Tenby Golf Club lays claim to the oldest course in Wales, established in 1888, originally as a 9-holer. James Braid was commissioned to extend the course; 18 holes opened for play in 1907.
This charming, classic links is situated on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast, affording superb views across to one of Britain’s most fascinating and holiest of islands. Caldey Island has experienced more than one thousand years of Cistercian prayer. A pleasant summer boat trip from Tenby harbour will take you to the island where you will receive a warm welcome from the various orders of monks.
Tenby is one of the finest and least well-known golf courses in the whole of the British Isles. It is here you will find links golf at its most natural. There is nothing modern about Tenby, but it’s an engaging experience.
Many shots are blind, the contoured greens are hard and fast, and there are snaking hog’s back fairways, dense gorse, cruel pot bunkers and rugged dunes. It’s not a long course by today’s standards, measuring a little less than 6,500 yards from the tips, but the opening four holes (three of which are over 400 yards long) will challenge the very best golfers.
It would be easy to dismiss Tenby as a holiday golf course or as unfair, eccentric or quirky. We think Tenby is very enjoyable; playing here is always a memorable experience and you’ll probably end up playing shots from positions you’ve never faced before. What an absolute delight.
Don’t tell too many people, but the green fee is tremendous value too, and what’s more, you’ll be given a very warm Welsh welcome.
Few courses in all of Wales have such a superlative opening of holes as Tenby. Any visit to the club is augmented by the superb location -- plenty of things to do and see -- with golf most certainly high on the list.
The quartet are challenging and architecturally interesting in a variety of ways. The opening salvo reminds me of any James Bond or Indiana Jones movie -- best you're seated the minute the lights go down low in the theater or you will certainly be missing something of note.
Tenby opens from the championship tees with a long par-4 of 462 yards -- it's a par-5 of 476 yards from the medal tees -- requiring two solid strikes to get near the putting surface. It also helps to shape the tee shot from right-to-left but be forewarned -- going too far left means a date with the out-of-bounds awaiting the hapless play. The tee shot features a blind shot over a narrow saddle opening and clearly signals the game is most certainly on.
The 2nd is no less challenging -- fortified by a long narrow green -- the approach must be played with total confidence in order to achieve a hard-earned par.
At the 3rd you encounter arguably one of the finest under 400 yards par-4's in all of the UK. Generally, the prevailing wind is with the player and it pays to take heed as the fairway bottlenecks considerably. Those who seek to hit driver had better execute with laser-like precision. The smart play is to lay-up before the narrowing and hit one's approach from that area. The green is simply grand stuff, utterly devilish and providing steep drop-offs on either side which can propel one's ball into a harrowing position.
The 4th continue the challenge in fine fashion. The ground is naturally rumpled and gives the appearance of an ocean on a stormy day. A long accurate tee shot can finish over a blind rise and the approach from this position becomes a matter of total faith in one's ability. Assessing the yardage and the trajectory one wishes to execute the shot are equally called upon. The green is beautifully situated in a bowl-like setting. When you finish the hole -- look back from the rear of the green and admire the manner by which Mother Nature played such a sterling role.
The land movement at Tenby is very good amongst the links holes -- plenty of twists and turns with fairways featuring an assortment of lies and the different types of stances you'll need to improvise when playing. Thinking carefully before striking one's ball is essential on the opening half of holes. The proximity to the ocean allows for varying wind velocities to Impact play and the tightness of the turf ensures plenty of ball movement when any shot strikes the terrain.
The series of par-4's from the 7th through the 11th is also a good mixture. At the 7th there's a rail line hugging the right side of the hole with OB awaiting. There's also a series of fairway bunkers - big enough to snare a golf ball into but far from an automatic escape. The elevated tee at the par-4 9th is also a wonderful hole that provides a glorious view of the coastline and a view of the town and St. Catherine's Island & Fort. With a turn of the shoulder you can also take in the view of nearby Caldey Island.
The 10th and 11th are solid two-shot holes -- each going in different directions so the wind pattern will vary. The 12th is the best par-3 at Tenby. The tee is along the edge of the property line with the nearby beach and the green is slightly angled so when a pin placement is in the far right area it will take a supreme shot of total skill to find the mark.
