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M4 J37, 3 miles to 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 for 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.
There are three courses I wish would host The Open Championship if it can only stay in the UK. Those three include the championship courses at Royal County Down and Royal Dornoch. The third is Royal Porthcawl. Due to the success of The Open being held at the Dunluce links at Royal Portrush I would hope that the R&A tournament committee might consider expanding their list of courses.
The obvious first choice is Royal County Down which is just over an hour from Belfast. While the clubhouse is a bit close to the ninth green and tenth tee limiting grandstands and traffic flow, I have seen stands built in tighter spots. The Annesley course would offer additional ground for merchandising, food and beverage, as well as spectator management.
As for Royal Dornoch and Royal Porthcawl the negatives would be the lack of suitable infrastructure such as available nearby land, a small clubhouse, and somewhat difficult road infrastructure.
The Open Championship is held at one difficult location which is Royal St. George’s which has similar road issues to Royal Dornoch and Royal Porthcawl. There is some land near Royal Porthcawl that perhaps can be leased. Obviously, holding two Senior Open championships at Royal Porthcawl has likely provided the R&A with a good understanding of what is possible. As for location, in both cases there are reasonably sized cities not so far away in Inverness and Cardiff. I do not know if there is a solution for a better clubhouse or a spot to place a large press center. As for those who might disqualify Royal Porthcawl for its relatively weak final two holes, particularly the downhill short par 4 finishing hole…..well, who says a tournament has to finish there?
Some might say it is too short at just over 7000 yards. There is not a lot one can do to lengthen it unless they bought land to the west of holes 4-6 which would mean relocating some holes and greens but would allow interior holes to be lengthened. Sometimes I lament how far the top players can hit a golf ball.
It is highly likely that attendance would be lower at both Royal Dornoch and Royal Porthcawl but that is not a given. The locals would likely turn out to see what might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I think about this because Royal Porthcawl is not simply the best course in Wales, it is one of the best golf courses in the UK. Being one of the best golf courses in the UK makes it one of the best golf courses in the world. In my mind it is worthy of being considered as being in the same class as Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and the Old course at Royal Troon.
As for the course itself, it is spectacular. It has great land with all 18 holes offering a view of the Atlantic Ocean. There are only a handful of other courses so well situated, although the list has been growing over the past twenty years. The wind can howl as it comes through the Bristol Channel. The wind typically counteracts the slope of the course towards the sea. Yet sometimes the wind comes from the same direction as the slope of the land which is when one truly has to be on top of their game.
It is a links course, but it is definitely not flat due to tilts, slopes, moving uphill or playing downhill.
The golf course has a very good mixture of long and short holes, doglegs and straight holes, very well-placed bunkers, and beautiful green complexes with the greens having wondrous slopes and swales. There are birdie chances on the golf course, but sometimes they pass by in the blink of an eye. The golf course offers everything one would want in a golf course at some time in the round because the routing moves in all directions, taking advantage of the natural features of the sloping land. The front nine is reminiscent of Muirfield with its counter-clockwise rotation.
The first hole is a potential birdie hole. But because it is the first hole, one does not think of it that way due to the slope of the fairway with out of bounds down the entire left side as well as four well placed bunkers down the left of the fairway with one on the right. While the fairway on this short par 4 looks wide enough, it is narrower than it appears because one must land on the right side as it will kick back down towards the left. The green is wonderfully sloped with a spine in the middle and balls want to fall off the left side of the green. For a short par 4, it is a very good starting hole.
The next two holes, both par 4’s, are two of the best holes on the golf course and as good as you might find anywhere as you continue to play with the beach and sea leading to out of bounds on the left. One can be easily distracted by the views.
The longer second hole plays as a dogleg left ending at a green hard against out of bounds to the left and behind. It is another well bunkered hole, with a greenside bunker on the right middle likely catching many balls trying to play to that side due to the slope of the green. The hole plays downhill which shortens it a bit, but the two fairway bunkers on the left short of the green must be avoided and a small ridge line short of the green can result in a ball not making it to the green. The green has a substantial second tier to it. This is a wonderful hole.
