At the risk of generalisation, it is probably fair to say that there is no finer course in the British Isles about which less is commonly known than Tenby. This most traditional, archetypal links is the oldest course in Wales and those who find their way to Pembrokeshire, in the south west of the Principality, will be richly rewarded by its quixotic and idiosyncratic delights. Some 50 miles beyond Swansea, it is a destination only for those who will truly appreciate it, although in Tenby’s favour access by road is relatively good and the seaside town is a delight in season with its long, golden beach.
And whisper it quietly, but with green fees still hovering around the £30 mark, a day’s golf won’t cost you any more than it would at your average private club. Needless to say, Tenby, founded in 1888, is anything but average. It has a bit of everything that makes links golf the original and quintessential form of the game.
Many shots are blind. Cruel pot bunkers gather any ball coming within 20 yards of them. And the par threes call for anything between a sand wedge and a three wood. This is golf free from modern convention. It isn’t always fair, and luck undoubtedly plays a part.
So be prepared to drive one par four but be unable to reach the next in two. Or to face a 30-foot putt so fast that the most tentative of prods will send it wandering merrily past the hole. Or to find a way of caressing a chip between two bunkers, over a hog’s back and then stopping it before it rolls off the far side of the green.
You’ll have the nervous thrill of discovering the resting place of a drive struck beyond rough dunes at a distant marker post. Enjoy the challenge.
At just 6,224 yards off the back tees to a par of 69, it isn’t long by modern standards, but then at a course where each hole’s par denotes only the roughest of indications, and where length often comes a distant second to the influence of Mother Nature, it really doesn’t matter. Every round at Tenby is a new experience but what can be guaranteed is a warm welcome at a club that seems to appreciate the lengths to which many of its visitors go to.
This most traditional, archetypal links is the oldest course in Wales and those who find their way to Pembrokeshire will be richly rewarded by its quixotic and idiosyncratic delights.
And whether you’ve travelled far or not, it’s a wise idea to ensure a little time for acclimatisation before heading out on to the links. The locals will tell you – and you’ll soon find out for yourself – that the key to a good score lies in negotiating the opening quartet of par-four holes.
The opening drive is one of the most demanding you’re ever likely to see, with dense gorse running down the left of the hidden fairway and bunkers protecting the right. From there it’s probably a long iron or even a wood to a green framed by dunes. The next, while shorter and less tight, can still be tough but it’s the 3rd which is renowned for its sheer dastardliness.
The drive is straightforward enough but the narrow, elevated green falls away steeply on all sides and from left or right it’s quite possible for even the best of players to find themselves chipping back and across the green, unable to stop their ball on the crest. It’s so tricky that many members play deliberately short with their approach to leave a chip down the length of the green.
From there the spectacular 4th features another blind drive and even a blind approach, to a green set beneath the level of the fairway in a large trough. At 466, 424, 380 and 440 yards off the back tees, you might need reminding that you’re playing a “short” course.
The next two holes should provide respite, with the latter measuring just 121 yards and played to a flag which appears to be in the middle of a clump of bushes.
From there it’s out to the far end of the course with two medium-length par fours before the short 9th begins the journey back towards the clubhouse.
That may seem one hole too early, but Tenby is full of surprises, none bigger than the change of style in the three holes played on the far side of the railway line which cause this minor anomaly.
Before then a couple of staunch par fours await, running parallel to one another, before another enormously difficult hole, the not-so-short 12th. Anything shy or right here will mean a second played from heavy rough to a green perched way above quite possibly with the flag out of view.
After the sometimes drivable 13th comes the only par five, a hole that offers a good chance of birdie, and then it’s time to cross the railway bridge to find three holes of entirely different character on the other side.
The 15th is relatively modest but all your good work can be undone by the next two. The 16th green is at the top of a steep hill – hardly what you might expect at a links – and slopes severely from back to front. Fail to take enough club and the ball will roll back to the bottom of the hill. Play to the rear of the green and face a putt that could quite conceivably disappear back down the fairway.
Whatever your score, the views from the par-three 17th tee will provide a diversion. The town itself, the long sweep of beach and miles of blue ocean lie in front. Nor does the hole itself disappoint, although the eternity it seems to take before a mid-iron returns to ground, hopefully finding the safety of the green below, can provide more than a little anxiety.
Back across the railway line, the last is especially memorable when played from the championship tee built into the towering Black Rock and played over the cottage beneath.
The course ends in a lush, flat, tree-lined paddock in front of the clubhouse. It’s quite unlike any other area of the course. But that’s Tenby’s greatest attraction – you never know what’s coming next and it would be entirely futile to guess.