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Pennard

Yardage
6267
Par
71
SSS
72
Built
1896
Architect(s)
James Braid, Ken Cotton, Donald Steel
Nature:
A rugged, natural, fine grasses, James Braid 'links in the sky'. Tremendous sea views with pitching/tossing fairways of running-golf & a 5 Star 'Joy-to-be-alive' feeling.
Location/Address:
South side of the Gower Peninsular. Postcode SA3 2BT
http://www.pennardgolfclub.com
Secretary
Sally Crowley, GM: Rhys Morgan
Telephone
01792 233131
Professional
Sean Pearson
Green Keeper
Ceri Lewellyn, CofG: Tony Smith
Pennard golf club clubhouse
Pennard golf club clubhouse
pennard golf club above three cliffs bay
pennard golf club
pennard golf club
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
various
Fees in 1960s
37p
Fees today
£75 - 2021

Review

This Club founded in 1896, is hidden away on the Gower, west of Swansea, and while not being in Frank Pennink’s  “Golfer’s Companion” and being predominantly of local character in its membership, only came onto my radar comparatively recently. I have to thank Sean Arble, a regular contributor to that superb golf architect website, golfclubatlas, for  originally introducing me to Pennard and its traditional, quirky fine running-golf.

I continue to return as often as possible to play this glorious course that has now been awarded five stars, alongside Royal Porthcawl in South Wales, for the  ‘Joy-to-be-alive’ FineGolf feeling it gives.

The splendour of Pennard

The splendour of Pennard

FineGolf was pleased to be able to introduce in 2010 not only Jim Arthur’s  bible of greenkeeping Practical Greenkeeping’ to the brilliant, thoughtful and late Chair of Green John Beynon  but subsequently the traditional Conservation Greenkeeping consultancy from Gordon Irvine  whose advice has been retained, though there was an unfortunate interregnum in the Club’s policy between 2014 and 2017 from which the Club and course is now recovering. More of that later.

The small interesting greens – some with enormous movement, aprons and run-offs  are of increasing high quality, running with trueness and cut at 5mm to encourage the wonderfully dappled bents and fescue grasses.

This policy was starting to bear commercial fruit and green-fees were rising in 2013 as will always be the case when a well designed (James Braid) course on distinctive ground pursues the objective of improving the fine grasses agronomy, though easily reversed by members who are misled by Augusta Syndrome disease (ASD) and measure a green by its speed rather than by its firmness and trueness of roll.

The 8th green

The 8th green

Like Brora in the Scottish Highlands, historic commoners’ rights are exercised by the grazing of cattle, and there are single strand electric fences around the greens.

When I first played Pennard I started with some healthy scepticism and there are weak holes at two and four and so the course took a little time to warm me up but it was not long before it just blew me away by its testing and strategic character.

Hole after hole poses the challenge of natural links land with pitching and tossing fairways laid within what has some similarities to a moorland terrain, though known as ‘The Burrows’, and located well above Three Cliffs Bay.

'The links in the sky'

‘The links in the sky’

It has been dubbed the ‘links in the sky’ without a single tree or pond interfering with play and there is a natural ‘roughness’ to the terrain, (particularly for inland golfers who are looking for manicured prettiness) the experience will amaze the visitor with its challenge and enjoyment, while set in spectacular scenery with even a haunting ruined castle in the background.

The numerous choices available of how to play the holes and use of strategy as one plots one’s way around, are uplifting of the spirits. If you don’t use your imagination and fashion your shots to the circumstances of the lie of the land, the firmness of turf and the ever present wind, but rather just hit high and hope, your game is unlikely to be successful.

pennard golf club, james braid, gordon irvine, fine running golf

The clubhouse

Deserving to be awarded some Welsh championship tournaments, the club was advised it needed to be lenghthened and it stretched the card to 6809 yards with audacious carries from new back tees at 2, 3, 13, 14, and 17. Nevertheless the fourteenth is the only one now used as the course is quite difficult enough already and the card is now 6420 yards.

It was a great privilege to play with Mike Bennett who has now retired from being the popular Pro here for 40 years, and passed on his mantle to his enthusiastic and clever assistant Sean Pearson.

I was surprised to see in 2015 the seeding of darker coloured ryegrass in a number of places, for example at the beginning of the first fairway and around the newly renovated bunkers under the tenth green. The cows certainly loved eating the lush ryegrass, while creating their mess on the first fairway! This and the encouragement of annual meadow grass (Poa annua) across the ‘greened-up’ fairways, with my ball ‘sticking’ on slopes rather than ‘rolling off and casually exploring nooks and crannies until settling on a spot where gravity can influence it no longer’ as was previously the case, is unfortunate for those who love running-golf.

