Borth & Ynyslas

Harry Colt
Oldest course in Wales. Raw traditional golf on flattish running-links with fine grasses and Harry Colt design input.
West coast of Wales. south of Dovey (Dyfi) estuary. SY24 5JS
Dawn Davies
01970 871202
john Lewis
Green Keeper
Marc Lewis
Access Policy:
Visitors always welcome
Dog Policy:
Well behaved dogs are welcomed.
Open Meetings:
Numerous, see Club website
Fees in 1960s
Fees today


Uppingham School in 1876 was one of the UK’s largest boarding schools and to escape a typhoid epidemic moved from Leicestershire to Borth on the west coast of Wales, by use of the new railway that had been extended to Borth in 1863.

borth, ynyslas, harry colt, uppingham school,

Aerial of links between Borth and Ynyslas villages

Some golf was played by the masters on the foreshore and what is claimed to be the first full golf course in Wales was established in 1885. There continues to this day a connection to Uppingham School, whose Old Boys have a match at Borth & Ynyslas as do the MCC GS, the Seniors GS, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the hickory players of the BGCS.

The spelling of Ynyslas to any non-Welshman is quite impossible to remember (or pronounce!) and is the name of a village, a row of houses that runs down the inland side at the far end of this traditional ‘out and back’ running-golf course. I am told ‘Ynyslas’ literally means ‘Blue island’ where in Welsh ‘Blue’ as in this instance equates in the Welsh language with ‘Green ‘. Hence ‘green island ‘ or  ‘Island of green’, suggestive almost of an Oasis.

The course, set out on flat linksland, lies between the sea and the railway with a road between that comes into play on a number of holes and links the two villages. Apart from the six holes seven to twelve that lie slightly inland and among dunes, the other twelve holes run parallel to the beach with no interruption of the sea-view, unlike many other linksland courses where a line of dunes constantly hides a view of the sea.

Borth in background from 11th tee.

This course has the flavour of real wildness tamed in the same sense as Brora, Pennard and Perranporth, with a wide open sky on all sides, with trees visible only in the far distance across the other side of the Cors Fochno bog that occupies the inland side of the course.

Inland target-golfers from lush parklands will be challenged and for those looking for a joy-to-be-alive experience in the wind where imagination is needed to conquer, they will be rewarded with incredibly good value and interesting, subtle golf across an established Golf Union of Wales championship venue.

Borth & Ynyslas is inevitably compared to Aberdovey only a mile distant as the crow flies across the Dovey (or Dyfi) estuary and both courses lie within the Dyfi Natural Nature Reserve that was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the 1970s. More recently, with some dire consequences, they have been ‘awarded’ SSSI status thereby giving the Government quango Natural Resources Wales (NRW) a statutory control over environmental issues on the golf courses.

Aberdovey GC markets itself so cleverly on the back of golf’s greatest ever writer, Bernard Darwin, who maintained through out his life from childhood an involvement with the Club and has given us such wonderful prose. Aberdovey is also an important dinghy sailing port and attracts many West Midland families for holidays.

borth, ynyslas, harry colt, uppingham school,

Harry S. Colt

Borth & Ynyslas makes less noise about their connection with the famous Harry Colt who in 1945 made some changes to the course and we see this in the well positioned (though sparse) bunkering, doubtless the product of the brilliant architect’s work, late in his life.

An objective comparison therefore of these two lovely courses is difficult to make without upsetting the members of either.

borth, ynyslas, harry colt, uppingham school,

Wild orchids

Both clubs have carefully managed their courses for around 130 years, and there have always been wild orchids that like moisture. The clubs have given the opportunity to golfers and walkers who use pathways across the courses, the benefit of experiencing the flora and fauna of this unique habitat.

Whereas Aberdovey, after help from the brilliant greenkeeper who used to be at Enville, is now at last emerging from a period when its agronomy was allowed to soften with a dominance of annual meadow weed grass (Poa annua) and the course was set up with higher mown run-offs that mimiced parklands.

Borth & Ynyslas on the other hand, as might be expected at a club with a small greenkeeping budget, which does not wish to spend money on fertilisers for a flush of green colour, perennial fine fescue/browntop bent grasses have always dominated its fairways and small greens. The aprons and run-offs are mown tight to the ground, giving traditional running-golf across firm linksland with ditches, a beach and sand dunes all coming into play.

