"Not far from Porthcawl – as the aeroplane flies – is another excellent course, Southerndown," wrote Bernard Darwin, in The Golf Courses of the British Isles. "It is perched high aloft and looks down on Porthcawl, amid the many other glories of a beautiful view. You may look out far over the sea, or again over a wide stretch of English – or rather Welsh – landscape. The breezes blow cool and fresh here, and on a still and stifling August day, when the golfer is almost too limp to crawl round Porthcawl, he will be wise to refresh himself by a round on the heights of Southerndown."
Southerndown Golf Club's elevated site, high above the Ogmore River Valley, provides arresting views across the Bristol Channel. Over time, sand has blown up from the seashore, coming to rest on the rolling slopes and giving the turf at Southerndown a rather links-like character. In fact, you would be hard pressed to categorise the course – it's quite unique – but one thing is for sure, it's absolutely natural. There are no trees or artificial water hazards, just bracken, gorse and bunkers waiting to trap the wayward drive. Oh yes, we'd almost forgotten, there are a couple of other things – the ever-present wind and the sheep – serious hazards in their own right.
Willie Fernie originally laid down the course in 1905. But this wasn't the same Willie Fernie who won the British Open Championship in 1883 – it was his namesake – a fact we learnt from Southerndown's knowledgeable Secretary. The hands of a number of great architects have touched Southerndown over the years (Herbert Fowler, Willie Park Junior and more recently, Donald Steel) but its lineage remains intact.
"Bracken to the left of you, bracken to the right – and a fairway rising up to the sky," was how the great Henry Cotton saw Southerndown's opening hole. It's certainly a most challenging two-shot hole and it's followed by two more, which are equally tough. The four par threes at Southerndown are noteworthy, especially the 5th hole, known as "Carter's Folly" – it's expertly bunkered and calls for an accurate iron shot.
James Braid and Harry Vardon predicted that Southerndown would become a great course, and they were right. It's hosted a number of important events including the Piccadilly Masters and the Martini International. The most notable current event is the Welsh amateur competition, called the Duncan Putter, an annual 72-hole competition, which has seen Peter McEvoy and Gary Wolstenholme emerging as winners.
No trip to South Wales would be complete without a game at Southerndown – it's an exciting experience with a warm and inviting clubhouse, which completes the perfect day.
Played Southerndown on a warm day in late May with little or no breeze and hard running fairways after an extended period of good weather. The course was excellent, although the greens were the slowest of our week in Wales, still very true however. The lack of wind made some of the stroke indexes seem peculiar with the long uphill 3rd showing as SI 13 while the shorter, easier4th was SI 7. I suspect in a strong wind those holes may have player rather differently. This is a very natural course and the resident sheep wander freely around although that had no impact on our game - unlike Pennard where we had to wait a few times while the cattle chose to cross our fairway. There is a lot of gorse so hitting off-line is likely to be penalised but, in most cases, the fairways were wide enough that the drives did not feel too daunting. I enjoyed this course a lot and would happily play it again if back in the area.
Played May 2017
Southerndown is unlike many courses I have played before and really has its own identity. Set slightly inland from the sea on very high ‘downland’ ground the course has all the playing characteristics of a true links with some superb and spectacular looking holes traversing wonderful sandy ground where sheep roam freely.
Regardless of what type of course this is (I think I settled on downland links) it’s a real joy to play and although trouble lurks, mainly in the form of gorse and bracken, the width and relative lack of rough ensure that it is the strategy of the course that presents the challenge and is the order of the day.
The ground game is often required on this exposed and very natural course which dramatically climbs uphill at the first hole before twisting and turning across gentle undulating land for the majority of the round before gradually descending over the final few holes. With the firm fairways it’s an easy walk and I seemed to fly round on my visit.
Not much is hidden at Southerndown. There is the occasional blind drive but most of the bunkers are laid out before you and this allows the golfer to plot their way round or risk taking on the hazards in order to set up shorter shots into the green.
Southerndown is a bit quirky at times and great fun but also undoubtedly provides an excellent test of golf.
If you are heading to South Wales this course must be high on your list of priorities to play. I felt it was a real treat to play here and came away with a wide smile on my face having done so.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Played Southerndown for the first time in July 2016 in their mixed open. Biggest surprise was the glorious location adjacent Ogmore-by-Sea with sea, river and inland countryside views. As per other reviews, sheep, gorse and wind were all factors. Course was generally in good condition (apart from a few greens which were a bit below the others); the welcome, clubhouse and practise facilities were also good. After the uphill first the course tends to be on a plateau and holes were generally interesting with good bunkering. Three downhill par 3's in the first 10 holes was quite unusual, and I thought the course really got going after that. The finish from hole 15 onwards was for me the best part of the course with hole 18 an excellant finishing par 4 (an unusual two tier fairway, into the wind and heading towards the bay and prominent clubhouse). Well worth a game and look forward to returning