SWANSEA, Wales – Pennard Golf Club, located eight miles west of the coastal city of Swansea, has it all: A setting as good as they come, holes that beckon the best shots you have in your bag -- and the occasional cow pie to step over.
Located about 200 feet above the sea on the Gower Peninsula on the south coast of Wales, Pennard is hardly a perfect play, and that's its joy.
The terrain is exposed to the elements and is severely rolling. And the wind often whips strong, which leads to firm fairways. Pennard is set on common land, so nearby farmers let their cows and horses onto the golf course. There is also a steady stream of hikers walking their dogs.
With the animals, the castle ruins, the views and the links, Pennard Golf Club is about as memorable a round as there is in the U.K.
To this day, you'll need to step over electrical wire encircling each green. That trip wire hasn't been able to stop what the club believes to be a local vandal who has poisoned a handful of the greens and made them shiny and slick. It's just another unexpected element of many to conquer.
Pennard Golf Club has been altered by many golf course architects -- from James Braid to C.K. Cotton -- since its inception in 1896. While a bit short by today's standards, often-high wind, blind shots and some deep sod bunkers help defend the golf course.
Some of the holes are narrow and tough, especially when the golf course is at its firmest. The par-4 18th hole has the narrowest fairway, and it slopes severely from right to left. Other holes, like the seventh, are as good as there are in the world.
The 16th hole, a par 5 that plays toward the coast, is as pretty of a hole as you will find, while the par-5 17th is narrow with a blind tee shot and gorse everywhere. When we ascended the hill from the tee, we found two cows lounging right in the fairway -- probably a safe spot to be, considering the difficulty of the tee shot.
The front side plays farther inland, but a fantastic stretch of holes play along a stream that runs inland, the Pennard Pill. The seventh hole runs along the Pennard Pill and between Pennard Castle ruins on the right and church ruins on the left (both dating back to the 13th century), then heads up a tumbling fairway to a bowled green that will probably be blind from your vantage point in the fairway if the wind is in your face.
One hole that is a beast when the wind is coming in off the coast is the par-3 13th, which plays about 205 yards uphill. A driver was the play the day we played it, while the par-3 11th, about 185 yards and heading the opposite direction, was an 8-iron.
Pennard Golf Club: The verdict
Strong opinions abound about Pennard G.C. The closed-minded folks in your golf group who prefer a more controlled, manicured golf environment may want to wait in the car.
I don't think Pennard could be my home club, but it gives you an entirely new perspective of the game. And for the trouble, you'll play some of golf's most scenic fairways, so keep your fingers crossed for a sunny day and bring your camera.
Stay and play near Pennard Golf Club
Pennard is farther west compared to southern Wales' other must-play links like Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, Pyle Kenfig Golf Club and Southerndown Golf Club. A good base to see them all, as well as historic Tenby Golf Club to the west, is the town of Swansea. A rival in rugby to larger Cardiff to the east, Swansea has great nightlife and restaurants and is easier to get around compared to larger Cardiff farther east.
There are scores of hotels to choose from. One of the best is Morgan's Hotel, a boutique hotel within walking distance of the main strip of bars on Wind Street, as well as a casino and the coastline.