The third is a mirror image of the second as a slight dogleg left and another longer par 4. The tee shot has to carry some bunkers on another right to left tilted fairway. Once again, for those trying to play down the right there is a large bunker on the right side near where tee shots will land or finish. After this bunker, the land starts to head down while tilting to the left. Near the green there are four bunkers that are deep. There is a dip in the land before the green that makes it nearly impossible to land a ball short and run it deeper onto the green. The second bunker to the right of the green eats into it and has to be avoided. These are very good, deep bunkers on this hole. One also cannot go long left of the green due to the tall grasses fronting the fence and out-of-bounds.
If you survive these two holes, the reward is to start the walk up the hill for the next three holes.
The fourth is a long uphill par 3 of over 200 yards. There are six well placed bunkers on the hole, two short front for those who fail to hit the tee shot long enough and then two each on either side of the green. The reality is that only the final two bunkers on either side should be considered but from the tee it is hard to remember. The long green has a swale in front that continues into the green which has different levels to it. The “miss” on this hole is actually just over the back of the green. It is another good golf hole.
A par 5 follows and you are still climbing to the higher ground. From the championship tee it is over 610 yards but they give the members a break as the next tee is nearly a hundred yards forward with the white tees a very manageable 485 yards. The fairway does look a bit narrow but there is room. Out-of-bounds goes down the entire left side. Additional defense for the tee shot and second shot come with four bunkers on the right and a small pond on the left. The green has no bunkers which I found to be a bit odd at first glance but given the close out of bounds on the left side and the high grass surrounding the long green, as well as the ripples in the green, it made a lot of sense not to have bunkers at the green. From the forward tees this should be a good chance at a birdie but from the championship tee this is a huge challenge.
The sixth is one of my favorite holes on the golf course, a medium length par 4 moving to the left. The hole is very well defended by a collection of fairway bunkers on both sides at the same distance off the tee and three bunkers surrounding the left and back of the green. The green is slightly elevated and has swales on either side, with a pronounced dip on the front right of the green. I really like the visual look of this hole because it is framed on both sides by taller grass and gorse.
In my opening I reviewed some of the similarities of Royal Porthcawl to other courses that host the Open. The seventh hole, with a tee farthest away from the clubhouse, presents a real similarity: a very short par 3 much like the eighth at Royal Troon Old. The green itself reminds me of more of a par 3 one might find at Muirfield as it is very different to the famed Postage Stamp hole. This small green is surrounded by bunkers and some pretty high humps which creates swales on either side. I have not played here enough to know which of these bunkers are more likely to lead to a high score as all of them look very difficult. The “miss” here once again might be to play long to the back of the green leaving one a very difficult and possibly impossible two putt depending on the pin position. This is one of the best short par 3’s one will ever play.
The eighth hole is a short par 5 with the boundary wall off to the left. The wall is more in play on the second shot as the wall comes closer to the fairway and green. There are ten bunkers on this hole which is a dogleg left with the out-of-bounds over the wall on the left. For those trying to shorten the hole by cutting off the dogleg, three of the ten bunkers are on the left corner at the dogleg. The bunkers are again perfectly spread out over the golf hole with another four at the green. Taller grass and gorse are on the right side of the fairway. The hole is flat but rises a bit as you head toward the green. The green is tilted left to right with three bunkers on the right and one on the left. This is a difficult golf hole as a par 4.
A short par 4 follows as you finish the front nine. It is primarily parallel to the ocean. Gorse and tall grass frame the hole yet there is ample room for the tee shot. The fairway is smooth until you get closer to the green when all sorts of interesting humps, shelves, and dips appear in the fairway. The green is well guarded by five bunkers and is slanted back to front with ripples and ridges throughout. Other than the seventh hole, it is the best green complex on the golf course.
An even shorter par 4 is next and is a real chance at birdie. You are playing straight down to the sea with tall, clumpy grass lining both sides of the fairway and a single bunker on the right of the fairway to be avoided. There are three bunkers at the green which has some good shaping to it and sits on a plateau. Big hitters can drive this green. This is the best chance on the golf course for birdie or par, depending on one’s playing ability as it presents the chance to catch one’s breath. Perhaps here they should put the championship tee in front of the fifth tee to add yardage even if it would interrupt pace of play.
The next six holes are the heart of the golf course. The course has been good, but it is about to get even better.
