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.
Maybe it’s my slightly eccentric taste in golf courses searching for something a little out of the ordinary, but I was dazzled by the opening holes at Tenby. Having read the modest reviews on this website before visiting and knowing very little about the course, my expectations were limited heading into my round. But Tenby presented my most pleasant surprise of all of the courses I visited on a week-long tour that had me passing through Wales and the golf coast of North West England.
From the off, Tenby provides quality and brilliant land movement. The 1st introduces you to some fabulously turbulent ground and this hardly lets up through the opening nine. The 3rd has a high dune protecting the green and some deep run-offs on the green’s sides, whilst the devilish 4th is a double blind big-dipper of a hole with a massive hollow mid-way along the fairway before playing up-and-over again to a sunken green. This is golf as I’ve come to love it, and pure James Braid at his insane best.
The 5th introduces you then to one of several teeing grounds that’s set alongside the sandy beach. 7 and 8 admittedly do visit some less interesting land away from the pure rolling links and towards the slightly unnerving firing range, before the 9th hole revisits the best of Tenby’s ground with a high elevated tee that comes with views to die for. This hole has another lumpy fairway where you hit towards a marker post in the distance and then a half-concealed but raised green.
11 and 12 then provide the highlights on the back nine. Both play over more humps and hollows with 11 a par four playing towards the shore and the 12th being a do-or-die long par three over a valley. The 13th then almost plays on top of the 5th and is probably where things start to become a little confused. Still an excellent hole, but the best of Braid’s work is now behind you. The much maligned stretch between 15 and 17 come at the wrong time, and whilst they wouldn’t be poor holes on a parkland course as they still carry some links characteristics, given what’s come before these holes, the closing stretch leaves a bit to be desired. The 18th hole would also be a much more grand finish if they still used the high tee which is sadly now closed and cordoned off.
Whilst it’s a shame that course ends on a low note, the majority of the course is blessed with the most wonderful rolling links land and sharp natural undulations that feed into various superb green sites. I felt comparisons with Machrihanish, Pennard, Perranporth and even Elie in places. It might not be for the faint of heart given that there are plenty of blind shots, but I’d suggest Tenby is a must-play for anyone visiting South Wales on a golf tour and for those who would like to play some interesting and thought provoking golf. Tenby is in a lovely part of the world and the town with its multi-coloured properties along the coast and thriving village life would also make it a great place to stay for a night or two, but if Tenby town’s too far away from the golf, the club comes complete with a seven room Dormy House.
I personally rate Tenby as a pretty special place to come and play golf. If only they could find a handful more golf holes in the dunes somewhere. Then it would be really something.
It doesn't take you long to realise you are in for a different type of experience when you arrive at Tenby. We thought we might drop in for a quick lunch at the famous walled city of Tenby. I suggest you allow quite a few hours if you intend to do the same.
Tenby is a lovely old village, set on a really beautiful coastline. When you do wind your way through the one way streets and find the entrance to the golf course it is a very tight laneway indeed you need to negotiate... Tight is the operative word as you begin your round at Tenby.
The course has that old world feel, a feel you might pick up at say Prestwick. The playing corridors in the first 4 holes are claustrophic, there are blind shots at every turn, and the actual cut fairways can be likened to country lanes, rather than two lane highways. And where there are blind shots there are bells!
The course is also intriguing, challenging, frustrating- and quite wonderful. Hole 7 emerges from this amazing start to rolling linksland with more rural views. The fairways are wider, and the golf is a little more relaxed. This series of holes continues to hole 14, with each hole offering different challenges.
Along the way hole 9 takes you up on to an elevated tee where the views back toward the walled city of Tenby, and the island castle- and then over to the holy island of Caldey are spectacular..
Hole 15, 16 & 17 are played across the trainline, and are generally not regarded as being as strong as the rest of the course, but the long par 4 closing hole is a quality links hole.
Favourite holes include:
- Hole 1- (Danny Carew)- a short par 5 with a very tight fairway. Did I mention the gorse? Hit it straight!
- Hole 4- (The Bell)- because for each blind hole you need to ring a bell as you leave a hole to notify following groups it is safe to play. There are lots of bells at Tenby! Hole 4 requires a good drive to go over the first big dune to the blind landing area. This will enable you to hit the next blind shot over the dune in front of the green which is set in a little dell surrounded by bracken and gorse. It can be quite a long shot in, is completely blind, and needs to very accurate- good luck!
- Hole 9 (Monk's Way)- has picturesque teeing grounds The hole is a longish dogleg par 4 to a green angled to the right and protected by a large dune.
- Hole 11 (Giltar)- just a lovely links hole
- hole 12 (Y Ddau Gwm)- is a world class hole. It has a tee right on the beach with views back to the walled city...and the tabletop green has big drop offs to the front and right.
- Hole 18 (Charlie's Whiskers)- is a strong par 4 with a flattish green complex, but all the interest is created by the rolling dunes and dips 100 metres short of the green. The dunes partially block views of the green, and the dips hide a nasty pot bunker!
All in all Tenby is a bit of a step back in time to an unpretentious old links course by the sea. Combine your game with a visit to the walled city and it makes for a memorable day
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
This a great golf course with some truly fantastic holes with the exception of a few inland holes on the back nine it could be top class. It is great value and always very welcoming when I visited but alas the condition is not as it was many years ago, still it’s well worth a visit...enjoy.
Tenby golf has and will always be one of my favourite courses, everything about the course to the village is worth the visit. Reasonable price, course is always in good condition, very welcoming people and a tough test for any golfer wanting to try links courses.
A number of reviewers have described Tenby as a natural or typical links course. In my view, it is on the margin of being a links course with at least half the holes with an inland look and feel (especially 15 to 17 which are located some way away from the coast). I played with a long standing member who was also of the opinion that it was on the cusp for a true links). The terrain was similar to Ashburnham, another hybrid course in south Wales. The sea is only visible from the 9th and 12th tees. Notwithstanding the above semantics, it is an honest track with some strong holes. Greens were excellent and as a whole worth a visit.
Tenby is a natural links course with nice views of the bay including Caldy Island. First hole reminds me of the tough first at Saunton East (although it does depend on whether you are playing it as a par 4 or par 5) and the opening stretch of four holes are pretty tough and you soon realise that this is not 'holiday golf'. My favourite stretch would be from holes 9 to 12, with the the 9th hole being particularly memorable. The 9th is a classic links hole, only 376 yards but requiring accuracy from the elevated tee at the far end of the course, it dog-legs right with the beach to the right and a great view of the bay and Tenby .. a fabulous hole. Biggest disappointment was the three holes 15-17 across the railway which seemed out of character to the rest (and this is the reason I didn't give Tenby more than a 4 ball). Bit of a trip to Pembrokeshire but good value green fees and a very decent course await.
Worth a visit but all the courses in South Wales suffered this summer from a drought, if you can believe that. Would play again under better conditions. No caddies.
Great links layout with fabulous views from most parts of course.
Well worth a visit
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.