Wales offers golf links just as challenging and beautiful as Scotland or Ireland, but they're less expensive and less crowded
When going to London on business from spring through fall, golfers often think about hatching a reason to scoot up to Scotland to play at one of the many spectacular courses in the land where the game was invented. The thought of driving a ball along the sea at St. Andrews or Royal Dornach can exhaust some of the cleverest string pullers trying to get a tee time at those prestigious clubs, especially on short notice.
But there is another option, albeit one less well-known to many executive golfers. Instead of flying north to Edinburgh, drive west to Wales, where the golf scene can be less crowded, just as rewarding, and a little easier on the wallet. With the U.S. dollar being whipsawed by the exchange rate with the British pound, though, be ready for bills anywhere in the country to be hard on your credit card and T&E limits.
Taking the train to Wales is an option. But driving (assuming you can stomach the notion of paying more than $8 a gallon for unleaded gasoline) is pretty direct and gives you a lot more flexibility to go from course to course and take in the spectacular Welsh scenery, especially along the coastline. The obvious place to start is Celtic Manor Resort in the Usk Valley of South Wales. Home of the 2010 Ryder Cup, Celtic Manor is the hub of the growing Welsh golf scene. Just off the M4 are three championship courses. The Roman Road course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and voted the best inland course in Wales by Golf Monthly, features numerous long, open fairways on the front nine, with a back nine that has a lot of turns and water hazards. The Twenty Ten course, open for limited play before the Ryder Cup, is a 7,493-yard, par-71 course and has water hazards on half the holes. The Montgomerie course, designed by Scottish-born golfer Colin Montgomerie, features a number of pot bunkers that give the course a links feel on many holes. The resort also has a golf academy, and corporate golf outings and clinics are available.
Help from Your Pro
As you would expect of a venue chosen for a Ryder Cup, the hotel, courses, and overall facilities are first-class. The drive from Heathrow is two and a half hours. Room rates range from 158 pounds for a superior double room to 280 pounds for a deluxe room with a king bed and balcony. The resort sports a huge sprawling pool, with one end for toddlers, as well as a 50-person hot tub. Green fees range from 55 pounds on weekdays to 60 pounds on weekends (to estimate your costs, the pound is currently worth around $2). Normally, visitors will be scheduled on either the Roman Road or Montgomerie course. The best way to get onto the Twenty Ten course, if you must play the same course the pros will play, is to have the golf pro at your country club e-mail or fax the pro shop at Celtic Manor. There is no guarantee of a tee time, but every little finagle helps.
There are some 200 courses to play in Wales—testament, given the rugged and compact geography, to how much the Welsh love the game. About a three-hour drive from London and an hour west of Celtic Manor is Royal Porthcawl. Green fees run from 100 pounds on weekends to 150 pounds on weekends—pricey, but this course is worth it for those with deep pockets. Royal Porthcawl and many other courses have modestly priced accommodations, costing around 55 pounds to 75 pounds a night. But I would opt to stay in Cardiff if the course is within a 45-minute drive or so. I stayed in the Cardiff Hilton, a renovated hotel as hip as an Ian Schrager property. Prices are 89 pounds for a single room to 219 pounds for a junior suite. The heated pool, two bars, and executive lounge were a welcome sight after 36 holes of golf. And it's perfectly located for a stroll through Cardiff's pub district, or perhaps a short walk to Cardiff Castle before heading out for another round the next day.
And since you are knocking around Wales with your clubs, make sure to sample, if you drink, Brains beer and Penderyn single-malt whiskey, both of which are made in and near Cardiff. They go well with an increasing number of highly rated Welsh restaurants that focus more on the fruits of Wales' seacoast than the fried and tired fare that was all too common a decade ago.
From Cardiff, try moving on to Tenby, the oldest golf club in Wales, about 90 minutes around the Wales peninsula from the Welsh capital city, and which will cost 36 pounds to 45 pounds. The site of many Welsh golf championship matches, Tenby boasts staggering ocean views, the mist close enough to kiss your swing on a windy day. Tight fairways, thick rough, and fast greens, this course is so pretty that the quality of play is almost secondary. Nefyn & District is located on the peninsula, another 90 minutes or so north of Tenby, and provides some of the most beautiful holes in the country. A round can take a little longer than most at these clubs because of all the pausing between holes to soak up the sea, cliff, and castle views. If you have a slice, beware of some of these holes, such as the 11th, where an errant tee shot will go right off the nearby cliff. Use your mulligans sparingly—and buy an extra one or two from your playing partner if necessary.
With the exchange rate so disadvantageous for U.S. visitors, it pays to look around for the right lodging and golf day. But the good news is that there are so many to choose from. Even if the Ryder Cup course is a budget buster, many others have green fees from 45 pounds to 120 pounds, with some unforgettable Welsh scenery. Book ahead for all tee times, especially this time of year. Every course has a Web site with tee times bookable by e-mail. Deposits or full fees paid in advance are customary.
Some helpful Web sites to assist in your planning: www.heartofwalesgolfbreaks.co.uk, www.worthwhiledrives.com, www.golfasitshouldbe.com, and www.walesgolfvacations.com.
Some packages can save you time and money. One is the Brecon Beacons Golf Tour, which can organize three rounds at Garnant Park Golf Club, Glynhir Golf Club, and Pontardawe Golf Club, with accommodations at 4-star hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, with prices starting at 149 pounds a night for hotel and golf.
Click here to see a roundup of the finest golf courses in Wales.