As already mentioned this all happened following an infectious outbreak of what is called ‘Augusta Syndrome Disease (ASD)’ among the membership a reflection of poor, unfocused Club leadership.

A Master Greenkeeper  (the greenkeeper association’s top accolade) who has now left the greenkeeping industry, was appointed to take charge of both the office and the course in 2014, and was initially ecstatically welcomed. He gained the appointment (and considered he did not need any outside advice) following a period with a distributor of grass seed – including ryegrass, after being, if you read FineGolf’s review, the greenkeeper and later secretary at Ashburnham.

He exited Pennard after three years in 2017 and the membership led by the Chair of Green since 2014, Tony Smith, must be complimented on recognising their policy mistakes and have invited Europe’s leading fine grass consultant Gordon Irvine back again to help the greenkeeping team re-introduce his programme for fine grasses and the running game that works for this very special and unique site.

The Club are lucky that they now have Ceri Lewellyn as course manager, a scratch golfer, a long term member at Pennard, a greenkeeper committed to Gordon’s programme, and who enjoyed an introduction to Askernish to see what can be accomplished by conservation greenkeeping.

The experience here belies the view of some, that fescues and fine grass agronomy will not work on inland courses, nor give a membership what they are demanding, when infected by a fit of ASD.  The Club’s leadership have stood up and with visionary communication are back on track, heralding that the very essence of Pennard’s design and enjoyment is to have firm running turf rather than beautifully green and lush fairways and greens.

Interestingly Ceri is testing whether the introduction of sheeps fescue on the fairways will give a more enduring grass cover and if any site can take its tufty habit as part if its rugged naturalness it is Pennard while nearby moorland Clyne has outstanding bumpy fairways with plenty of sheeps fescue in places and even Royal St George’s is trialing its use.

pennard golf club, james braid, gordon irvine, fine running golf

The tenth green

Some extraction of gorse to the right of the first hole (‘Founder’ 431 yards) makes the first drive less daunting with less balls being lost, while to find the hidden bowl green with your semi-blind second shot is quite a challenge that early in the round.

The par three second (‘Cefn Bryn’ 145 yards) has been through a number of changes in recent years, none to complete satisfaction. A new red fescue turfed green was opened in 2018 on higher ground further back but its sandy base refused to hold moisture and we are back to the original lower green where the bottom of the pin is blind but without the strange mounds to the right.

The third (‘President’ 383 yards) is a fine, strong, left-hand dogleg into the prevailing wind.

The fourth (‘Ilston’ 517 yards) has been much improved by getting rid of the OOB and with a raised red fescue turfed fairway on the corner, but it still lacks distinction and has a lucky, semi-blind shot to the green, that perhaps gives the locals an advantage!

The fifth (‘Penmaen’ 165 yards) a mid-iron par three to a small pulpit green with undulations and deeply bunkered, that is looked down on from the tee. Certainly intimidating and the proper start of the real Pennard challenge.

The sixth (‘Admiral’ 400 yards) crosses a public footpath down to the beach and has a long uphill drive sloping right. The second shot to an enclosed green is at least two clubs more than you think if you only judge it by yardage.

pennard golf club, james braid, gordon irvine, fine running golf

The glorious 7th from the tee.

So many holes from now onwards are so individualistic on strongly undulating surfaces that the normal white tees at 6267 yards are quite long enough and the 350 yard seventh hole (‘Castle’) is a good example of the beauty of Pennard. Pointed at the sea from a high tee with the ruined castle to its right and a wall of a long gone church to the left, the green is hidden and has an enormous swale in it with a cliff like fall-off at the back.

The left-hand dogleg coming back (‘Church’ 357 yards) is of similar length this time to a high tiny green also with lots of movement. But on both of these holes even if your drive is on the fairway your feet are unlikely to be level, so your punched approach has to be hit with committment to pitch and run on correctly.

pennard golf club, james braid, gordon irvine, fine running golf, max faulkner

1951 Open Champion Max Faulkner opens clubhouse in 2001

The ninth (‘Southgate’ 445 yards) that takes us back to near the new clubhouse with its extensive viewing gallery looking out across the burrows, is the most challenging hole so far. A dogleg left, your drive has to be precise, not cutting the corner bunker nor fading into difficult rough. There is then a second shot across a rough sandy area where another public footpath encroaches, to a large almost flat green perched on the side of a dune. Inland golfers may find this rough sandy area untidily unattractive and unpredicable but they really should not come to Pennard if they don’t want to use their imagination as to how to fashion shots to conquer the challenge.

