This historic golf club was established in 1891 and granted Royal patronage in 1909 some 14 years after moving to its present location. And what a location!
Not only can the sea be viewed from every hole but the opening three holes are played right along the edge of the shore with the sandy beach just a hook away.
But Royal Porthcawl does not just rely on dazzling vistas to be deemed one of the best in the world; this is a true championship golf course in every sense. It has held a string of notable professional and amateur tournaments including the Walker Cup in 1995 when a young Tiger Woods lined up for the American team.
The Amateur Championship has also been staged on this revered Welsh links no less than six times and is due to return once again in 2016. However, the Senior Open Championship heads to Royal Porthcawl before then in July 2014. Whether the rumours are true that the R&A are keeping close tabs on both events with a view to the suitability of Royal Porthcawl hosting a future Open Championship remains to be seen. If it does it will certainly become a welcome addition to the roster because this course is the real deal.
One thing for sure is there’s no easing your way into a round at Royal Porthcawl. A series of glaring bunkers await an errant tee shot at the opening hole whilst the second and third are not only stunning holes along the coast but tremendously demanding ones too where one must flirt with the water’s edge to find the greens in regulation, especially when the prevailing wind blows and a low running shot is the order of the day.
From here you head inland where the terrain is higher and slightly less links-like but no less enjoyable and where the threat of gorse is now omnipresent. The multi-tiered green at the par three fourth requires you to select the correct club whilst the fifth offers a birdie opportunity, but only if you can thread your approach between two sandhills close to the green, on a hole that winds its way up the hillside imperiously.
The course stretches to well over 7,000 yards off the back markers but it is strategy that is key at holes six and eight where placement is crucial in order to match or better par. And these sandwich the shortest hole on the course, a par three of just 122 yards that has a delightful long and narrow green guarded by several bunkers. The front nine ends with the gorgeous ninth, a hole that has an inviting tee shot and an even more appealing second.
A constant feature of all the holes at Royal Porthcawl is the quality of approach shots you are faced with. The greenside surrounds and bunkering throughout all 18 holes is as good as you will come across on any of the courses that feature on the current Open rota. In general they are quite heavily contoured with dramatic slopes that can sweep your ball away to deep bunkers or tightly mown hollows. Often you are found almost wishing your ball to miss the green for the chance of making an exciting recovery shot.
In my very humble opinion the green complexes found at the 10th and 11th are truly outstanding. The latter is a par three played to a raised and angled green dominated by a quintet of bunkers down the left giving the appearance that the target is much narrower than it actually is. Without doubt one of the finest short holes I’ve played.
Finding the putting surfaces may be a challenge but it is hugely rewarding when you do so because you know that you’ve played the correct shot that the hole demands. This is certainly the case at the downhill 13th which dog-legs slightly and boasts a uniquely shaped and cunningly located bunker. This hazard is placed almost in the middle of the fairway just short of the green, it is long and narrow and runs in the direction of the hole and must be skirted on the left in order to set up a birdie putt.
The short 14th doesn’t quite match the excellence of the 11th but the raised green and deep bunkers ensure a shot of similar quality is required.
My favourite hole on the entire course was the 15th, a monumental par four that simply took my breath away. Played back towards the sea and into the prevailing wind it is a colossus of a hole that fits the landscape perfectly. Once again it is the second (or perhaps third!) shot that makes it such a good hole as the green is located on the brow of a ridge.
Meanwhile, the 18th at Porthcawl is a fitting end to a wonderful and pure championship links experience. At 459 yards and into the teeth of a wind howling off Rest Bay you will struggle to find a more demanding finishing hole, and certainly one that has a more surreal backdrop as the water glistens and shimmers off the Bristol Channel towards you. Two mighty hits are required to find the green that slopes away from the fairway and towards the sea. It’s a hole that has helped define many champions over the years and will no doubt continue to do so for many more to come.
The routing of the course is also exceptional. One might think after the close proximity of the water on the opening holes it will be unable to live up to its exhilarating start for the remainder of the round but the twists and turns of the layout and topography keep you fully engaged at all times.
On our visit, and as you might expect in April, the rough had been cut back considerably and allowed you to open your shoulders on some of the longer holes. I suspect it will be a much different proposition for the Senior Open Championship when the drives will be tightened up considerably. This is an event I very much look forward to watching after becoming familiar with Royal Porthcawl.
A round at Royal Porthcawl is not complete without a visit to the olde-worlde wooden clubhouse that simply exudes history, tradition and heritage. You may even wish to go one step further and stay on-site in the convenient Dormy House which sleeps up to 12 guests.
The second course at Trevose very rarely crops in conversation but during a family holiday to the Cornish Resort I made sure to play it.
The third course at Trevose, aptly named the "Short Course" is just 1,360 yards.