Peter Johnson, the Wales National designer and former professional at the Cardiff Club, first began the development of golf within the former estate of Hensol Castle, a Grade I listed 17th century stately home, when he built Vale’s other 18-hole layout, the 6,700-yard Lake course.
Following a visit to USA, he returned with the idea that Wales required a tougher, longer course to test the modern day golfer. Hence the Wales National course stretches to more than 7,400 yards over nearly 200 acres with five lake areas coming into play at half the holes on the card. A standard scratch score of 75 against a par of 73 lets you know that this course has been constructed with some serious golf in mind.
As Johnson says, “new golf technology has seen top golfers destroy the reputation of some of our traditional courses with their huge driving and we have to develop more challenging courses. However, I am a bit of a traditionalist and set out to mold the course into the countryside, making the most of the land's natural contours, features and waterways”.
Set within some beautiful Welsh countryside, the course contains a mix of wooded areas, wide and narrow fairways, along with some enormous water features and bunker complexes, with all putting surfaces constructed to USGA standard. The 495-yard 16th is rated by some as one of the best par fours in the UK with an incredibly undulating green that sees more than its fair share of three putts.
A course that divides opinion. Firstly, it’s long, really long. And with soft fairways it plays its full length. But in an environment where pro’s are hitting the ball further and further, leading to some older classic courses becoming obsolete, I think it’s necessary that some new courses are built a thousand yards longer. And this course has been built with enough length to challenge the pro’s, so if you’re a handicap golfer don’t make the mistake of playing from the tips!
Secondly, it can be a bit of a bog. It rains a lot in Wales (Faldo was right), and this course is built on farmland. I’ve played here three times, always in May/June, and the conditions have been soft but perfectly playable. However, if it’s soft in May it must be a swamp in winter.
As for the layout, I think it has some really entertaining holes and there are a lot of nerve jangling shots. There are a lot of doglegs where you need to choose your line off the tee: an aggressive line can be rewarded but usually involves danger.
The long par 5 2nd plays through a very tight avenue of trees down to a green fronted by a pond. On the one hand you want to advance your ball as far as possible with your first two shots to leave a shorter iron over the water into the green, but on the other hand the tight fairway encourages you play more conservatively. The 6th is a genuine driveable short par 4, about 270 yards but downhill… the green was in range for me, but water guards the front of the green, and with trees left and right I’ve always found it too big a risk to take on. The back 9 starts with an intimidating long par 5 with water up the left and trees on the right, it is very tight, and this continues with more water in play on most of the back nine. The green at 13 is immense – maybe 100 yards wide – and there are some fun roller coaster putts here. After building to a crescendo, the round then finishes with a whimper, 17 and 18 are weak holes, with the 18th green located round the back of the car park with a horrible artificial pond on the side of a hill it’s a very low key finish.
It’s not a classic course, but there’s enough here to keep you entertained, especially if your driver is hot.
Such an enjoyable course. Good amount of variety in holes. The par 4 6th is probably my favourite hole I've played Driveable with water guarding the green.
I was a bit sceptical in what to expect when going to play the wales national as the last few reviews were not good ones but also were from back in 2012.
This golf course is SEVERELY UNDERRATED!!!
I have played RSD, Conwy, Pennard, Aberdovey and P&K and the Wales National is up there with all of them. I think if this one wasn't on a big resort and was a normal members Golf club it would be rated much higher.
We played the day after a massive down pour and i was a bit worried after reading all the reviews about it being soggy,etc... the course was basically bone dry. The fairways were some of the best i've played on, the green rolled amazing, maybe just a bit slow but i guess they have to be with how undulating they are. And the bunkers were perfect, even after the rain.
I wanted to play off the Tips but we were playing with my friends dad who is off 22 so we agreed to play off the whites. It is very much a risk and reward golf course which i love, if you are willing to cut off corners and go over tree's, it really does pay off. But if you make a mistake, you get punished severely.
