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.”
September 19, 2004