The eleventh is a gem of a par 3. It requires a slightly longer tee shot than the 185 yards implies because one has to ensure they clear the five bunkers that are almost cross bunkers that start in the middle and finish on the middle of the left side. The other two bunkers on the right finish on the right of another plateau green that leans left to right with a spine towards the middle. There is room to lengthen this hole by moving the twelfth tee even more inland, but I do not think it requires it as it is already a very good par 3.
The twelfth is a slight dogleg left playing essentially parallel to the sea. It is a long par 5 of 575 yards from the championship tee with gorse lining both sides as you near the green. After an uphill blind tee shot, the hole flattens with ten bunkers spaced throughout the length of the hole. The green is long and one of the weaker greens on the golf course.
The thirteenth is a long par 4, turning left down towards the ocean. The fairway has fall-offs to either side for the tee shot. The green is beautifully defended by five bunkers, two are short of the green for those trying to run a ball onto the green. The green is tilted right to left.
The last par 3 follows and is a short one at 150 yards. It is well defended once again with five bunker and swales taking one’s ball towards those bunkers as well as other grass bunkers. The green is elevated and very tricky. For me, this was the second best par 3 on the golf course.
The fifteenth is probably the favorite hole of many. This long par 4 flows east to west parallel to the water. Two deep fairway bunkers sit at the bottom of a ridge in the fairway which one must carry to have a reasonable shot into the green. There is a slightly elevated tee to assist with the carry. For the longer hitters favoring a shot down the left, another bunker awaits them or that bunker can even catch some balls clearing the two bunkers fronting the ridge if the ball kicks to the left. There is a bunker on either side of the sloped green right to left, slightly uphill.
The long par 4 sixteenth is nearly the equal of the fifteenth and is rated the hardest hole on the course. You are playing parallel to the ocean but going back towards the clubhouse. Once again, a nest of three cross bunkers front a ridge line in the middle of the fairway. Four more bunkers are scattered near the fairway as you approach the green which has two bunkers on the left. I do think the green is too flat and there is ample room for recovery if one misses the green.
The course now lets up for the final two holes with seventeen being a short par 5. This hole has an uphill blind tee shot with tall grass on both sides of the fairway. I once hit a drive right down the middle here and we never found my ball. To this day I am convinced a seagull picked it up. The hole is well bunkered near the green but once again the green is too flat.
The eighteenth is unusual as it is a shorter par 4 playing downhill with the clubhouse eventually to one’s left and the green situated near the sea after the first tee. It is a gentle dogleg left and the fairway runs out in a hazard area of taller grass and humps, sort of an unkept area. The green slopes towards the ocean so the approach shot must be carefully judged as to where to land the ball given a valley fronting the green. The green has good subtle undulations to it but I still think it is a weak golf hole even though one is usually playing into the wind.
Royal Porthcawl certainly does not have as interesting terrain/land such as Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George’s or Royal Portrush Dunluce. Yet the land is better than at Royal Lytham & St Annes, Carnoustie, St. Andrews Old, and certainly is the equal of Muirfield, Royal Liverpool, and Royal Troon Old. If it wants to be considered in their class, it needs a bit more bunkering along the fairways and move a few greenside bunkers closer to the greens. Additionally, Royal Porthcawl could be rated more highly if it was 250 yards longer which would require acquisition of adjoining land, more undulations in 5-6 greens, had a better set of finishing holes, and did not have quite as many doglegs to the left. However, as currently presented, it is an outstanding golf course that deserves to be listed on the world’s top 100. These suggestions might possibly push it into the top 50.
Yes, it would be great to have an Open championship at Royal Porthcawl. It is only a shame it would not come soon enough for Bernhard Langer to compete again.
I played Royal Porthcawl yesterday, almost exactly eight years since I was last here. The going was challenging to say the least with a very tough 30 mph northwesterly blasting the cobwebs away. I agree with Mark’s point about the course needing “a bit more bunkering along the fairways” and I can happily report that Sol Golf is busily working away at doing just that under the guidance of Mackenzie & Ebert. Some of the newly completed bunkering looks sensational and I’m sure within a few months the finished article will be applauded.
I do agree that the last couple of holes are not from the top drawer, but the approach to the beachfront final hole is hard to beat when the waves are crashing in as they were yesterday.
