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1½ miles NW of Porthcawl
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Royal Porthcawl Golf Club is located off the beaten track, east of Swansea and west of Cardiff. Despite being the highest ranked course in Wales, it remains relatively unknown.
The club was founded in 1891 and Charles Gibson, Royal North Devon’s professional, laid out a 9-hole course on Lock’s Common. In 1895, an adjacent piece of land became available and Ramsey Hunter created an 18-hole layout. Porthcawl was granted its royal title in 1909 by King Edward VII. Over the years, the layout has been extensively modified, primarily in 1913 by Harry Colt, F.G Hawtree and J.H. Taylor in 1925 (when the duo added four new holes) and by Tom Simpson in 1933.
The first four holes and the last six holes represent classic links golf, but the holes in the middle rise up onto higher ground, offering fantastic views across the Bristol Channel. This middle section of the course, with plenty of gorse, has distinct heathland characteristics. Darwin completely disagrees with our sentiments. He wrote about “the very excellent links of Porthcawl. Links they may worthily be called, for the golf at Porthcawl is the genuine thing – the sea in sight all the time, and the most noble bunkers.”
Royal Porthcawl measures 7,065 yards from the back markers, but position from the tee is just as important as distance. Gary Wolstenholme will vouch for this. Wolstenholme played Tiger Woods in the 1995 Walker Cup here at Porthcawl and despite being constantly out-driven by Woods, Wolstenholme controlled and positioned the ball better and secured a famous victory at the last hole.
The Bristol Channel acts as a funnel for Atlantic gales and the course is fully exposed to the wind. It’s not a traditional out and back layout – the holes loop back on one another, playing in various directions. With an absence of trees and dunes, the wind plays a powerful role.
In 2014, the Senior Open Championship was hosted at Royal Porthcawl. This was the first time a Major Championship had been staged in Wales. The event turned out to be a one man show when Bernhard Langer cruised to a 13-stroke victory over nearest rival Colin Montgomerie and, in doing so, the German broke the tour record for the largest winning margin in a 72-hole event.
Three years later, the event returned to Royal Porthcawl and once again the evergreen Bernhard Langer emerged victorious, claiming his third Senior Open title with a four under par aggregate score of 280, three strokes better than that of runner-up Cory Pavin from the United States of America.
Architect Martin Ebert sent us this exclusive quote in August 2020 regarding work his firm had undertaken at Royal Porthcawl:
“The recent project at Royal Porthcawl has followed on from Course Manager Ian Kinley's resurrection of a wonderful old rough edged bunker to the right of the 5th fairway. This is something Mackenzie & Ebert had proposed as part of an overall masterplan some years ago. With the bunkering, old aerial images showed them as being much larger and rough edged hazards. Many of them had been lost over the years as well. The information was supplemented by the wonderful plan which the great Tom Simpson had drawn up which hangs in the men's changing room. This depicted some tremendous rough edged bunkers sketched out in his talented drawing style.
Some highlights of the project have been the full restoration of the carry bunkers at the par three 4th hole and the huge cross bunkers at the 16th. Some new bunkers have also been added to ensure that the course poses the right questions for the modern day elite players. They can be found at the 2nd (down the left and right), the 5th (two to the left), the 13th (down the right), the 15th (to the left) and at the 18th (to the left).
In addition, the flatness to the left of the 6th hole has been completely transformed with the construction of a range of dunes into which a bunker has been set. Some ecologically valuable sand areas have also been created where it was necessary to win material for the construction works.”
I played the course for the first time yesterday, on a gorgeous day with little wind and just after their 2 week course maintenance was over (which I was told about when booking and whose negative effects where rarely noticeable).
Everything was perfect, from the booking process to the reception in the pro shop and in the bar afterwards, and the range and range balls are also first class.
I have played many Open rota courses and many top British heath and parkland courses.
It's a proper, very varied and fair (RStG is the most unfair one IMO) links course.
I am also valueing scenic beauty a lot in a golf course, more so than many architecture afficionados and traditionalists here, and this course offers it in abundance and throughout, only Turnberry might beat it in that regard but then also only on some holes.
