Just across the Severn Bridge is the resort of St Pierre, set in 400 acres of rolling South Wales countryside. The graceful 14th century manor house doubles up as an impressive clubhouse and a comfortable hotel. For safe keeping, The Crown Jewels were kept in the manor house during the Battle of Agincourt. The hotel sits alongside the St Pierre church, which dates back to Norman times. It's a majestic setting.
The Old course, which occupies a mature, former deer park, opened for play in 1962, and was designed by C.K. Cotton with assistance from Frank Pennink.
It was here at St Pierre, in the 1980 British Masters, that Bernhard Langer became the first German to win a major tournament. In total, St Pierre hosted the British Masters no fewer than eight times. Winners at St Pierre include five former Ryder Cup Captains – Tony Jacklin, Bernhard Gallagher, Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam. Greg Norman found the putting surface on the 362-yard 10th with a 3-wood on his way to victory in 1982 and Ian Woosnam, “Woosie”, was St Pierre’s last Masters’ champion, claiming the title in 1983. St Pierre hosted the Solheim Cup in 1996 – team USA retained the cup, beating Europe by 17 points to 11.
Mature, sentry trees lie in wait to stymie the errant tee shot and a lake covering more than ten acres poaches many golf balls. The 7,023-yard par 72 layout is certainly no pushover – accurate positioning from the tees will pay dividends. Without doubt, the most famous and dramatic hole on the Old course is the 18th – a 230-yard par three – which, unusually, is completely devoid of trees. A solid tee shot across the edge of the lake is required. The elevated tee provides an ideal vantage point to celebrate glory... or to commiserate as the ball finds dry land or a watery grave.
The amateur Arwyn Griffiths will certainly remember the infamous closing hole at St Pierre. He walked on to the tee requiring a par three for an incredible course record gross 63. Sadly, he putted out, having taken eleven strokes. The good news was that his score of 71 was good enough to win the event.
St Pierre is a quality resort, now owned by Marriott. The shorter second course, the Mathern, is pleasantly challenging and complements the Old admirably. Ryder Cup 2010 course architect Ross McMurray of European Golf Design remodelled both courses in 2008. Each course has benefited from 18 new tee complexes, reconstructed, repositioned bunkers and also the Old Course has four new greens designed to improve year-round playability.
A visit to St Pierre will certainly be memorable, especially if you see the ghosts. Allegedly, a grey lady spectre and the ghost of the “laughing gardener” haunt St Pierre. The gardener apparently walks through the gate, into the walled garden and then disappears into the churchyard, roaring with laughter all the way.
November 08, 2005