Wales Days 4, 5: Darwin's Aberdovey, St. David's Charm and Nefyn's All-World Beach Blast

Swinging for the ends of the earth: Teeing off on Nefyn's 410-yard par-4 12th.

 Aberdovey is Bernard Darwin country. The London-based golf writer from the last century loved Aberdovey, a rustic, rugged links on the North-West Welsh coast so much that he often called it his favourite. We drove up from Pennard — a trip of about three hours on tiny, weaving roads. For a while we followed a large truck — I considered it our offensive lineman. It did the blocking and we just followed along behind. It was most intriguing because I figured at some point it might clip a tree, a powerline or even a house. Welsh houses are often built right on the road, so much so that you’d have to look for passing cars before opening your front door. It is that tight.

Running interference -- a truck leads the way to Aberdovey.

We eventually arrived at Aberdovery, a charming little seaside town with its ubiquitous “caravan park,” which seems to be the sign of any good links. Gosh, even Royal Troon has a trailer park at one end. We stayed in the Dormie House at Aberdovey, which was great since you simply walked from the 18th green, made a left and entered your room. The room was sparse, but comfortable and the club was warm and inviting. We had dinner with the chair of the club and the club captain, both delightful fellows. The cost to join Aberdovey — £510 with no initiation.

Aberdovey's 12th is charming and one of the few that plays into the coastal dune.

Aberdovey's bunkers are charming and natural, but have been a point of great debate within the club.

 The club has recently redone the bunkers with natural-looking hazards — something that really brings the course alive. It is essentially an out-and-back links, with holes skirting the dunes but only once entering them. The turf was firm, the play was fast and the course was tremendous fun. I also caught lightning in a bottle — shooting even through the first 12 holes and finishing 4-over despite hitting one driver on the 6,700 yard course.  If I hadn’t coughed some up at the end it would have been better. The standout holes included the 16th, a short four that was exceptional, with the railway bounding the left side (you can take the train almost to the club’s doorstep) and the big, brutish 18th.

The 12th at Royal St. David's, a terrific course on the North-West coast of Wales that really surprised me.

 From there we jumped in the car the next morning and took the hour drive up to Harlechto play Royal St. David’s. Perhaps best known for its looming Edwardian castle that overlooks the course, St. David’s is a links with a loop. After opening with a couple of big par-4s, it ventures into the back corner of the property, running into the dune line, but also running a par-3 into a stand of trees. It was a more complex course than Aberdovey, with a series of excellent holes playing through the dunes starting with the 12th, a downhill par-4. The course then runs through the dunes for a par-3, and two par-4s, all of which were tremendous. I’d suggest a Harlech/Aberdovey as a combination to anyone who loves seaside golf. Both were fine golf courses — perhaps better than I’d expected, especially after the disappointment of Pennard.

It isn't Pebble Beach -- Nefyn's third is a par-5 that plays alongside cliffs over the ocean.

My best side: Teeing it up on the par-4 second at Nefyn. My drive carried the right side of the chasm -- but just barely.

The seaside town -- including a pub -- that is tucked beneath the 12-14th holes at Nefyn and District.

The wild card of the bunch was Nefyn and District. Often regarded as Wales’ Pebble Beach, Nefyn is also dismissed by some as being weird and quirky. I came to the course with few expectations. I assumed the site would be marvelous, but the golf would be pedestrian, or as one person said on the trip in dismissing a course: “It is agricultural.” 

It turns out that wasn’t the case at all. From the first hole — a big, bounding par-4 down a hill to a green in front of the ocean, through to the second, an uphill par-4 that hugged the coast line and offered an all-world tee shot that rivals anything at Pebble Beach — Nefyn exceeded my expectations by a wide margin. I kept expecting it to turn into some ill-conceived track, but never happened. The second was followed by a par-5 that again hugged the coast, before it turned inland to a short three. The architecture was painfully plain, but the bones and the routing were solid. And the views were remarkable.

Nefyn gets a little odd when it turns and runs onto a promontory after the unusual uphill approach to the 11th hole. The 12th, a par-4 has a fairway that slopes like a roller coaster to the right, and an approach over the 16th green and a huge sea sinkhole, is to weird for words. But the 13th, a 420-yard downhill par-4 on the promontory may have a tee shot unrivaled in all of golf — it is that good. If there was nothing more than that single tee shot, Nefyn would be worth coming to see. Instead it continues to be solid — the 14th is a short par-3 played from the lighthouse, and the 15th runs uphill. The 16th plays back over the sinkhole and the par-5 17th hugs the rocky cliffs.

It is far from perfect. The bunkers are out of scale with the property and the greens are a bit dull. But the course is worth every penny of the £39 it costs to play. We didn’t have time to stop at the pub that is located beneath the cliffs on the 12th hole, but it is legend, as is the little town (pictured above) that rests on its beach. Both seemed like busy spots — cars buzzed through the back nine throughout our round.

We finished in the sun before heading to Conwy for the night.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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