Unfortunately, when one leaves the 12th you're envisioning a rousing finish to cap off the round. Alas, that's not going to happen. Much has been made of the three holes on the other side of the rail line. I concur their inclusion is totally out of character with the holes found on the links side. However, holes #13 and #14 do not really add anything to the equation and while they still possess a links connection they are truly lame when held against the likes of what one has already played. I was informed the three original holes were lost to the sea and that the club added the "new" holes in the 1960s.
The 18th tries to sort things out as players return to the links side of the course. The extreme rear tee does provide a wonderful view of the clubhouse in the nearby distance and the pesky OB runs down the entire left side must also be factored into the mix with any approach struck too strong.
How many times has one gone to a movie and after a rousing opening and much build-up you're anticipating a grand finale and then left wanting at the end. That's the story with Tenby -- the course should have been much better because the quirk you encounter and the various twists and turns of the terrain are really fun and memorable. The other missing ingredient for me is the lack of a quality par-5 or two in the mix. There really isn't such a hole at Tenby. The backbone of the course rests with the collection of par-4 holes on the links side.
Tenby is certainly worth the visit -- but the disappointment of "what might have been" still resonates for me.
by M. James Ward
Golf courses such as Tenby are very few and far between. For me they capture the absolute essence of links golf.
They provide not only a true test of the game but give you much more than that; they provide a memorable and scintillating golfing experience.
How and why? You may rightly ask. And the answer is all to do with the movement of the land.
At Tenby you play over naturally billowing terrain that tumbles, falls and rises in all manner of ways. Sometimes it’s subtle whilst at others, and for the most part, it’s more pronounced with many changes in elevation as you travel over and through the natural duneland. Golf courses are often called rollercoaster rides and this term is no more fitting than here.
The mobility of the land allows for green settings that provide holes of exceptional quality and a uniqueness that cannot be replicated. The rumpled nature of the fairways provide holes of strategy, a variety of lies and a feeling, when walking them, that cannot be bettered. You feel in touch with nature, and you are, because that is what created the amazing topography.
You are faced with some blind shots, others that are partially visible whilst for the most part you know where you are going. The ground game is very much in force on this exciting links, and shot-making comes to the fore, whilst there is also the occasional forced carry; the terrifying par-three 12th is perhaps the best example. Tenby mixes it all up perfectly.
What you also have at Tenby is a real connection with the sea and the town itself. The ninth tee has the most amazing view over a sandy beach towards the picturesque harbour town edging the cliffs that look out to the small tidal island of St Catherine’s and the more distant Caldey Island beyond.
With excellent Dormy house accommodation on site at Tenby and the proximity of the club to town after just one visit this has become one of my favourite places to ‘play and stay’ when golfing not just in Wales but the entire United Kingdom.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
A real hidden gem. A true links, in good condition, and very good value indeed. Complete with one of the more varied and interesting set of greens one could see. 3rd an upturned saucer with trouble on every side, 4th an old-fashioned blind pulpit green, 8th on two tiers at the most awkward angle, 11th wickedly sloping from back to front and shallow. Were it not for the three holes across the railway, the last of which, 17th is a pretty, and a good, par three, which are of totally different character, this would rate right up there with Portcawl for difficulty, and fun, for me. As it is, still a wonderful course.
We played Tenby today on a sultry May afternoon after waiting out some hammering rain by enjoying the very nice food in the club house. The very friendly pro offered us the choice of tees recommending the whites for the extra length and getting more elevated views of the many blind shots. A nice touch, but the 6500 length played much longer. Some great links par 4 holes, the Bell hole in particular with a classic blind short in to a sunken green that wouldn't be out of place at Silloth, Machrihanish or indeed the Machrie. No higher praise ! Quibbles would be the uneven distribution of the par 3s and the Lelant like loop of holes 15 - 17 that can't help but disrupt the rhythm of the round. Also the greens at the club house end of the course aren't up to the excellent standard further out. However, a really enjoyable game of golf on a quality course that felt like one of the longest of its type, I feel the course is under rated and should be played by the many traditional links addicts on this site.