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A496 on the lower Harlech road
Current handicap required – book in advance
Harold Finch-Hatton, William Henry More
The glorious setting for the Royal St David’s links at Harlech is nothing short of beautiful and romantic. The forbidding medieval Harlech castle and towering sand dunes guard the course. Behind the dunes, to the northwest, is the sweeping bay of Tremadog and to the north are views across to Snowdon and the lesser peaks of Snowdonia. “Small wonder if the visitor falls in love with Harlech at first sight,” wrote Bernard Darwin in The Golf Courses of the British Isles, “for no golf course in the world has a more splendid background than the old castle, which stands at the top of a sheer precipice of rock looking down over the links.”
According to folklore, Harold Finch-Hatton reputedly identified the links upon his return from Australia, originally using the area for boomerang practice. Finch-Hatton teamed up with William Henry More and in 1894 St David’s was born. It seemed poignant that Wales should have a golf club called St David’s, after all, Scotland has St Andrew’s and England has St George’s. Edward VII granted the club royal patronage in 1908.
Locals regard Royal St David’s as the world’s toughest par 69. Who would argue with them? The course measures 6,500 yards from the back tees. It’s not your usual out-and-back links – the holes zigzag in all directions, subjecting each shot to the vagaries of the prevailing westerly wind.
The opening dozen holes are fully exposed to the elements. They play back and forth across fairly flat and at times, open ground. When the 13th hole is reached, the landscape changes dramatically and at last we enter rippling undulating dune land. The bunker free par four 15th requires a long carry across dunes from an elevated tee to a narrow fairway, Mount Snowdon is in the distance. A decent drive leaves a partially blind approach shot to a raised green nestling between sand dunes. You might catch a quick glimpse of the Irish Sea from the 16th tee before turning back inland towards the clubhouse. Unusually, Royal St David’s closes out with a fairly ordinary, but tough 200-yard par three with the green directly in front of the clubhouse.
Royal St David’s has hosted many major amateur championships over the years. There are a number of famous names on the roll of honour, including Cecil Leitch. In 1926, she beat Mrs Garon 8&7 to win the Ladies’ British Amateur Championship. More recently, in 1994, Sweden’s Freddie Jacobson won the British Youths Open Amateur Championship here at Harlech.
Royal St. David’s in Harlech is a very fine golf course. Is it the hardest par 69 in the world? Well, it is possible with only Wannamoisett in Rhode Island as a competitor.
The setting is a bit of “A Tale of Two Cities” with the marvelous Harlech Castle behind the clubhouse across the highway and the Snowdonia mountains off in the distance, yet it has some of the ugliest buildings of all time looming over that same highway. The course is similar in that the front nine is flat while the back nine has several holes alongside the dunes.
As referenced, the land on the front nine is flat and the dunes do not begin until the thirteenth hole and only exist for four holes. I do not actually find these holes to be in the dunes, but alongside them. One of the defenses to the golf course is taller grass off the fairways. If one misses the fairways into the taller grass, there is likely going to be a difficult lie limiting one’s chances to getting to the green. There is a reasonable sized first cut of rough, and then the tall grass starts.
The first is a long par 4 that has a wide fairway but with 3 bunkers on the left side of the fairway and five nearer the green. The fairway has some nice slopes to it with a nicely undulating green that is not over the top for the first hole. It is a nice start to the golf course.
The short par 4 second is notable for the deep bunker on the left side of the fairway. The green has some subtle undulations to it sloped slightly back to front. Although there are three sand areas by the green, I felt this green could have used more bunkers at the green.
The par 4 third hole is long and once again is well bunkered at the green. There is out-of-bounds to the right of this slight dogleg right. The green is flat which is disappointing. It is a nice golf hole.
The fourth is a the first par 3 and is slightly long and has four surrounding bunkers. The green has some nice slope left to right and a slight false front. If one misses the green and the bunkers, the recovery shot is pretty simple to have a chance to save par.
The fifth and sixth are similar length golf holes, mid-length par 4’s. Although both holes have good placement of bunkers both on the fairway and near the green, both greens lack undulations and character. These are two disappointing golf holes.