The opening hole is a dogleg left, you can hit driver over the corner and have 130/140 in or play safe and hit a 3 irons or something, leaving 190/200 in. This kind of sets the tone for the round.
The second is an absolutely stunning par 5, you hit your tee shot just over the ridge then there's a big drop down to the green with water in front, the whole fairway is lines with trees on both sides and makes for a very daunting tee shot.
There are some other fantastic holes on the front 9, 6 is a drivable par 4, is about 270/280 down hill, luckily we had it down wind as well so i went for it with me 3 wood and was safely aboard the middle of the green about 20 foot from the flag, this is very much risk and reward as it's a really tight hole with water all across the front of the green. You can hit 6/7 iron and leave yourself a flick of a wedge in or go for it!
7 is a very reachable par 5 if you're willing to take a driver over the corner again, 8 is an uphill par 3 with a very undulating green, you need to make sure you get your ball on the same level as the flag and 9 is a great par 4 to end the front 9, you take your drive over the corner and you'll have nothing more than a wedge to this green.
The back 9 in my eyes is definitely the better/harder of the 2, it begins straight away with a tough par 5, this is one i went for the safer option on as i was on a good score, i hit 3 iron so i was short of the water, you can hit driver but you'll be aiming in a fairly tight gap. The lay up is tough as theres water all the way down the left up to the green and trees all down the right. Not an easy start to the back 9.
11 is one where you can cut the corner with a drive over the trees or hit 5 iron to the big tree in the middle of the fairway, then you have a short par 3. 13 is a very tough, long par 4 with lots of bunkers and water down the right.
14, 15 and 16 are a fantastic stretch of holes. 14 is a short down hill par 3 with water all in front and a 2 tier green, if the pins at the front you can use the slope behind the flag to bring it back down to the hole, one of the best par 3s ive played, 15 is a long par 5, have to carry your tee shot over water, then your shot into the green is also over 2 lakes, this is another risk and reward kind of hole, where you can go for it in 2 or just lay up and have a flick into the green. 16 is a long par 4, dogleg right. A good drive will give you a chance of getting it near the green in 2, be aware there is also water down the right of the green.
In my eyes 17 is probably the weakest hole on the course, as when you're stood on the tee, its not easy to work out where you need to go, this is a dogleg right, again you can cut off some of the hole by going over the tree's which lives a mid iron into probably the flattest green on the course! 18 is a good finishing holes, uphill par 4 with a daunting tee shot as the road up to the hotel is all down the right, there is also water up near the green again and a par on this hole is a great way to finish.
To summarise, i genuinely don't know how this course isn't in the top 10 in Wales? It is a fantastic course in fantastic condition with some of the best holes i have played. I hope this rating will mean the Wales National course will be reviewed and moved up 20 odd spots to where it belongs.
The Vale resort is fantastic, the 'lakes course' is also a great course to go with this one, it has some fantastic holes and the 1 night, 2 rounds package is well worth the driver, wherever you are.
Having just seen the response to this review i feel the need to correct both Messrs Dunne and Aspinall with regard to their comments about my involvement with the development of the Lake course at The Vale Resort.
I formed the Vale of Glamorgan Golf Club Ltd with 3 others and acquired the land at Hensol from Mr Howard Joyce who had achieved planning for a golf course, hotel and equestrian centre.
My company then applied for a totally different development which included two golf courses , a driving range and the hotel.
The plans eventually approved by the Vale of Glamorgan planners were completely of my design with the equestrian centre being dropped. At no time were Celyn landscapes involved after my company acquired the land or had any input in the layout of the course.
On a small point the course is named "The Lake" not Lakes, and gets its name from HENSOL LAKE which was the only lake on the land prior to construction.
I'm pleased to say that both courses are maturing very well and the playing conditions have drastically improved following a very substantial investment by the present owners.
I must say I stronlgly object to being called disengenuous and I would ask these two gentlemen to retract their comments which are totally untrue
Peter Johnson FPGA