Here’s a taste of the Sympatico column:
ABERDOVEY, Wales — Surveying the wild links from the raised green of the 12th hole at Aberdovey Golf Club, one begins to understand golf in Wales. Located on the north-east coast of the country, the club’s namesake town looks down from the hillside, and sheep dot an easterly slope that seems improbably steep. A holiday area “ or “caravan park,” as they say across the U.K. “ sits to the end of the property. The fairways run fast at Aberdovey, the dunes loom and obscure the sea, and the golf is pure and largely untouched. It was Aberdovey that a century ago stole the heart of fabled British golf writer Bernard Darwin, the nephew of Charles. Darwin would make the trip from London by train, being dropped at a station not 100 yards from the club’s gates. It is easy to see why he’d make the trek. Here the game is played fast, often on the ground and with little consideration for some clover growing in the fairways. Members pay about $600 per year to play at Aberdovey. Golf as it should be.
About three hours south, not far from Cardiff, Wales’ largest city, Terry Matthews’ Celtic Manor might as well reside in a different world. Modern. Pristine. American. It exudes money and prestige. The resort, the creation of Matthews, an Ottawa-based tech billionaire who immigrated to Canada from his native Wales in the late 1960s, is insanely comfortable and beautiful. It will also be central to everything at this year’s Ryder Cup in September. The so-called “Twenty Ten” course, built at Celtic for the Ryder Cup, is a fine effort, one that almost anyone would enjoy playing. But in its flat setting, well away from the whims of the ocean, it somehow fails to capture the imagination or reflect what makes Wales so intriguing.
“It is all about the money, now isn’t it?” asks one golfer during my recent trip around the country, referencing the Celtic Manor tag on my golf bag. We’re standing outside the pro shop at Royal Porthcawl, an astounding links only a half-hour from where the Ryder festivities will take place.