Therefore, I can see why the latter only give it 5 1/2 stars, but for me it's definetely a 6 ball course and experience.
It's my new favourite links course and overall, I rate it alongside Muirfield (less scenic, more tradition, posher clubhouse etc.) and above the Kent, Lancs and other famous Scottish links.
It's also much better value.
The Course is set in rolling linksland right on the coast. There are no large dunes, but a consistent low lying rolling sandy terrain proves to be in this case the perfect location for a championship links course. And that is most certainly is!
The routing at Royal Porthcawl is a little unusual for a links course- it is not out and back, nor 2 loops of nine- rather the entire 18 holes move off to all points of the compass, only returning to the clubhouse at the eighteenth hole which crosses over the first...
The quality of the turf at Porthcawl is as good as any of the top links, and the whole course is beautifully maintained. My sources say it is like this all year round.
I was particularly struck by the bunkering at Porthcawl. Fairways were strategically bunkered, but not overly so- and greens were defended staunchly by these yawning holes.
All are revetted pot bunkers- some big, some small- but all very deep- over the years they had to be made deeper to retain the sand which earlier simply blew away. And each of them has contours surrounding them effectively making the drawing area for the bunkers so much larger. To a degree, the look of those deep yawning bunkers defines the look of Royal Porthcawl.
The greens themselves are impressive- large, with tiers giving numerous pin positions, and not overly contoured. If you are up to it these greens will reward your good shots... There are a number of teeing grounds ranging from reasonable up to 7096 yards off the back markers.
Playing a long par 4 into the wind it was unnerving to look back up to 40 yards to see a back tee nestled into the rough behind.
The course starts strongly with three strong par 4's right along the coast, and never lets up. There are no weak holes, and no hole is alike.
This is a championship course of the highest order, and in my opinion is an obvious candidate for The Open Championship. Wales is the only country in the UK not to have hosted it, and in Porthcawl we have the best possible option. My understanding is that some discussion is happening even now, so one day this may happen. I hope so- because it is a most deserving site.
When one plays Royal Porthcawl the wind is ever present- sometimes mild breezes, sometimes stronger- but ever present. It defines your game. I would strongly suggest repeat games at Porthcawl!
And after the golf, the clubhouse awaits! Unimposing from the outside the clubhouse is warm and welcoming on the interior, and a great place to spend some time. Service levels are excellent and there is plenty of history to absorb.
The club also boasts a dormy house with 3 double rooms (each with ensuite and sitting room), and 6 single rooms.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Old-fashioned rough-edged bunkers have recently been reintroduced as part of Mackenzie and Ebert’s master plan, so there’s now a mixture of bunkering styles at Porthcawl.
I have played Royal Porthcawl on many occasions from a young boy to now nearing my senior years, I had always admired it but always thought it a little over rated, but since holding the British open seniors it has risen in stature and condition and where before I would of happily argued with many whether it deserved the number 1 spot as the top course in Wales...there is simply no debate anymore it is head and shoulders above the number 2(Which can be heavily debated) and truly deserves the accolades it receives. My recommendation would be to play it out of peak season not just because you will save yourself a tidy sum, but it is always in top condition and more importantly the rough has died back, as if you play it in the summer with the rough thick and lush and the wind blows which it invariably does, it can be unplayable...but don’t let that stop you...enjoy.
"head and shoulders above" next best course in Wales, but you rated it the same as a couple of other Welsh courses ?
By far the best course in Wales. I’m on somewhat of a quest to play the top ten golf courses in Wales and even though I’ve played here before as a junior, I thought I’d give it another go with a little more experience!
There’s an aura around this course wherever you go, in every nook and cranny, you feel as though you are playing something magical! We were lucky with the weather seeing as we played in November But still the course was in immaculate condition.
It’s a true test with all it’s undulations and bunkers on driving lines, however it can also be forgiving on the less windy days.
All in all it’s by far my favourite course iv ever played!
On to, finding the other 9......
A fantastic golf course always in immaculate condition, a true links gem.
Having played most of the uk's top links course I understand why this is just a nudge behind the british open courses and hasn't yet made its way on to the rota, however recent bunker additions and new walkways around the course have brought it up a notch and it may find itself in the running soon.