It would be unfair to rate the course on yesterday’s experience as a handful of tees had been moved up the fairway to avoid endangering those working on the new bunkering and the greens had recently been tined. Despite these issues I thoroughly enjoyed the round and admire the clever routing and the various platform levels on which the course traverses. The greensites are mostly from the top drawer and those that look flat are not as easy to negotiate as they first look.
Porthcawl’s feel good factor is hard to beat and I can’t wait to return this summer.
I played this yesterday 29th of October 2019 with my brother.
From the moment you drive in it oozes class, history and mystique. From the first tee you know you’re on a special course ‘a stones throw’ from the sea.
The greens were subtle and perfectly true, the fairways were consistent and a pleasure to play off and the lay out was what ‘blew my hair back!’ , with it’s intimidating tee shots, sneaky run off areas and cavernous bunkers. I can’t recommend this course and the friendly staff highly enough. I’m astounded that Wales hasn’t held a British open yet but this would be the place, without any doubt.
All true links courses rely on the wind for its teeth and this course is no different. The day I played it was a cold day with winds starting at 20-25 mph and increased through my round to 30mph. I loved every minute of this course. It’ll live long in my memory and someday I’ll fly over from Jersey for another fairytale of a round.
Ps the classic historical clubhouse was a real treat.
At Porthcawl’s two Senior Opens a combined seven players finished under par. It doesn’t look too scary but you need your A-game or it will be a long day. There are a multitude of cross bunkers, the wind is often gusting and even during heavy rain the greens were fairly fast.
So my main take-away from Porthcawl was that I got beaten up more than at other ‘championship’ links I’ve played. Conditions were far worse though, my fault for visiting in late October. There is not a weak or inferior hole among the eighteen, and I’m sure if there was more space then Porthcawl would be Open worthy. They said that about Portrush as well for a long time, though.
The first three holes along the beach are stunning, with the wind likely showing off some large waves close by. The turn inland is almost as dramatic, the par 5 5th going up a big hill alongside an old stone wall. I won’t bore you with a hole-by-hole but the short 7th stood out, as a par 3 its green must be about seven yards wide, there are five pot bunkers and you’ll probably have a cross-wind. That’s the ‘easiest’ hole on the course.
All the bunkers are nasty. Porthcawl’s sand is hard and compact, to be honest I had trouble raking the many I visited. It wasn’t the rain either, as the local courses I visited had softer, more forgiving sand even when sodden. The turf isn’t quite as sandy and bouncy as other links I’ve played either, but it’s still nice and firm and drains well. Some areas look semi-heathland, not that that’s a negative.
The course’s finale is suitably grand and testing. The 13th is a blind, downhill dogleg, make sure you play to the correct flag! I blame the rain on my glasses. The remaining holes are long, have even more cross bunkers, then you double back to the sea for an appropriately scenic finish into the prevailing wind.
Once done the clubhouse is friendly, historic and has wonderful views. The overall experience at Porthcawl is great, although I expected a tad more given its lofty world ranking. I wouldn’t quite put it on the same level as the other world top 100 courses I’ve played, but I wouldn’t put it far outside.
Underrated. I've been to Porthcawl before, but the work theyve done to improve the course and conditioning is exceptional.A real links ON the sea, views from every hole. A very dry summer, do conditions not optimal, but quite good in the circumstances. My home club also hosted the Walker Cup, so we got a warm welcome. Fair but very demanding. Great weather 2 days running! We stayed in the dormy one night and it was fine. Very good caddies! If you love Links Goldman It's a must!
Recently completed a two week visit to Wales, playing 10 rounds, the last at Royal Porthcawl. A few quick words about golfing in Wales before commenting specifically about this magnificent course. Through a bit of dumb luck we started our trip up in the Conwy area, winding our way south along the coast, saving Royal Porthcawl for the grand finale. For first time visitors wanting to play courses all throughout the country, I highly recommend starting in the north and ending in the south. Conwy is a wonderful course, a great place to start, and everything after R.P. would seem like a bit of a let down.
Arrived for our noon tee time in a downpour with near gale force winds (my weather app said it was 25-35 mph winds with gusts over 40). The kind gentleman in the pro shop allowed us to postpone until 1:30 when the weather was supposed to ease up. When we arrived back, we met a member who had just completed his round and was looking rather battered and weather-beaten and surely would have benefitted from windshield wipers on his eyeglasses. I made a joke to him about mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun, and he replied that I was being too kind and that the word I was looking for was 'idiots'.