Seven and eight are similar length shorter par 5’s. Seven has some undulations in sections of the green. Seven is a hole with too wide of a fairway too wide as well as the first cut of rough. Eight has good bunkering throughout as well as the best view of the Snowdonia mountains. It also has a flat green.
The longer par 3 ninth is the best hole on the front side as it is well bunkered and has some subtle breaks on the green.
If one is finding the fairway with the tee shot, the front nine is pretty easy and simple. If one is spraying the ball, it can lead to a high score if you try to be heroic rather than sensible.
Ten is a longer, straight par 4 with a flattish green. I did not think much of the hole other than it is long.
Eleven is a short par 3 with another flattish green. It is fairly well bunkered with a long, narrow bunker right of the green as the one to be avoided.
The twelfth is a longer par 4 dogleg right with the tee shot aiming at the castle in the distance. The rough does not seem quite as penal on this hole on the left side and the fairway has adequate width. The green is another somewhat flattish one but with small undulations in it. There are three bunkers at the green. It is an above average golf hole.
Thirteen has some small ripples in the fairway as the longest par 4 on the course. It is a well bunkered hole with five fairway bunkers and another five bunkers closer to the green. The green has nice undulation to it although it appears to be relatively flat from a distance.
The long par 3 is next with a somewhat blind shot and tall grass all around. The green itself is pretty flat which makes some sense given the difficulty of getting to the slightly raised green. This is truly the first hole in the dunes.
The hole that feels to me is the most in the dunes is the fifteenth. The hole is a longer par 4, pretty straightforward but with a nice rolling fairway that should not lead to a bad lie. The green complex includes a nicely sized depression fronting the green even though the green itself is down a bit from the fairway. There are no bunkers at the green but it does not need any. The green has some subtle undulations to it and a bit of run-off to all sides. However, there is a bit of room around the green for a chance to recover.
The view of the Snowdonia mountain chain off in the distance is a lovely site from the final three holes. Do not look to the left to see the several unattractive buildings although a few others are quite nice to spy.
From a slightly elevated tee the short par 4 sixteenth is a lovely golf hole with four bunkers slightly short of the green and two each on either side. There are almost guard rails on either side of the fairway as the ball will come back to the middle of this rolling, humpy fairway. My criticism of this hole is that the green feels too large for the hole as well as too flat but perhaps that is because the wind could be a huge factor on this hole The bunkers are very well placed, deep and will likely lead to a dropped shot. This is a very nice golf hole.
With bushes flanking the tee box, this hole at the tee is in the dunes but as you approach the green it feels as though you are exiting the slightly higher ground to either side of the fairway. The longer par 4 has again some nice roll and humps to its fairway. The highlight of the hole is how well bunkered it is with two small bunkers on the right side of the fairway and seven surrounding the green. I think this is the second best hole on the golf course despite another flattish green. The run of holes from thirteen to seventeen has been very good.
The eighteenth is remarkable only for its greenside bunkering. It is a weird to end on a par 3. In looking at the land, I would change the golf course and make the seventeenth a par 3, even if it is only 160 yards or less and convert the final hole to a par 4 using the existing green. It is a good golf hole with eight bunkers but even though it is a slightly longer par 3 once again the green feels a bit too large and is definitely should have more slope.
The front nine is okay and has some challenges. The land is uninteresting on the front nine but there are still some good challenges. The back nine is much more interesting. The bunkering is pretty good throughout the golf course although the fairway bunkers do not come into play as much as on some other golf courses due to the width of the fairways. I do not see the need to add bunkers. The greens are large and smooth, but too many of them are relatively flat. There is not a lot of mystery to the putt as to pace or direction. There are a lot of spots near the green where one can use a putter or chip. They could make this course even better should they improve the greens and flip seventeen and eighteen.
Royal St. David’s is a golf course I would definitely play if taking a golf trip to Wales. I would not go to Wales specifically to play it on its own unless one loves a course where from every hole you can see mountains and castle ruins.
I played this course twice in one day with the wind blowing and lost more than half a dozen golf balls! True, it was only a year or so after I started playing but the course was brutal. Off the tee you would see your golf ball nestle only a couple of feet in the rough, but when you got down to where you thought it was, not a chance of finding it.
