Provides a true test with an exciting closing loop of holes

Royal St. David's

Royal St. David's Golf Club

Royal St. David's Golf Club

Date Reviewed
June 8, 2016
Reviewed by Ed Battye
Royal St. David’s is regarded as one of the best links courses in Wales and has a reputation for being a fearsome test of golf.

The numbers certainly back that claim up. The par of 69 from the championship blue markers has an SSS of 73 and the maximum yardage of 6,629 includes a number of brutish par fours; seven of them over the 430 yard mark!

On my most recent visit here in June 2016 the fairways were beautifully browned off and the run on the ball ensured that the course didn’t play as long as the scorecard suggests. And with just a gentle breeze blowing over the links it was a joy to play. It should also be noted that the condition of the course was absolutely first class. Fresh on the back of hosting the Welsh Open Strokeplay Championship the subtle greens putted absolutely superbly having a lovely pace where the ball just keeps rolling out that extra couple of feet which you’re not quite expecting.

As host to many notable championships over its 120-plus year history it’s a course that top players will love because for the most part it is one of those links that provides just about as fair a test of golf as a seaside layout can.

For the most part the front nine is played over flattish land with expansive greens merging beautifully, almost seamlessly, from the fairways. The naturally rippling fairway of the opening hole offers much promise but we must wait until we are well into the back-nine before we see any real movement in the land.

Indeed a gigantic line of towering sand dunes flanks the course and we play directly towards it, most agonisingly as we come up the long seventh, but then away from it a few times during the round. We long to get into the best of the terrain but we must wait until late in the round and then it is only a fleeting visit.

Most golfers would snap your hand off for a 4-4-4 start at Harlech, as the course is fondly known, with the first and third an early introduction to the stern assignment you are likely to face and even though the fifth is more modest in length the driving zone narrows the further you drive and the next is littered with bunkers too. It’s likely you will have dropped a few shots to your handicap by the time you stand on the 7th tee so the back-to-back par fives that now follow may offer some light relief. The first of them is the pick of the two with an elegantly long and rising green at its climax.

The first real sign of the tumultuous ground we hope to encounter comes at the 11th, the third of the one-shotters, when we must play a short-to-mid iron towards a hidden green surrounded by various hillocks and humps.

Yet, the wait goes on for duneland as we now play two par fours alongside the mighty sandhills; both excellent holes regardless. You may say hello to beachgoers as you climb up to the elevated 12th tee and it’s worth taking a breather once you reach this lofty position because you will require all your might to play the next two holes in eight shots as the combined yardage approaches 900.

The stretch of golf from approaching the 14th green to holing out on the 17th is heavenly and a pure delight. If ‘players’ like Harlech for its imperious test then ‘golfers’ will simply love this loop of holes.

The tee-shot on the 221-yard 14th is admittedly awkward with just the top of a flag visible as you fire through an unnatural cut in the dunes; a shorter hole from the top of the dunes to the right would be a far better hole but alas that would mean less yardage on the card and this is something that simply cannot be considered in the modern golfing world that we inhabit where the quest for length is everything. The green and its surrounds are exceptional though and it’s a real shame we can’t see this from the tee.

The next, the 15th, is the shining light of Royal St David’s. A truly great hole with an angled drive to a fairway that is actually wider than it appears from the tee although the narrow sliver of fairway that leads us to the green is absolutely as tight as it looks, if not more so. This is proper links golf country and the semi-blind approach, over rumpled ground, is what we have waited 14 holes for.

When we reach the high tee at the 16th the sea can be heard and smelt but just not quite seen. The hole itself is fantastic – a perfect foil for the tough 15th - and gives the golfer the choice from the tee as to how aggressive he wishes to be on this tempting 352-yard two-shotter that plays over a hollow to a rising fairway.

In many ways the 17th is the ideal penultimate hole. It’s a frightening par-four of more than 430-yards with out-of-bounds pinching in just at the distance a good drive will likely land. Take this out of the equation by laying up short and your longer approach is unlikely to clear the central greenside bunker and at the same time hold the green. The more aggressive play from the tee, for a shorter approach from the undulating fairway, is probably the right option but is certainly a more risky affair. If your round hangs in the balance when you stand on this tee you have a brave decision to make.

Meanwhile, the 201-yard 18th returns us to the flatter ground around the clubhouse and whilst certainly no pushover if you come to this tee requiring a three to play to your handicap you have every chance of making it and deservedly so.

There is a wide variety of bunker styles at Harlech and I just hope The Club are currently in a process of updating them and making them more uniform. It doesn't quite feel right as it is. There are some wonderful blow-out fairway bunkers on the course, that define many of the holes, and some brilliantly menacing deep pits around the greens but you also have some very shallow and tame, almost parkland in nature, traps dotted around too; mainly around the greens. I’d love to see these converted into some of the deeper pits that are often in close proximity.

The course is rated 44th in Golf Monthly’s 2015/16 Top 100 Courses in the UK & Ireland and 73rd in the Golf Digest Best 100 courses outside the USA so it clearly has its admirers and with thirteenth-century Harlech Castle overlooking the links it really is a breathtaking setting in a most beautiful and scenic part of the Principality.

The Dormy House onsite also makes it a perfect location to stay and play whilst the proximity of the railway station means that golf by train is entirely plausible.

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