Royal Porthcawl Golf Club
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Founded in 1891 and granted a royal title in 1909, Royal Porthcawl is generally thought of as the premier club of Wales because it has hosted six Amateur Championships, a Walker Cup and various other high profile events. Although the membership of Royal St David’s would likely pipe up with a word or two on the subject and at the very least lay claim to the top club in North Wales. The original nine hole Charles Gibson course was abandoned after Ramsay Hunter eventually created an 18 hole course on the present site. Several architects have had a hand in Porthcawl’s evolution. Braid must have made some changes not long after the new course was opened. At about the same time Colt created his 1913 plan for a Burnham & Berrow, a short distance across the Bristol Channel, he made many alterations to Porthcawl. Hawtree & Taylor created four new holes in 1925; #s 11-13 & 17. In 1933, with a view to adding Porthcawl as a host venue for the Open Championship, the club hired Tom Simpson to make further changes. Plans for hosting an Open were stymied by WWII, but in 1950 K Cotton prepared the course for its championship debut as host to the 1951 Amateur. With a few additional changes including a recently built 12th green and several bunker alterations/additions Porthcawl is essentially the course Simpson left behind.
Porthcawl enjoys many fine attributes; chief among these must be the routing which takes the golfer not only through a well ordered progression of elevation changes, but it also capitalizes on a variety of wind directions. As is usually the case with the best courses, the par fours are the backbone of the design and Porthcawl is no exception. The variety of shots and use of angles and elevation changes ensure that each two- shotter stands out as different from the others. The three-shotters are also an interesting mix with excellent use of boundary walls on #s 5 & 8 and an uphill blind tee shot on 12 which finishes with one of the more interesting greens on the course. The par threes are not without interest and once again, all are very distinct from one another. Of course, Porthcawl has a large number of gathering pots, but these are mixed with a handful of brutal looking bunkers which may elicit genuine feelings of fear. Traditionally, the flatter land on most championship courses tends to rely on sand as its main defence. Interestingly, while Porthcawl is no exception to this rule, the use of bunkering doesn’t contrast wildly with the holes on more interesting terrain. There is a sense of cohesion among the 18 holes which is often lacking on other courses. Despite a general feeling of the course reminding me of bits and pieces of several championship courses such as Portrush, Muirfield, Formby etc., Porthcawl does retain a sense of place which is of itself and there can be no doubt that Porthcawl rises above merely being a competent championship course. Porthcawl generally offers fairly wide fairways and provides bail-out areas for the less gifted player. The bunkering is for the most part well placed and attractive. There is plenty of short game challenge to compliment the wind and elevation changes and the scenery is delicious. What is not to like?
Holes to Note:
#2: A very testing 400+ yard par 4 doglegging blindly toward the beach. A depression just shy of the green hides the length of the approach to a green sandwiched between a fence and a bunker.
#9: The ninth is a sublime par 4 which continues the trend of turning direction from the previous hole. This dogleg left is the first hole without a boundary on the left, but no matter, with the bank of gorse in the valley, left will be thought of as out of bounds. The green is perched on a plateau and makes for a very difficult target when the wind is off the sea. This is a great hole which at 357 yards highlights that length should rarely be the trump card for creating interest and challenge.
#14: Another stand out one-shotter and what I think is the best par 3 on the course. The tabletop green is a severe target which bends slight right. There is beautiful shaping short of the green to allow a well judged kick-in.
#18: The home hole crosses #1 and is somewhat controversial due the downhill fairway being broken up with rough ground. However, the stunning backdrop and front to back green more than make up for this perceived design fault.
***Photo of Players Cigarettes course map is courtesy of Mr C Georges.
Southerndown GC: A lovely downland course which eases gracefully through coastal hills.