That’s how I remember my day at St Davids. Great backdrop, fantastic course with the back 9 more memorable as you play through the dunes and a glimpse of the sea on the 16th tee.
I’m never a fan of par 3 finishing holes, but this is no easy hole as you play to the green back in front of the clubhouse through a narrow opening.
But what a class course this is and such value for money. The backdrop is fantastic with the castle and Snowdonia national Park and it’s a course I will play again when I head back to North Wales.
Would describe this as the St Andrews Old Course of Wales.
Played this course during the Easter bank holiday, got to play in the 'Easter Bowl'. First time ever playing golf in Wales and what a fantastic course to begin with.
The Practice facilities are fantastic, the range is very nice, putting green matches the course and it has a great little chipping area. Also the food in the bar is great and i would definitely recommend the full English breakfast before your round!!
In terms of the course the front is a bit more flat with great views of Harlech castle and also Snowdon. I guess the front 9 is classed as the easier of the 2 but is still very tough, first hole eases you in nicely with a pretty straightforward tee-shot and a big green. 2nd is a shorter par 4, you need to be careful to not run out of fairway on the other side and the shot into the green is fairly tough as anything long is pretty much dead. Some other feature holes on the front 9 are the 7th which is a long par 5 playing into the wind, tough but looks amazing(I MADE BIRDIE!!) And the 9th, a par 3 at the back of the course demands an accurate shot and the a good two putt as the green isn't easy.
Then we get onto the back 9, which is play through the dunes and is a lot tougher. 10 is a long par 4 usually playing into wind, hitting this green in 2 is a great feeling! One of my favourite holes, 130odd yard par 3, requires such a precise iron shot as you can only see the top of the flag(MADE ANOTHER BIRDIE)!! The 15th is the feature hole, playing through the dunes, such a great hole! Another good one is the 16th, if you go stand on the blue tees you can see the sea. The tea shot requires a good carry over loads of rough and if you catch your driver well, you can get down near the green. The backdrop of this hole is a massive abandoned tower and a weird abandoned hotel. They look like something straight out of Chernobyl. Some will probably see they're an eyesore but i think it makes the course even more unique. The last is a long tough par 3, with the green right outside the club house, a great but hard finishing hole, a par here is a great score.
I shot 3 over my handicap which i was fairly happy with as my scorecard included a triple! I would definitely recommend this course as it's great value for money and the views a unreal!
The condition of the course was brilliant, the fairways were still a tad damaged from the summer last year but didn't affect anything too much, bunkers were fantastic and the greens were some of the best i have played on.
Royal St David’s
We played this course in the long hot summer of 2018 so the links was white whilst running at full speed. Great course where the holes were well defined from the tee with well protected greens where wayward second shots found the bunkers. The front is flatish with a nice backdrop of the hills while the back nine are amongst the sand dunes which make a nice variety. Holes 7 and 8 are par fives where the player can drive on with abandon pleasure. Hole 10 was my favorite at index 1. On the back there are no par fives on the card.
The par for the course is 69 while standard scratch score is 73 off white. Golfers need to score on the front as in reality 13, 15 and 17 could be par fives giving a card par of 72. So reaching some of these greens in two is a dream for the average handicapper. A pleasure to play, where the player will be keen to retry the back nine if it did not go well. Dampen your expectation for the final hole a rather disappointing flat par 3 having had great par threes on 11th and 14th.
Good ambience, great design variety where the holes pose a variety of risks and rewards and equally test length, accuracy and finesse. Shot value was high rewarding a risk- fair and tough. Greens conditions were below average. pd July ‘18
played the course twice, excellent condition even in the heatwave, green staff watering the greens till 9 at night. challenging course for all h'caps would recommend to all. Already booked to return next year.
Harlech Castle, built in the late 13th century was somewhere I used to visit regularly as a child before I even cared for the fact that there was a golf course sitting below it. Now that my addiction to golf travel has well and truly gotten hold of me, I had to go and play the course that lay under the watchful gaze of the castle so well connected with my early childhood.
