Played by NCG: Royal Porthcawl
Reason for a Royal Porthcawl Golf Club review
Royal Porthcawl staged the Senior Open in July – the one Bernhard Langer won (again). I was there in the build up to speak to some of the contenders at a media day for the event.
Where is Royal Porthcawl?
You’ll find Royal Porthcawl at the end of one of the most enjoyable drives to a course. Skim the seafront, and the rugged outcrops, all the way through the town to this links layout, in Mid Glamorgan, on the border of the Bristol Channel.
What to expect
Three letters: Wow. You won’t find a massive clubhouse at Royal Porthcawl – though the building is endearingly charming when you are in it and packed with history. That’s because the course does the talking.
The opening is breathtaking and everything you’d expect from a world class links – running fairways, deep bunkers and a couple of raised greens that are hard to hit and difficult to hold.
The middle part of the front nine and into the turn climbs away from the beach and gorse, rather than shells and pebbles, becomes the predominant theme.
Par 3s at Royal Porthcawl are particularly strong. The 7th is no more than a wedge but, like other classic short holes such as the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon, it makes a mockery of the modern thought that they aren’t a test unless they are nearly 300 yards.
Get your wedge wrong here and there are six bunkers to trap any ball that fails to hold the plateaued green.
The 11th might be one of my favourite par 3s in Great Britain, while some of the toughest holes are saved for the finish. The 18th, often playing into the prevailing breeze and running downhill towards the green, is a classic.
I was fortunate to play Royal Porthcawl on a relatively calm day. When the wind is up, and it is frequently, the lack of those large protecting dunes makes the links very exposed.
While competitors at the Open bleated about some of the inclement weather at Royal Birkdale, they could have had it much worse. The Senior Open competitors certainly did.
But this is all part of the challenge. Be honest, who really wants to play a proper links course in utter calm?
Royal Porthcawl is the sort of place where if you are lucky enough to join, you’ll never leave.
In the history of the club, a legacy that stretches back all the way to 1891, there have been just four professionals. Take the hint.
My best bit
You can’t do much better than birdie the first. After my drive found some light rough on the left, I stiffed an 8-iron after finding the right half of the green and letting it come back down the slope to about 12 inches away.
If that was enjoyable, then picking up another birdie on the par 5 17th – with the help of a drive that travelled 303 yards downwind (I do love links golf) also comes very high on the list.
The seventh might be Royal Porthcawl’s signature hole but my favourite point comes much earlier – at the par-4 2nd. It’s a tee shot with a restricted view and, with the beach running all the way down the hole to the left, it’s out of bounds all the way. That’s not such a problem from the tee, but it becomes much more of a consideration when pondering the approach to this 451-yarder.
The green runs tight to the boundary fence. Don’t be left but, also, don’t be long. I decided to be short, and hit the flag with my chip to pick up a ‘lucky’ par.
What to look for
The sea. This seems quite obvious when talking about a links course but it’s not often you get a proper look at the water and the beach on these types of tracks – they are normally covered by big protecting dunes. One of Royal Porthcawl’s claims to fame is that you can see the sea from every hole on the course.
Admittedly, some of these views will be, well, from a distance but the sea plays a prominent role at the beginning of the round and the sight of the waves as you make your way down towards the 18th green makes for a rather special finish.
When I go back…
I won’t go for broke on the last. I needed a par for a 79 and, after a poor drive, took it on from an untidy lie on the approach. A double followed, and lesson learnt.
For more information, visit the Royal Porthcawl website.