A topsy-turvy, rough-and-tumble, bags-of-fun golf course

Llandrindod Wells

Llandrindod Wells Golf Club

Llandrindod Wells Golf Club

Date Reviewed
April 30, 2019
Reviewed by Ed Battye
Atop a large hill in Mid Wales, above the Victorian spa town of Llandrindod Wells, lays a topsy-turvy, rough-and-tumble, bags-of-fun sort of golf course.

It was originally laid out by six-times Open Champion Harry Vardon then subsequently altered by the prolific course designer James Braid (who only managed to win The Open on five occasions) and it gives us a glimpse into how golf was played a century ago.

And what a refreshing change this is to the many hundreds, if not thousands, of golf courses that have been built in Great Britain since then which offer little more than flat, tree-lined golf on poor soil with repetitive bunkering, uninteresting greens and the hand of man and machine at every turn.

Let’s be frank bunkerless Llandrindod Wells doesn’t always offer great golf but it is completely at ease with itself, natural to the hilt, improvises brilliantly and, as you can probably tell by now, is far from conventional. And this is what makes it such a great golf course to play.

Once we get to the summit of the hill – more on that later – we find ourselves on tight yet springy upland turf, rolypoly terrain with spots of gorse, clusters of fine trees and marker posts aplenty. We don’t always know where we are heading but there is always a pole to guide us. It goes without saying the views are fantastic.

The regular visitor will know of all the speed-slots and kick-slopes that they can use to their advantage in order to manoeuvre a golf ball towards its intended target over the rolling hills and banks. The first-timer may get lucky, or they may not, but are still able to marvel at it all.

There are six par-threes on the par 69, 5762-yard layout (one of the best courses under 6,000 yards) but the strength of the course is undoubtedly the longer holes. These are played over the more interesting terrain and offer a healthy dose of variety.

However, the first of these is a truly absurd hole. The 315-yard opener must play as steeply uphill as it is long! It’s called Grabhams – named after a club professional from the 1930s – but it would perhaps be better dubbed Vertical. After a 3 hour drive I was never going to turn round, put my clubs back in the car and head home but the thought did cross my mind stood on the first tee with literally a mountain to climb in front of me. The kindest thing I can say is that it does its job in getting us from the homely clubhouse up to the best of the golfing land.

From here on there are some genuinely wonderful holes. The first real sign of quality is at the 3rd – “Roon the Ben” – where this 509-yard par-five doglegs to the left against the canter of the fairway which falls to the right.

The fifth is an ingenious long par-four of 469-yards but where the contours of the land, notably the sweeping slope towards the green from the right, will even the playing field between the big-hitting scratch man and the savvy higher handicapper.

Holes seven, eight and nine continue to produce stimulating golf and following a couple of back-to-back short holes the downhill 12th ramps up the drama with a hole that falls away from you all the way to the back of the green.

The stretch from 13 to 16 contains a couple of interesting two-shotters - with superb drives - and back-to-back par fives dovetailing in opposite directions. The land can and must be used to golf your ball over… not just on this part of the course but throughout.

The final hole is another for the memory bank and if not a grand finisher one that could certainly produce high drama. Potentially driveable at less than 300-yards but equally brutal if you are unable to carry the ball 240-yards (let’s face it most of us can’t). Played from a high tee to a green at a similar level the fairway plunges maybe a hundred feet down into a ravine before rising dramatically again. The penalty for your lack of length is an approach from way below to a green in the stars. However, as I found out to my peril, should one go too long – with either tee-shot or approach – there is a steep drop behind the green which can take us several yards back down the first fairway (remember that?) to leave an equally awkward shot from the other side.

It doesn’t end there though! There is also a country lane which cuts some 30 yards in front of the green and I can imagine it’s not impossible for a ball coming to rest on here trickling down the road into the village of Ridgebourne about a mile away!! Called “Death or Glory” it could not have been better named.

The greens across the entire property are engaging with some good slopes and tilts to them with several having a false front which makes judging approach shots more difficult, especially in the inevitable wind which blows at this elevated location.

There is a timelessness to Llandrindod Wells and although hidden away in the belly of Wales it is worth seeking out if natural golf is your calling.

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