Along with the castle views, Royal St David’s is also accompanied with more fantastic scenery, the hills of Snowdonia, together providing one of the most impressive backdrops in UK golf. The views aside, the club itself is relatively modest with the clubhouse now looking a little tired and in need of refurbishment. This becomes immaterial though as you step onto the course, the opening holes of which are played over a primarily flat piece of land that leaves the course open to the elements.
Overall, there are no tricks to Royal St David’s. Until the closing stretch, the holes are all laid out in front of you. This par 69 golf course is short on blind shots or general trickery but it offers the genuine links experience. Whilst the front 9 provides a solid test, it was the back 9 that I found more memorable. You make the turn at the far end of this out and back course at the par three 9th where a small area of woodland peers over the hill that sits at the back of the green, shades of Formby here.
Having scored pretty well on the front 9, I then turned into the wind at the 10th which is the kind of hole that greets you with a slap to the face to let you know what sort of examination is to come. This stroke index 1 hole has a well placed stream 60 yards in front of the green and if playing into the wind, will need three shots if you want to comfortably get to the green. This portion of the course gets tantalisingly close to the sand dunes and whilst the cute par three 11th is played between two small dunes, you never feel like you’re fully immersed amongst the dunes here, most of the course is played alongside them.
Of all the holes, the 15th is the one truly outstanding hole on the golf course. This is one of the few areas where the routing takes you into that duneland as the hole winds its way across bumpy links turf and the green is situated cleverly within a circle of dunes. I was also a big fan of the approach to the 17th with undulating ground across the fairway and a narrow gap through which to thread your ball between two bunkers.
Whilst the backdrop to the course is one of the best I’ve seen, the shine is taken off by the derelict block of flats and adjacent concrete building that are an eyesore for the last three holes, an unwelcome return to reality and a sign of the massive under investment in this relatively forgotten part of the UK.
I thoroughly enjoyed my round at Royal St David’s, especially the splendid back 9 and it’s deserving of its place in the GB & Ire Top 100, but for me, not one that warrants a place in the top half of that list. Having now played 6 of Wales’ top 20 ranked courses; Royal Porthcawl, Royal St David’s, P&K, Nefyn, Machynys and Borth, there’s no doubting that Wales has some very good golf courses, but I’ve failed to yet see anything top draw unlike the other countries that make up the British Isles. Maybe one day I’ll get to Pennard and that will be the one that truly delivers?
Nice review, and that building truly is a stinker ! From the interweb SNOWDONIA National Park has said the demolition of a “disgraceful eyesore of a building” in Harlech is “unlikely to happen quickly or easily” as a petition calling for action is launched.
Love playing in Wales, only P&K remaining of its links. I think that Pennard and Tenby (loop aside) are my favourites, agreed though that there are several nearly brilliant links courses there, in addition to yours Ashburnham, Southerndown..
Royal St. David’s is regarded as one of the best links courses in Wales and has a reputation for being a fearsome test of golf.
The numbers certainly back that claim up. The par of 69 from the championship blue markers has an SSS of 73 and the maximum yardage of 6,629 includes a number of brutish par fours; seven of them over the 430 yard mark!
On my most recent visit here the fairways were beautifully browned off and the run on the ball ensured that the course didn’t play as long as the scorecard suggests. And with just a gentle breeze blowing over the links it was a joy to play. It should also be noted that the condition of the course was absolutely first class. Fresh on the back of hosting the Welsh Open Strokeplay Championship the subtle greens putted absolutely superbly having a lovely pace where the ball just keeps rolling out that extra couple of feet which you’re not quite expecting.
As host to many notable championships over its 120-plus year history it’s a course that top players will love because for the most part it is one of those links that provides just about as fair a test of golf as a seaside layout can.
For the most part the front nine is played over flattish land with expansive greens merging beautifully, almost seamlessly, from the fairways. The naturally rippling fairway of the opening hole offers much promise but we must wait until we are well into the back-nine before we see any real movement in the land.
Indeed a gigantic line of towering sand dunes flanks the course and we play directly towards it, most agonisingly as we come up the long seventh, but then away from it a few times during the round. We long to get into the best of the terrain but we must wait until late in the round and then it is only a fleeting visit.