The fine grasses being naturally resistant to disease also have the advantage here of not needing expensive fungicide treatments. Fungicides while protecting against fusarium and anthracnose disease in Poa annua, also kill at other courses the healthy microbe and fungi rich soil biology that would otherwise in-turn give the deep-rooting, drought-resistant fine perennial grasses an advantage over short-rooting annual meadow weed grass (Poa annua).

This proper conservationist (low input, lower costs) greenkeeping

is led by head greenkeeper Marc Lewis using 80/20 sand/fensoil topdressing and cutting the greens at 4.5mm in the summer to give a smooth putting speed of up to 9.5 feet when dry, an ideal fast speed for recreational golf.

One might have thought that a club that has managed the beautiful area so well in a conservationist manner would find support from the environmental body NRW (which reports directly to the DEFRA Secretary of State Michael Gove) who by declaring the area a SSSI, while taking no responsiblity for managing the area, nothing can happen without their permission. Therefore, the NRW policy of wanting to raise the water-table in the inland bog area, create damp uncut rough for more wild orchids (which slows the golfer’s pace of play), while also not wishing the Club to take normal action to defend the coastline against high tide westerly storm surges, has created difficulties for the Club.

The sea wall and pebbles on the fourteenth.

When pebbles were thrown on to some of the fairways from the beach during a high-tide storm in the winter of 2017/8 NRW declared them ‘contaminated waste’ and tried to stop them being returned to the beach as part of the natural sea defences, thereby making it more likely that at the next storm the course would become flooded.

The NRW desire to raise the water-table in the inland bog and to stop the clearing-out of drainage ditches that have been there for over 100 years has created the knock-on effect of threatening the fine perennial grasses on some of the fairways by making them damp, a situation that encourages annual meadow weed grass (Poa annua) and worm-casting, which is completely agin the conservationist maintenance of the natural ecology.

NRW have followed it seems the same policy as ‘Natural England’ (another quango reporting to Gove) who have stopped the oldest course in England mounting reasonable sea defences and thereby allowing the loss of four hectares of dunes by sea erosion since 2013, posing a threat to a historic course so important to the tourist economy of North Devon. It does seem as though these ‘environmentalists’ within these unaccountable quangos have decided to adopt a national policy of letting these golf courses be flooded and ultimately reclaimed by the sea.

Before anybody raises the question of what is the point of defending these shifting sand areas when so many people are worried about ‘climate change’ and the ‘Climate Coalition’ man-made alarmists predict a metre rise in sea level by 2100, let us remember that actual measured yearly sea level rise on average (and there are of course things that make a difference, up or down, to individual locations), has consistently been only 1.8mm every year for the last 150 years. Surely, it is man-made alarmist pseudo-science to claim a future prediction that the sea-level-rise will suddenly multiply by a factor of seven. If you want to check out the fuller facts read FineGolf’s 2018 Sea Defence article. and comment on sea-level-rise at threats to Fairbourne just north of here can be read HERE

It is unsurprising that the arrogance of the self-appointed ‘experts’, who have taken dictatorial control and are politically motivated by climate change alarmism that seems to drive their decisions, is coming in for criticism when they ignore the attraction of running-golf courses to visitors and holidaymakers, a major issue for the local economy. Nevertheless, clubs are forced to kowtow and plead, trusting that the use of diplomacy and tact (which helps justify these ‘experts’ existence) will deliver at least part of what the clubs want within the five-year ‘Stalinist’ plans to which they have to conform.

Petrified forest stumps showing on beach at low tide

Before we talk about the course design it is worth mentioning that at low tide the petrified forest from 1,500 BC is exposed on the beach alongside the golf course, with the stumps of oak, pine, birch, willow and hazel trees preserved by the acid conditions in the peat of the land. These have become the stuff of legends, folklore and songs.

The seventh hole

There are four sets of tees giving a total yardage ranging from 4930 to 6086 and par 70. The five par threes are particularly enjoyable and challenging and with the first coming at the seventh (‘Pulpod’) one should be warmed-up sufficiently by then. One plays to this 200 yarder from a high dune tee to a flat green with side bunkering protection that unusually invites you to play short as the safe option, followed by a bump-and-run up-and-down for par.

The par three ninth

The ninth (‘Dyfi’) is played in the opposite direction as we have now turned for home. It has a sloping green at 177 yards and is well protected by bunkers short and OOB against the dunes on the right.

At the eleventh (‘Tan-Y Moel’) we are in the heart of the sand dunes with another high tee into an attractive bowl green that is all carry across 170 yards.