From the back tees its an absolute brute but from the yellow tees its very playable for the average golfer.
Clubhouse steeped in history and with every hole having a sea view it is worth a green fee just for the views and the clubhouse alone.
I wrote a review earlier this year where I gave Porthcawl 5.5 golf balls, having not played it for some 4+ years.
I was lucky enough to re-visit in August and I am happy to report this time I am giving it a 6! I will keep this review short, but will highlight why it has gone up in my estimation.
Firstly, the clubhouse is timeless. Full of tradition with a really cool locker room. The bar is one of the coolest I've seen.
As for the course, they have done a lot of work on new bunkering. Moving away from pot bunkers (which I love) and towards a more natural style on the fairway bunkers (which I'm not always a big fan of). The changes have been done extremely well, and I'm happy to report the green side pot bunkers are still as good as ever.
The best improvements for me are the paths and green to tee transitions. The grass paths are - and I don't say this lightly - the best I've ever seen! You are graced by fairway length, perfectly manicured grass on every walkway, and they're a real pleasure to walk on. In addition to this, there are now some really great green to tee transitions which I don't remember seeing 5 years ago. 1-2 and 4-5 stand out.
As for the holes, I would put 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 10, 13, 14, 15 and 18 in the world class category. And the others are no slouches either.
Go to Porthcawl, you won't regret it!
Is your 6 ball rating for the golf course or the grass paths? ;)
Haha! The golf course is absolutely fantastic as I explained in my first review. The addition of pure grass paths and amazing green to tee transitions are the little things that turn a great course into a truly world class one in my opinion.
Nick Faldo famously advised people to remember their waterproofs when they came to Wales for the 2010 Ryder Cup. His words were prescient, and I’ve experienced a fair amount of rain on several visits to south Wales. Summer 2020 has been hot and dry, but my bag was fully laden with rain gear in anticipation of any deluge. Yet as we crossed the bridge into Wales, I couldn’t see storm clouds gathering, and I found myself standing on the first tee at Porthcawl on a calm sunny afternoon, wearing shorts, gazing down to the busy beach through my shades.
The first three holes play alongside the beach, and we had plenty of beach goers as spectators, the only other time I’ve seen people in bikinis watching me play golf was at El Saler in Valencia. The 2nd and 3rd green in particular are very close to the OOB and the coastal path: very scenic but don’t pull your approach left!
But what grabbed my attention first was the speed of the greens. Or rather lack of speed: slow and bobbly. The same was true of the aprons / approaches around the greens. I was expecting fast and firm conditions, but instead the grass was too long for any type of running shot. We played Ashburnham a couple of days later and their greens were lovely, quick and true, so it was a genuine shock to turn up at a premium course (and pay a premium green fee) and find it in such poor condition in summer.
The 4th is a long par three and turns away from the beach to a narrow multi-tiered green that is fully 50 yards from front to back. The pin was right at the back which made it a daunting hole, in fact we noticed a lot of tricky pins tucked at the back of the green during the round, which certainly stretched the course and added to the difficulty.
Porthcawl isn’t a typical links due to its hillside location and lack of dunes, but the topography means a view of the sea on every hole. The par five 5th looks short on the scorecard at 486 yards off the whites (although it can be stretched to over 600 yards from the black championship tee), but it plays a lot longer and the fairway funnels in as it climbs the hill to the green. It reminded me of the 15th at Swinley Forest. Once you reach the green, turn back and admire the fantastic panoramic view down to the sea.
The opening five holes are stunning, 6-8 are also strong interesting holes, but then the course has a bit of a lull in the middle, the holes all blend into one and I am struggling to remember them. As the round developed, we all became aware of the fact that we were hitting driver on every tee. I was expecting to have to plot my way around the fairway bunkering, but there seemed to be little thought required off the tee. A lot of this was due to the long grass on the fairways which meant minimal roll. However, playing from the white tees we often saw fairway bunkers at 270 yards into the wind, or 200 yards downwind, and it dawned on us that we were not playing the course with the prevailing wind!