There is a wide variety of bunker styles at Harlech and I just hope The Club are currently in a process of updating them and making them more uniform. It doesn't quite feel right as it is. There are some wonderful blow-out fairway bunkers on the course, that define many of the holes, and some brilliantly menacing deep pits around the greens but you also have some very shallow and tame, almost parkland in nature, traps dotted around too; mainly around the greens. I’d love to see these converted into some of the deeper pits that are often in close proximity.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Played RSD in April 2017. Great setting beneath Harlech castle, shame about the derelict buildings which also overlook the course, particularly the 1960s tower block. Not much the golf club can do about that though. The green fee is exceptional value at £38 and easy to book online. The course is as described in earlier reviews, average first 12 holes then a good finish. That said the opening 12 are still challenging links holes and not as bad as suggested in some reviews. I wouldn't go out of my way to visit again but a course that's well worth playing for any serious golfers who are in the area and a good double with Aberdovey further down the coast.
When golf is discussed in the United Kingdom the top tier courses located in Wales usually get far too little attention. I've been to the country on two different occasions and I have had the opportunity to play just about all of the key candidates generally praised for their qualities.
My time at Royal St. David's had me scratching my head in bewilderment. The course is blessed with some incredible scenery -- Harlech Castle located on high ground provides views from just about any hole on the course. You also have in the distance the outline of the Snowdonia Mountain Range. Nearby just west of the course is the beginnings of the Irish Sea. Add all of the off-course elements and it's quite impressive.
The issue I see for Royal St. David's is a layout that's blessed with one quality nine -- the inward half. The outward nine is simply functional golf -- nothing bad per se but nothing of stirring qualities either.
As a par-69 course Royal St. David's has back-to-back par-5 holes on the front side with no less than five (5) par-3 holes for the entire layout.
After playing the front side I was wondering when the course might hit its stride. That momentum starts at the long par-4 10th. When you finish the fine par-3 11th you cross over a road that separates the course and begin the final stretch of holes to its conclusion.
The key difference?
The terrain for the final few holes does draw one's attention. Holes #12 and #13 are solid par-4 holes. The long par-3 14th is exceptional -- played into the prevailing wind it can mean anywhere from 2-3 clubs more to cover its distance. I was saddened to learn that the original blind shot to the target was eliminated some years ago. It's a first rate hole and anyone who can claim to have hit the green in the regulation stroke has done well.
The par-4 15th that follows is truly one of the finest holes in all of Wales and likely can be included on the short list of top tier holes throughout the UK.
The hard part comes when standing on the tee at this bunkerless 439-yard brute and getting a clear idea on your target line. The fairway is aligned on an angle so working one's ball off the tee on a left-to-right basis is preferred. The fairway actually is wider when shorter off the tee -- the deeper you go the more stringent the hole becomes. I can't stress enough how exacting the requirements are here from the tee -- failure to pay heed can easily mean a quick reload. The green is separated from the first part of the fairway and is beautifully positioned and contoured.
The 16th is a fine short par-4 which starts from an elevated tee -- the sea immediately behind you and is well defended in the drive zone. The long 17th at 431 yards is also a fine hole. The tee shot must escape a trio of bunkers that protect fiercely the right side and out-of-bounds on that same side must also be avoided. The fairway is especially rolling so balls can kick to either side. A true adventure.
The concluding 201-yard par-3 18th hole is one that commands one's attention but I found it sufficient but not particularly memorable. I've played an assortment of other courses ending with a par-3 such as Garden City, the Geronimo Course at Desert Mountain and the Cascades Course at The Homestead -- and the one at RSD's is behind each of the aforementioned. I have read where some claim the par-69 here is the toughest for its type. I would urge those taking that view to head to Wannamoisett across the pond in Rhode Island.
As I said at the outset -- Royal St. David's has plenty of elements -- off course and on -- that certainly will carry the day for many who play there. For those who are design connoisseurs the totality of what could have been present is the key element that left me wanting more and likely others will feel similarly. It's too bad the land used for the final five (5) holes could not have been more in the mix. All in all, a worthy course to play and one where spending some time in Harlech will clearly complete the visit in fine fashion.
by M. James Ward