left shape to them and being on the correct side of the fairways is important to obtain the best line into the flag. The fairways at Pennard generally, but on these holes in particular, are littered with swales and hollows creating a feeling of magical golf. The 14th hole on the back-nine is another that matches this quartet for quality and strategy.
Pennard, however, isn't without fault and some of the holes border on unplayable at times when the fairways are baked dry and hard thanks to the undulating fairways.
The 12th is an unusually short par four with a large gathering bunker just short of the green and this is probably the weakest hole on the course.
Dubbed the 'links in the sky' because of its elevated position Pennard is a true links course worthy of a visit and one you are sure to have great fun playing. Just don't expect to find your ball exactly where you think it should be because of the fabulous rising and falling fairways!
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I played Pennard in the clubs Open on 10th September with a friend on what was a sunny Saturday. We had driven all the way done form London & arrived about 15mins before our tee time ( cutting it a bit close!) The friendly welcome from all the members in the club house & the starter on the first tee was 1 class. Lovely people & a great start to any round. As for the course. Well Pennard literally gets better every hole. Some of the views, partially on the back 9 are stunning.
The links fairways are in fine condition as our the greens. Amazing views abound of the coast & the castle. I’ve seldom played a course with such a great variety of holes. Each one had great personality. I am a member at Blackmoor golf club in Hampshire & will be recommending Pennard to anyone heading down to Wales in the future.
The greeting after the round was equally good. The members here should be very proud of the quality of their course but equally as proud of a club which obviously has a great feeling of community.