As we look to the 38th Ryder Cup in Wales, October 1-3, you might not be among the 10,000 or so tournament fans there before, during or or after the event. That’s no matter; quite simply, Wales is worth a visit.
About the size of Massachusetts, Wales has more than 200 incredible golf courses along with four sheep for every person and a total of 641 castles. Indeed, as we were teeing off at Southerndown GC, a “headland” course riding over the high ground above the sea, I was terrified I would bonk one of the dozens of fluffy sheep munching grass on the rolling fairways in front of us. But as one local said, “They were here before we were.”
Wales is like that, a combination of new sophistication in the port city of Cardiff bumping up against centuries-old
traditions. So spend a few days driving on the wrong side of the road and play some of Wales great courses. They’re affordable (typically $20 to $60), accessible and uncrowded. Dine on regional specialties like Welsh black beef and saltmarsh lamb while quaffing a pint in a local pub and you’ll be hooked.
The Ryder Cup will be held at Celtic Manor, one of Wales’ newer resorts, sporting three courses, a multi-million clubhouse, lighted golf academy and a world-class health spa. (www.celtic-manor.com
The resort’s three tracks: The Roman Road, The Montgomerie and The Twenty Ten course newly minted and purpose-built for the Ryder Cup are more modern in design, and you’d love them.
But you should not come to Wales without playing the country’s more
traditional links--like Pennard, a course so old that cows and horses have right-of-way. My foursome was startled by a mare galloping across the tee in front of us, followed by a wild stallion on a mission!
Pyle & Kengig GC, west of Cardiff, is a twofer. The front nine has more of an open Moorlands feel, while the back runs through the dunes, giving you a true links experience. Five extra practice holes lie smack in the middle of the layout.
Royal Porthcawl, dating from 1891, runs along the sea with a nonstop view of dunes and grasses. We lost balls in the grasses, hacked our way out of deep pits and three-putted more than one pint-sized green. And it’s great fun!
The much-photographed Nefyn & District Golf Course, set in the rocky headlands on the Llyn peninsula in Mid-Wales, juts into the water – while the
ramparts of the 13th century Harlech Castle are hardly ever out of sight when on Royal St. David’s GC, which rolls over gnarly grass-topped dunes between sea and castle.
There are many others worth playing, like Aberdovey Golf Club in the beautiful Snowdonia National Park; Tenby GC, a James Baird track and the oldest club in Wales, and almost spiritual at sunset with the mist rolling in off the sea. It’s pure links at its best, gorse and all.
While in Wales, you will want to check into some of small inns like Egerton Grey in Porthkerry near Cardiff, a stone country house hotel set on a hill in the midst of glorious gardens. www.egertongrey.co.uk
At Hotel Maes-y-Neuadd, a 14th century stone country house in mid-Wales, you can expect superb breakfasts and dinners created by the chef-owner from fresh produce and local fish and meat (www.neuadd.com) And Plas Tan-yr-Allt – they call it “Tanny” and it was once the home of the poet Shelley – is a gracious country house on the Glaslyn Estuary near Snowdonia National Park. It’s elegant and historic, with rates from about $180 including breakfast. www.tanyrallt.co.uk
Check with Dylan Williams, a veteran golf tour operator, on Wales courses and putting together a great trip: www.walesgolfvacations.com
, or visit www.golfasitshouldbe.com
. For inns/manor houses: www.rarebits.co.uk