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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.
I agree with the previous reviewer. Compared to Aberdovey this is different gravy! A step up in class. I appreciate that the Ranking panel feel it’s the other way around, but having played Aberdovey the day before, this was the overwhelming feeling I got when playing RSD the next day.
Similar to Aberdovey in that on the whole it is played on flat land behind the dunes. With Harlech Castle stood brooding over the course, you can see that once where we were playing was under the sea!
This is a class track from beginning to end. The conditioning and presentation was a step up from Aberdovey, the practice facilities excellent in comparison.
At a par 69, and 6400 yards off the whites, this is no easy test. Brutal in places on a windy day, the scenery and framing of the course is a sight to behold. With the magnificent Snowdonia range of mountains to the north and east, it reminded me of Waterville and the Ring of Kerry.
The course was everything I remembered from 2012 when I last played it and more. Having ducked the heavy overnight rain, the sun was out and the air warming up, although the fairways were quite wet in places and the bunkers mainly GUR.
The course doesn’t follow an out and back layout and I like it for that. The routing is clever, mixing a quality variety of par 4’s and 3’s, with the only par 5’s coming back to towards the middle of the round.
The 1st is a tough opener at 440 yards, a gentle left to right, with generous fairway. The 2nd is a short par 4, take aim over the left hand side bunkers, leaving a short iron to the green. And the you get a 467 yard par 4, playing the same direction of the 1st. With a 15 mph wind these two holes presented a more than fair test.
The course crosses a public walkway to the 1st of the par 3’s, and one of 3 which I took driver to! Measuring 187 yards, but with a strong wind against and to a green with banking in front, driver for me was the right choice, straight to the centre of the green.
The course then changes direction and you tee off aiming 90 degrees to the last hole for a couple of short par 4’s, key being missing the bunkers off the tee, leaving very scorable chances. Then you play the par 5’s. Similar in length to each other but playing in opposite directions, one into the wind the other wind behind. Needless to say the 1st of them, the 7th hole plays into the wind and is SI 4. The next is SI 10 but was easier, The green on the 1st was raised with clever banking and run off areas so approach was key. The 2nd, you could run the ball in.
And you’re in a pretty part of the course, with pines framing the excellent par 3 10th (reminded me of Hillside) - 180 yards into a green with bunkers to the right, a back to front sloping green and horrendous rough all around. Talking of rough, this was knee length and then some, so much more brutal than Aberdovey.
The back 9 for me is the stronger half, less open as you enter the dunes (yes you do play in them, unlike a previous reviewers comments) on the 11th, and then particularly holes 14th and 15th. You tee off from high in the dunes on the 16th as well.
The 10th is the hardest hole SI 1 and at 458 yards, par 4 it is easy to understand why. Good bunkering on the fairways protect against the drives and approach shots and a clever green that looks like it moves the ball a lot more than it actually does.
The 11th is a lovely short par 3 which played so much better for knowing. Trouble is all right - rough, and a hidden bunker over the dune. Safe is to the left as bunkers have been removed and the area grassed. Bunkers protect the front.
The 12th and 13th continue to play back inland, facing the castle but also some 1960s derelict office buildings which to be honest is a real blight on the landscape and I’m sure everyone would love to see it demolished.
The 14th par 3 at 221 yards was the next par 3 I took driver to - shows what a real test this course is. Fortunately nailed it on the hidden green. Trust your number and aim at the marker. A miss left is goodnight, a miss right has much more forgiveness for you.
Then what I think is the best hole on the course, the 15th. Teed from a high point on the dunes, you drive to a fairway that is almost 90 degrees to the tee box. The more you take on the shorter the 2nd, but at 439 yards this is not an easy par 4. The green is flat but hidden and sits down in a dell.
I love the 16th also, teeing off from a high tee in the dunes and back towards inland, this is a good looking hole, well shaped and with excellent bunkering making the tee shot more daunting than it actually is. Bunkers short and in front of the green means your 2nd has to fly all the way to a large green that slopes gently front to back.
You then swing back towards the clubhouse and a play another strong left to right shaped hole, skirting OOB on the right, before the 18th a par 3. 201 yards and into a strong breeze this was another driver for me. On both playing days I managed to hit the green and hole for par. A satisfactory end to what is a real class course and for me the No1 in North Wales.
Having now played the all of the West “top 4” I’m amazed RSD sits below Pennard & Aberdovey. While both very good courses they are simply not in the same league as RSD which in my view runs Porthcawl close for top spot.
Played it today in extremely blustery conditions with penal rough which is up there with the most brutal I’ve seen. A tough but fairly flat and benign start is illuminated by the glorious views of Harlech Castle and Snowdonia. The 4th is a glorious par 3 playing slightly uphill to a green beautifully cut into the landscape. Long testing back to back par 5’s await at 7 & 8 then the course really kicks into gear on the back 9.
The 10th is brutally tough Par 4 demanding razor sharp accuracy of the tee followed by a wood or long iron in to a narrow and well protected green. 12 through to 17 is as tough a stretch as you’ll see in links golf. It opens with a glorious dog leg Par 4 from an elevated tee, the 13th is a long tough Par 4 into the wind while the 14th is as tough a par 3 as you’ll see. Due to the wind I had to hit driver and was thankful to hit a decent one as it demands a straight committed shot to carry and avoid the danger all around.
The 15th is simple the best hole on the course and a classic links hole. A strong drive to a partially hidden fairway is followed by a long iron to a narrow target. The 16th offers some respite from the tough finish with a fairly straightforward Par 4 before another long tough one on 17. The 18th is a fairly average Par 3 finish but RSD’s certainly isn’t the only classic British links course to finish with a fairly basic hole.
Overall a superb links test and worthy of a solid 2nd place in the Welsh rankings.
Royal St David's should be considered one of the very best links courses in Britain. The stunning backdrop of the castle and the unforgiving dunes creates near perfection as each hole is so unique but yet ties together in a stunning fashion. It is the perfect course for someone who prefers the raw challenge of golf, no bad shot goes unpunished but each good shot is equally rewarded and every hole offers different perspectives and ways to play it. The history of Harlech and the castle complements with the course to create an unforgettable experience.
Would highly recommend the journey to the foothills of Snowdonia.
Simply the best course I have ever played. For the golfing purist I dont think you can ask for more. It's got nothing around it, a basic but welcoming clubhouse and dorms, and yet still manages to wow you with the quality of the golf. Different ways to play each hole, good shots rewarded and bad ones punished, long enough to test without ever feeling too tough. Just a bit of course designing perfection.
Played here some time ago under a really unusual 30 degrees, humid and windless day - more typical of tropical areas than Wales - The rough was so high that the longer tees were not in play . Nevertheless the experience was amazing . The wilderness and landscape around is quite something and having the castle always in view as well . A truly nice golf challenge as well . Would always comeback .
Royal St Davids is a lovely course. Don't be fooled by the yardage, as it's not easy. The first 10 holes are good, but the course is really strong from 11-18. There is a great mix of short and long holes, and some really great views of Harlech Castle. The par 3 Finnish is quirky which I really like.
It's a bit out of the way, but worth playing if in the area.
I played this on a rainy day in April but that did not detract from the experience. Is this one of the toughest Par 69s in the world, I would certainly think so. If you were a member here your handicap would definitely travel. We had rainy weather for the previous 5 days and yet the course was in stunning shape with great greens . If I am in the North of Wales again I will definitely be playing this course again
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.