The par three eleventh

The fourteenth (‘Morglawdd’), with a green tight up against the low sea wall and bunkers short and to the left of the green with slopes tilted severely towards them, is perhaps the iconic hole. At 204 yards into the prevailing wind this hole is, as the Club website suggests, an achievement to be savoured. Truly a one-iron club hole!

The fifth par three, the sixteenth (‘Brwyn’) is the shortest test at 164 yards and brings the road which is quite full of cars in the summer, into play or rather as an OOB.

One cannot describe this course as beautiful in the normal sense of inland pretty and it is a bit like Royal Liverpool being wide open and flat at first glance. It may disappoint some before they start playing but nevertheless real interest is contained in the natural ruggedness.

The tenth green from behind

In particular, the visitor will enjoy the detail of the eight shortish par fours and two stretchy par fours at the second (‘Treath ‘ which means Beach) 455 yards down the prevailing wind and the tenth (‘Tegeirian-Y-Gors ‘ which means Orchid after the wild ones nearby) 412 yards into the prevailing wind, neither needing the addition of any bunkers to test good striking.

The three par fives are all birdie chances if your bump-and-run game is on song and these are not the strongest or most characterful part of this course.

The first (‘Porfa‘) 385 yards is an appropriate simple opener though like the third and tenth holes has a narrow entrance to the green. The old now dry though still sunken river course that winds across the area of one’s drive and into the eighteenth fairway should not come into play with a reasonable drive and there is bail out space on the eighteenth fairway.

The third (‘Cors Fochno‘) 360 yards has a two-tier green sited almost on the beach and has strategic bunkering up the fairway to make you think how best to reconnoitre the hole. You can’t just fly your ball over the hazards and stop it quickly by the pin, like on soft Poa annua greens, as it will bounce through.

So the third dimension of play that comes into the ‘running game’ has to take into account the lie of the land as with imagination one creates the shot that will give you the best chance for your par. The proper set-up of firm aprons and run-offs that give consistent bounce are as important for performance as the greens and actually the delicate manoeuvring of my ball from around the green gives me as much fun as booming a tremendous drive.

The sixth

Holes five (‘Y Llyn‘) 347 yards and Six (‘Gwylfa‘) 342 yards are both on the inland side of the course and have interesting hazards supplied by a road and dunes crossing the fairway (at five) and a central fairway mound (at six). This mound will deflect one’s ball into tough rough on either side before one plays to an elevated green half way up a large dune.

The high water table showing on the fifth fairway

Their downside is that that they are at the lowest part of the course and subject to the water table rise referred to earlier. This rise creates damp conditions where ‘target-golf’ off lush weed grass may in future undermine the attraction and challenge of the holes. When I played I could see where some enormous divots had been taken rather than small scuffs as on firm fine grassed fairways.

The twelfth green

The twelfth (‘Tywodfryn‘) 329 yards has the only blind tee shot and the fifteenth (‘Plumlumon‘) 315 yards if played with a northerly wind is very driveable, though its deceptively sloped apron and green requires careful thought.

We finish with another tight drive at seventeen (‘Leri‘) 350 yards, played between the road and a water hazard up the left. Here at last we can open the shoulders when driving to a wide fairway at eighteen (‘Ynys‘) 383 yards that has a flat green, larger than others, where I saw more Poa annua than elsewhere perhaps the result of a green that is low-lying and damp because it is close to the bog whose water table is unfortunately being raised.

18th green and clubhouse

This Club, proudly Welsh in an area of strong Welsh Nationalism, goes out of its way to be very welcoming to visitors and the fayre in the comfortable clubhouse is simple and enjoyable.

Borth links challenges the player who expects an easy test  to  ‘go on then, do it ‘. And having failed, is tempted back to try and solve the mystery! The all time course record is 63, shot by Marc Lewis fifteen years ago before he became the present head greenkeeper.

The course has many trials ahead with regard to NRW’s policies and FineGolf highly recommends a visit before the environmentalists ruin what is an outstanding historic example of true traditional running-golf. Four thousand visitors made the pilgrimage last year with some 20% staying overnight nearby.

Reader Comments

On February 25th, 2019 john Mayell said:

I played Borth and Ynyslas years ago and its a fine course but sadly the old seaside resort is in a timewarp and needs some serious TLC. I hope that there is somewhere to stay now as its worth a visit .
Execellent newsletter as always, john Mayell.
The 2nd hole has a fearsome Tee-shot with out of bounds on either side of a 25 yard wide fairway!

Dear John,
I am glad you agree with our review and with I am told Four thousand visitors making the pilgrimage last year with some 20% staying overnight nearby, it seems things have changed since your visit.
Thank you for your kind words

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