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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.”
played and stayed 9/23/2017. the prevailing wind is sw so when you play with a strong ne wind you may as well give up any hope of scoring on this wonderful golf course. first 4 holes played downwind, impossible to stay on the greens. every other hole seemed to be into into the wind including 440 yd par 4's and 550 par 5's.
it was impossible.
a local showed me where bernard langer drove the ball on the 17th i hit driver 3 rescue to the same spot and i hit am reasonably long.
this is a must play golf course , i could join here.
clubhouse is great, dormy's are great the Welsh people are great. ( and I am Canadian)
Royal Porthcawl has a long standing and extremely fine reputation. It’s one that continues to grow at an extremely fast pace and shows no signs of relenting.
Not only can the sea be viewed from every hole but the opening three holes are played right along the edge of the shore with the sandy beach just a hook away.
But Royal Porthcawl does not just rely on dazzling vistas to be deemed one of the best in the world; this is a true championship golf course in every sense. It has held a string of notable professional and amateur tournaments including the Walker Cup in 1995 when a young Tiger Woods lined up for the American team.
One thing for sure is there’s no easing your way into a round at Royal Porthcawl. A series of glaring bunkers await an errant tee shot at the opening hole whilst the second and third are not only stunning holes along the coast but tremendously demanding ones too where one must flirt with the water’s edge to find the greens in regulation, especially when the prevailing wind blows and a low running shot is the order of the day.
From here you head inland where the terrain is higher and slightly less links-like but no less enjoyable and where the threat of gorse is now omnipresent. The multi-tiered green at the par three fourth requires you to select the correct club whilst the fifth offers a birdie opportunity, but only if you can thread your approach between two sandhills close to the green, on a hole that winds its way up the hillside imperiously.
A constant feature of all the holes at Royal Porthcawl is the quality of approach shots you are faced with. The greenside surrounds and bunkering throughout all 18 holes is as good as you will come across on any of the courses that feature on the current Open rota. In general they are quite heavily contoured with dramatic slopes that can sweep your ball away to deep bunkers or tightly mown hollows. Often you are found almost wishing your ball to miss the green for the chance of making an exciting recovery shot.
My favourite hole on the entire course was the 15th, a monumental par four that simply took my breath away. Played back towards the sea and into the prevailing wind it is a colossus of a hole that fits the landscape perfectly. Once again it is the second (or perhaps third!) shot that makes it such a good hole as the green is located on the brow of a ridge.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Loved the golf course. Inland holes were excellent but the links holes are what the course is about. The first 3 holes are beautiful and the short 7th and 11th are superb (in fact the collection of par 3s are world class). 13 to 16 is an epic stretch stretch of holes with 15 and 16 the zenith. 18th can be described as quirky but the approach towards the sea makes for a memorable finish. Brilliant golf course.