Another aspect of this course is that if your ball is carried away from the green, the surroundings are made for a soft-handed bump-and-run and your par is still a possiblity.

The tenth (‘Three cliffs’ 495 yards) has a dangerous drive when the fairway is running and the long iron to the par three eleventh (‘Tower’ 180 yards) across a ravine which if the green is missed, is best left short as to stay on the shelf green from above it requires considerable delicate skill.

pennard golf club, james braid, gordon irvine, fine running golf

The challeging short 13th, The Colonel

Great courses require some criticism as a highlight to their strengths and it must be said that the 300 yard twelfth (‘Pennard Pill’) over a sideways hill verges on being diddytown or tricked-up golf.

But it gets us across a high dune to a great par three (‘Colonel’ 207 yards) that plays considerably more than its 200 yards, all carry and into the prevailing wind.

Mike Bennett on the 14th back tee.

Mike Bennett on the 14th back tee.

The fourteenth (368 yards) is named after Braid suggesting it was his favourite. It is worth a walk to the back tee high in the dune (412 yards) from where the best panoramic view can be enjoyed.  The hole is a similar left-hand dogleg drive as the eighth to a deeply undulating fairway with cavernous bunkers on the corner and either a punch into the bank in front of the high crested green with a stagger up and onto the surface or a floated pitch to the slightly bowl shaped  green that is hidden from the player, is the choice. The wind will be the determinant. It might have been worth a slight detour as you come off from either the 10th or 12th greens to check where the fourteenth flag is situated.

The fifteenth par three (‘Boscos Den’ 165 yards) looks straightforward on rising ground but it plays longer than the card and to stay on the two tier green is satisfying.

pennard golf club, james braid, gordon irvine, fine running golf

The drive at the 16th

You need to allow the sixteenth (‘Great Tor’ 500 yards) to grow on you. If you can tear your eyes away from the stupendous view of Three Cliffs Bay, a full out drive to a humped fairway leaves a second to a difficult to judge angle to below a sloping green. Not many fours here!

pennard golf club, james braid, gordon irvine, fine running golf

The 17th green across the gorse

The same might be said of the seventeenth (‘Helwicks’ 488 yards). An uphill drive to a plateau shelf provides the choice of the round. I shall always remember my decision the first time I played here, when quite stupidly I crashed my second shot across a sea of yellow gorse to the back of the green into the wind, which set up a bump-and-run birdie!

I can only believe that my leg was being pulled when I was told that there was some thought of taking out the gorse. There is already a more simple route for the high handicapper to take around the dogleg for their still challenging 5 or 6.

The eighteenth (‘Highway’ 415 yards) is a fine finish with a very tight drive and to hit the green in two under the sight of members on the clubhouse viewing gallery is special.

Pennard is the opposite of predictable, lush, ‘target’-style golf, and deserves, similar to another James Braid brilliance Perranporth in Cornwall, to gain much greater recognition among fine golf aficionados.

All great courses need to be played many times as it is only then that all the subleties emerge and I am sure there are supporters of the second and the fourth. The James Braid routing is, as usual, magnificent in the questions it poses.

Since I first played Pennard I have returned many times and with the pressure on my time, I do not do so lightly. I strongly recommend others to discover this course with so many ‘joy to be alive’ factors and I fervently hope the re-introduced long-term policy of change to fine grasses is continued.

See ” 100 years on the cliff or The complete history of Pennard Golf Club ” by P.M.Grant

Reviewed by Lorne Smith  in 2010 and updated in 2021.

Reader Comments

On August 9th, 2010 Paul Dolton said:

hi Lorne, glad to see you enjoyed Pennard. Have played it a few times and rate it very highly. South Wales is such a good golf venue but unfortunatly the world will see celtic manor. A friend played celtic manor recently and he said it took six hours! Clyne golf club in swansea never gets a mention but has some great moorland holes. P and K also which im sure you have heard of. What about a ryder cup at Pennard ,such a good matchplay course. and any bad shots could be blamed on, not quiet perfect lie, the ponys were in the way, or getting distracted by the stunning views! keep up the good work. all the best , Paul.

Paul, thanks for your kind words.
P and K is in FineGolf’s 200 finest running-golf courses in GB&I but I have not yet got round to reviewing it. Clyne if only the greens were not 100% weed grass Poa annua and were firmer, would certainly get in with its wonderful wide open moorland holes. The last time I played it I used hickories. what fun! Lorne

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