- +44 (0) 1766 780361
¼ mile W of Harlech
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.”
|Did you know that Royal St David’s came out top in an analysis of your favourite Welsh courses? Click here for more.|
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 appropriate that Wales should have a golf club called St David’s, after all, Scotland has St Andrews 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.
Played here on Wednesday 21st July during a spell of scorching hot weather, and were so impressed that we booked up again for the following afternoon, delaying our trip back home to accommodate it.
The course is absolutely superb, from beginning to end, with beautiful scenery all around and danger lurking on nearly every hole. Despite the closing holes being more dramatic, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. Despite playing reasonable golf, I could not get the hang of the greens and putted like a complete novice, effectively ruining a decent scorecard, but never mind. We booked online, taking advantage of the reduced rate twilight fee of £54.00 after 3pm and it's an absolute bargain. Easily in my top 5 courses ever played, will definitely be returning at a future date.
The links at Royal St David's Golf Club occupies a beautiful stretch of low lying dunesland which is overlooked/dominated by the dark and foreboding presence of Harlech Castle. Apparently when the castle was built in the fifteenth century the sea lapped on it's castle walls. But as centuries passed the sea receded leaving dunes perfect for golf.
Nowadays the course is quite distant from the sea, begging the question: why isn't the course heading into the bigger dunes now available?
The front nine at Harlech covers the flatter ground with some delightful strategic links golf.
The course measures 6629 yards from the back markers and is known for the number of long testing par 4's which vary in length and direction. The only two par 5's occur at holes 7 & 8. Perversely I enjoyed the shorter par 4's- holes 2 & 6, and the two par 3's at holes 4 and 9. Hole 9 in particular caught the eye with the dunes and trees in the background creating a striking backdrop.
Things get more interesting at Harlech on the back nine as the course gradually moves into the dunes. The short par 3 eleventh hole is the taster, and it is delightful as good links holes are- surrounded by bunkers and dips and swales- it is an easy par...or not!
Hole 12 is also impressive. A long par 4, it angles away to the right from the elevated tees. Both sides of the landing area are protected by bunkers, so a precise long drive is required if one hopes to get home in two. Hole 13 is another long par 4 but bending right to left this time. Which brings us to the fourteenth hole...
It is a long par 3 measuring 221 yards from the tips. The green is partially obscured from the tee by a low sand dune, and the large bunkerless green is surrounded by low dunes and gorse. With the wind in your face it is a driver for many, and a well earned three.
Hole fifteen is another strong long par 4 angled slightly left to right. Again the green has no bunkers but is protected by low dunes, and gorse. It is a nice hole, but tough.
For me the highlight of the round came on the sixteenth tee, where you must climb up on the massive frontal dune to hit your drive to the short par 4 winding away below. The view is gorgeous, with sea on one side and Harlech castle as a backdrop. The hole is dotted with bunkers requiring an accurate tee shot and a precise short iron. It is a world class hole.
After another long par 4 at seventeen the round finishes with a 201 yard par 3 which has 6 bunkers defending it.
Royal St David's consistently rates as one of the top 50 courses in the U.K., and is a delightful links course that will test all parts of your game, but in particular will give your long game a workout! If only they could replace some of the flatter, lower lying holes on the front nine with more holes in the dunes!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
I have only played this course once and found it a quality test of golf, I was fortunate to have a relatively calm day as I’m sure in the peak season with the wind blowing it would set a serious challenge.Well worth a visit
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