Royal Porthcawl: A fitting venue for the Amateur Championship
Even the very best have been blown off course at Royal Porthcawl. If you’re not careful, it can bring you to your knees.
Tiger Woods, barely 18 months before he roasted Augusta National in a record score, was tamed by the Mid Glamorgan links.
He smashed a shot out of bounds on the 18th as Great Britain & Ireland claimed the Walker Cup in 1995.
The competitors at the Senior Open weren’t even playing off the very back tees two years ago. Bernhard Langer may have dominated, but only four other players were under par.
If the wind is up, and it invariably is, batten down the hatches. Perhaps it is the stiffness of the test that has made Porthcawl such a favourite venue for the Amateur Championship.
First held on the beautiful coastline in 1951, the prestigious competition is returning to South Wales for the seventh time. When asked why the tournament is such a popular venue, secretary Michael Newland said: “There are a couple of reasons. We are a links courses that is not nine out and nine back. You have to play that wind in so many directions. The first three holes hug the shoreline and then it starts to turn in.
“Every hole is different. You are not protected by the elements. There are no sand dunes, no mounds.
“When you see the weather from the south, you know it’s coming.
“A major part too is the green complexes. They are pretty difficult and undulating and it is a tough finish.
“The 14th is a tricky par 3 and there are some very strong par 4s before a fantastic finishing hole when you come down 18.”
The Amateur has one of the largest fields in world golf. A total of 288 competitors will get round Royal Porthcawl, and co-host Pyle & Kenfig, in the first two days alone and the sheer logistics of that requires an enormous amount of planning.
Newland explains: “As a club, we have got to be ready to assist the players’ needs. You’ve also got the preparation of the golf course, which has been going on for months now, and we have started to ramp it up.
“As soon as we start getting some growing it will go on again. During the tournament we will take on an extra 11 greens staff. There will be extra clubhouse staff.
“If play starts at 6.30am, the clubhouse will be open for feeding and watering from 5.30am. It will also be open for at least an hour after the close of play. That’s a significant commitment but it is something that the staff are very excited about. The members love their amateur golf here and there will be a big following when the tournament starts.
“They will do everything from scoring to being clubhouse ambassadors to ball spotters. It’s quite a big commitment from them but they can’t wait for the event to happen.”
“It’s a time-intensive programme,” Newland adds, on what is being done to ensure Royal Porthcawl is in the best shape.
“It is not just the greens staff working in the morning. They will do an afternoon as well. Their aim is to bring the greens, fairways and tees up to the highest level that we can with the resources we have.
“The course will be closed to members from the Friday before. It will be closed to visitors the week before that. Areas have been roped off and are being protected. We have also given the greens staff a free rein so, on a midweek early in the morning, there is no golf on the course.”
But why do Porthcawl, and the many other prestigious venues on the Amateur Championship rota, put themselves through the pain – why work the long hours and endure the sleepless nights?
For Newland, it is the hope of seeing golf’s next icon that excites and inspires.
“I am always saying to the members that they could be seeing the next global superstar,” he says.
“When you look at some of the names in 2002, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen were among them. Who knows who will come out of this field?”