Hooray for accurate forecasts, because we played the first two holes in a misty rain that petered out, though the wind, after easing slightly, remained a steady 2-3 club wind.
Royal Porthcawl is simply wonderful; there's an energy, a feel about the course that constantly lets you know you're in someplace special. The grey, moody skies and crashing waves added to its mystique. On the course, I was particularly taken by the collection of par 3s: so varied, so well bunkered, and so visually lovely. I managed a tidy birdie on #11, but took a 5 on #14, needing two to get out of the right bunker.
Royal Porthcawl is certainly the best course in Wales and one of a handful of the finest courses I have ever played. Simply loved my time there and hope I can back there again someday.
2nd day of my Wales tour took me to the beautiful Royal Porthcawl. What a golf course this is. The condition was immaculate, beautiful tees, lovely fairways, speedy and pure greens. This adds to the already great golf course that Royal Porthcawl is. Hole 1 is a lovely par 4 littered with bunkers down the fairway and is a perfect opening hole. Hole 4 is a fantastic long par 3 with beautiful greenside bunkers giving it a really old feel to the great links course it is. What I also liked about this course was the great amount of yellow gorse bushes that there were, it almost felt like you were at Royal Dornoch and it gives it even more of a great linksy feel. All the par 3’s were awesome but my favourite par 3 would be the 14th hole, a nice short par 3 with many greenside bunkers around making it a tough green to hit as it is relatively small. The course is unbelievably good and made better by the great history the club has with awesome facilities to practice for. I highly reccomend paying the green fee to play there as it truly is spectacular and you will be so happy to have played there. I hope i’m able to return there in the future.
What a course! you can see the sea from every hole, even though the course seems to have some houses surrounding it as you drive in the course somehow manages to mostly hide them. The 18th is also an incredible finish as you hit straight towards the sea, it makes you feel like you're hitting into the ocean. The 19th hole is so traditional with a small clubhouse where you can smell the age (in a good way of course).
I'd have to disagree with the editors in their opening note on this Royal Porthcawl webpage, as from my conversations with other golfers, many, many people know of or have played this spectacular links course: it's certainly not "relatively unknown" amongst serious golfers. Mongolian goat herders certainly...; golfers, no.
I'm not sure there's much more I can add to descriptions of the course, the pure nature of the site, or the unpretentious nature of the club: confirmed spectacular. I'd played in March and my morning tee time was delayed by an hour to allow the greens to thaw out from the overnight frost and with no time pressures I had a coffee to warm up, took some photos, chatted to the staff and the small number of others waiting to tee off, and did some practice putting in the sunshine: the usual golf camaraderie stuff.
Wonderful, pure, golf.
I have to agree with much of the March review 2018. I have played RP several times a year (and at various times of year) since my previous review of sept 2015 and the greens are consistently below average and therefore am reluctantly lowering my rating to a 5 ball. Course design remains fantastic and most of the course is in good condition (bunkers fabulous!) but the greens do not justify top marks.
Having wanted to for ages I finally got the chance to play here as part of a 6 nations rugby weekend, and it didn’t disappoint.
The course is laid out in a kind of triangular formation, going out along the coast, back at an angle then zig zagging back in. The first four, hugging the beach, are amongst the best I have played anywhere - magnificent, proper links golf with sublime links turf, sea vistas and expectant fairway bunkers waiting to swallow up any errant shots.
The course subtly changes in character from about 5 onwards, becoming progressively less links like in both terrain and layout as you move back inland, though still boasting a handful of excellent holes and with nothing that could be called a weakness. The course then takes on a new lease of life as you walk down the fairway of 13 with a stonking stretch playing back out to the coast, 15 and 16 amongst the best on the course.
The last is in my view the weakest of the 18, a pokey hole crossing over the first kindly described as ‘quirky,’ though not detracting from what was a cracking round.
My one criticism (and definitely not what i was expecting) were the greens, which were disappointing given the calibre and reputation of the club - though my playing partner, who had played it many times, was definitely of the view this was the exception rather than the rule. Overall a quality course though and an absolute must on any itinerary of British Golf!