Fortunately, the course steps up with a challenging but balanced finish. 16 is a long uphill par 4 with huge cross bunkers that make the approach blind. 17 has a challenging blind drive and then cross bunkers 140 yards from the green meant I had to lay up short of them and then fire a low 5 iron from 168 into the breeze to land softly on the green. I expect this hole plays very differently down wind with firm fairways.
The 18th is unusual for a Championship links in that it is not a monster par 4. It’s over 400 yards but plays considerably less as the fairway tumbles down the hill. At the bottom is a roller coaster green which falls from front to back and features some heavy undulations and an attractive beachside backdrop. I imagine this is a fun green to putt on when the grass has been cut.
Overall, this is a challenging but fun course with some interesting holes and fantastic scenery (as long as you don’t look north towards Port Talbot). But this isn’t up with Open Championship venues: first off the conditioning isn’t acceptable for the top tier of courses, and secondly the routing doesn’t allow sufficient space between holes (e.g. 1st and 18th fairways cross over each other). Worth also adding that the practise facilities are first class, but the clubhouse looks like an old people’s home inside.
Royal Porthcawl had been near the top of my 'must play' list for a long time so expectations were high and the course did not disappoint. The club has excellent practice facilities and it's worth turning up a bit early to take advantage of these as you'll need to be on song from the get go. The wind was strong enough to make it pretty difficult and the rough was long which made it quite easy to lose a ball if you're a little offline.
It's pretty much excellent holes all the way round, the first 3 along the coastline being a highlight and you might have quite an audience from the coastal path just to the left of the fairways and right up to the side of the second green. The course turns inland and goes uphill for 3 holes with the sea visible at all times. The stretch from 14-16 was as good a 3 hole stretch as I can remember playing anywhere and the only few holes that I cared for less visually were 8, 10 and 13 (easy to play to the wrong green I imagine) but these are still good golf holes.
I've read some people saying the 18th is a weak finish but directly into a decent wind as we played it, it was very difficult. The tee shot at 18 is very exciting as you're hitting over a slight ridge in the fairway and it looks like you're hitting into the sea.
The recent work done on the course as detailed in the description looked fantastic, like it had always been there, and a look at the photos and fly overs on the clubs website will show you how much the course has changed for the better.
Porthcawl was a great day of golf and well worth a long journey to play.
Royal Porthcawl richly deserves its ranking in the Top 100 courses and frankly were it not in Wales it would rank higher in the global rankings than some of the more famous Scottish and Irish courses. The first indication of the standard of the course preparation was whilst I was having a coffee the green staff finished triple cutting the practice green, relocated the pins and scissor cut around the holes! I was first out and with no wind and a sunny day I played the course in the most benign conditions but be warned you really need to know your lines here and watch for the run outs especially as the rough is particularly deep at the moment owing to the lack of ability to cut it during the COVID period (Head green keeper apologised for this when he saw me during the round). The greens as you would imagine have very subtle breaks but are beautifully conditioned. The fairway bunkers are deep and unforgiving and with all good links the fairways will funnel the wayward drive into these hazards. The Par 5s are not long and give the golfer a good opportunity to pick up some shots and the Par 3s are a joy. Finally the members are extremely friendly and is obvious that people use the clubhouse not only following a round but as a place to have lunch and a drink with friends.
Hopefully enough golfers have seen Royal Porthcawl to ensure it’s not undervalued relative to the noisy neighbours - and maybe being known as the “best course in Wales” actually gives it a good platform for ranking recognition?
Royal Porthcawl is well deserving of its current top 70 ranking in the world. It is by far the best course in Wales, and any trip to this country without a stop at Porthcawl is questionable.
The course has great variety, with par 3s ranging from 110 yards to 220 yards, and has some reachable par 5s. The real strength is the par 4s, which are tough and face every possible direction, making wind a real factor.
The views are fantastic all around, but the individual holes are the standouts. My favourites are 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 14, 15, 16 and 18.
It's a shame an Open can't be hosted here as there isn't enough room for infrastructure, because it is more than good enough to host such an event.
Porthcawl is the kind of place you plan a trip around, but make sure you see Southerndown and Pennard too.