Persistent rain from daybreak and a forecast that showed it was set in for the day meant it certainly wasn’t a morning for playing golf.
The bad weather had deterred even the most ardent of members and meant that we were the only souls on the entire course, once another two-ball had retreated to the warmth of the clubhouse after just half a dozen holes. Even the sheep that freely roam this classic links had disappeared to take shelter. Indeed the rain became so heavy that by the time we had finished our round club officials had closed the course for the day.
For the best part of four hours I had been totally drenched, was freezing cold and soaked to the bone… but I had loved every minute of it!
Despite the driving rain and darkened sky I can vividly remember each and every hole at Aberdovey. It’s not only a testament to the individual holes but the way they come together to create a unique and timeless links.
From the moment you walk from the car park, over the Cambrian Coast railway line, to the course and clubhouse at Aberdovey you know that you have arrived at a special place. Aberdovey is famed for its association with Bernard Darwin and his writings about a place that his, ‘soul loved best of all the courses in the world.’ And it’s easy to see why he fell in love with it.
Whilst many famous architects from the Golden Age of golf course architecture have had a hand in the present layout of Aberdovey it was essentially nature that was the creator of this old-fashioned, rustic and romantic links at the mouth of the Dovey Estuary. It’s a beautiful and peaceful place to play golf.
The out and back routing, flanked by large dunes on one side and hemmed in by the railway line and Snowdonia on the other, exudes feelings of a bygone era yet the course still remains a challenge to the modern golfer.
The opening three and closing trio of holes are draped over bumpier ground whilst the rest of the course has a flatter and more roaming marshland terrain that creates a rugged feel to your round. Holes on the middle section of the course are reminiscent of all that is good at Royal North Devon, another favourite course of mine.
Strategy comes to the forefront at Aberdovey. There are numerous holes where there is a clear benefit to driving down one side of the fairway or the other in order to give the best angle of attack into the green. There is no better example of this than at the sixth where one must flirt with the railway line (which is obviously out-of-bounds) in order to open up the second shot which is likely to require a running approach with a long iron or fairway metal. Go safe and left off the tee and your chances of hitting the green are diminished significantly due to a cluster of bunkers short and to the left of the putting surface.
Another fine example of where there are plenty of options from the tee comes at the risk-reward 16th, a short par four of just 289 yards that follows the curvature of the train track. Once again the railway line is a factor, this time on your left, and must be carried if you dare to chance driving the green. The sensible option may be to hit a mid-iron to the fat of the fairway and leave yourself a pitch to the small, ledged green but this will be a semi-blind shot and there is no guarantee of having a birdie putt. I can imagine you could play this hole a thousand times and still be perplexed as to the best way to play it.
I imagine the strategy at Aberdovey will be exemplified when the course is playing much firmer and faster than the one we experienced.
The bunkering at Aberdovey, recently restored to what they were like a century ago, have an almost eroded style with long wispy grass growing on top. I liked the look but it was the position of them that added extra spice to the round; several times you must flirt with the hazards to be in the perfect position.
The quartet of par threes are also worthy of special mention. You will find trouble fronting both the third and ninth; a large dune is the main obstacle at the former whilst a series of bunkers must be cleared at the latter. An extra club to the back of the green at both of these holes is the sensible play although that is not an option at the signature 12th where you play to a high and exposed green where only the correct yardage will do. Sadly this green, the only place where you get a glimpse of the sea, is quickly eroding away due to its coastal location. Meanwhile, the fifth is perhaps the least memorable but is undoubtedly the hardest at over 200 yards. And the importance of this hole at Aberdovey is paramount because it effectively switches play from one side of the linksland to the other and helps create a figure of eight routing. After a more enclosed feeling, created by large dunes on your left, for the opening part of the round this hole traverses you to the other side of the slender property; more open ground and the terrifying fear of the railway on your right are now present.
Other personal highlights of this magical course were the exhilarating drive at the second, the green complexes at both the 10th and 15th along with memories of a fine finishing hole close to the large, modern clubhouse.
A round of golf here is a wonderful and enchanting experience in a remote location but not one you should savour only once. This is a place you will want to return to time after time. For those considering a pilgrimage to Aberdovey I would urge them to make it as soon as they can. You will struggle to find better value and with Dormy House accommodation available it is a perfect base to build a trip to the West Coast of Wales around.
There is something about Elie that puts you under a spell. It is a truly magical links that, after just one round, has won a place in my heart and mind forever.
There’s very little that hasn’t been written about the golfing mecca that is St. Andrews.