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Pennard Golf Club

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West Glamorgan

Pennard is not the sort of destination which finds itself at the forefront of many discussions concerning golf. In fact, Pennard is often taken to be Penarth, a town very near Cardiff on the Mouth of the Severn. To clear up the confusion one must continue west on the M4 another 40 minutes or so, exit on the A483 and carry on through Swansea. When Clyne Golf Club appears on the right the urbanized landscape abruptly opens onto the Gower Peninsula. After exploring its beaches, cliffs, caves and castles it is easy to understand why in 1956 the Gower was designated Britain’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Pennard GC is in a glorious location, near the village of Southgate and overlooking Oxwich and Three Cliffs Bay; once seen, nobody could mistake Penarth for Pennard!

The blurb in The Confidential Guide by Tom Doak on Pennard was brief, but included; “…the terrain is probably a little too spectacular for the tastes of many. The course is home to Vicki Thomas, who played on the last four (eventually to become six!) British Curtis Cup squads; next to Pennard, other courses must look tame to her. ” Pennard has its detractors. The common limitations of the course cited are the land is severe, bunkering is light and perhaps worst of all, the course is short and plays shorter still during the summer months. The criticisms are accurate, yet Pennard unabashedly rises above these. After several plays one gains a perspective which reveals the rhyme and reason of Pennard. Along with the West Links of North Berwick, St. Enodoc and Carne, Pennard offers the golfer a balance of challenge, beauty and fun which is difficult to match. Pennard is not the “championship” test other Welsh links such as Harlech or Royal Porthcawl present. Rather, Pennard is top drawer holiday golf which can be enjoyed daily by any standard of player. Most links rely on wind to put the back of the golfer in play and Pennard is no exception. It can be an awful test when the wind rips up the Bristol Channel and the course is keen. Even so, Pennard is first and foremost a place to enjoy the ups and downs of a friendly game followed by a pint.

The flow of the holes is a wonderful tribute to the routing. I am reminded of other Braid gems such as Perranporth and Brora, both of which lead the golfer to ponder what will come next and sometimes cause surprise despite the open vistas. The rugged terrain divides the course into four sections. Numbers one through five are located furthest from the sea and allows the golfer an opportunity to gain a few shots on the card. Holes six through 10, probably the best stretch on the course, are characterized by playing over much of the harshest land in the Pennard Burrows. The following sequence of holes, 11-15, includes three short holes, but all are crafty. This section is the most important for protecting a score because the card doesn’t offer any strokes by way of low indexes and shots can be leaked with niggling regularity. The final three holes provide a grand finish and include the 16th, perhaps the most memorable hole, and 17, the most controversial hole.

For many, Pennard begins in earnest when standing on the sixth tee. The view straight down the Pill with Pennard Castle to the left is alluring. When the golfer does turn his attention to the tee shot at hand he will discover it requires a strong strike up the left in the hope that the ball will spill to the centre of the fairway.  A clear view of the flag is gained if the player manages to pull off one of his best drives of the day. The approach continues the steady climb to a green nestled in a raised bowl. This green differs from other punch bowl greens in that it seems to repel rather than gather balls. Suffice it to say that an approach which carries the green will usually end up at the rear and in the lap of the gods.

The 6th is often greatly under-valued, perhaps because of the following hole, Castle. If the 16th isn’t cited as the favourite of most, then Castle usually is. “The line of flight between the sparse ruins of a thirteenth-century church on the left and the more imposing ruins of twelfth-century Pennard Castle on the right presents one of the unforgettable prospects of golf, our drive winging away over a deep chasm to come to rest in a turbulent patch of fairway, with the Bristol Channel shimmering pewter in the distance.” is how James Finegan described the view from the tee. The centreline bunkers perhaps 50 yards short of the green make the approach one not soon forgotten. The green is equally tremendous and epitomizes the concept of defending a course around the greens. It is sited just beyond the crest of a dune then slips sharply away from the fairway. The expectation of a three is not unjustified when the hole is cut in the lower bowl. Four is always a good score when the hole is located on the upper left shelf.

Several excellent holes abound between the 8th and 15th, but we must make our way to the celebrated 16th. Driving over a hillcrest, a typically rambunctious Pennard fairway awaits. The fairway then plunges out of sight toward the sea while turning gently right and rising to a plateau green which slopes alarmingly from back to front. Many a heavy putt will tumble back to the fairway from where the recovery may not be a straight forward affair.

That then is Pennard; short on yardage but long on character. The same cranky, undulating land which creates sporty bounces is also responsible for Pennard’s greatest asset, shot making options. These options combined with continuously changing weather mean the course will never become too familiar. Is this variety not the very definition of a great course? Tom Doak proclaimed Pennard to be one of his “all-time favorites.” Max Faulkner thought it the best course in Britain. James Finegan held nothing back when he exclaimed “I see no reason to back away from an unflinching conclusion: Pennard is a very great course, in my experience one of the twenty greatest in the world.” Who am I to argue?

None within 45 minutes, however, arguably the preeiminent club in Wales, Royal Porthcawl GC, is just about an hour east.   Pyle and Kenfig GC with its heroic back nine is on the way to Porthcawl and the terrific Southerndown GC (host to the Duncan Putter) is not much further than Porthcawl.