James Braid, Ken Cotton, Donald Steel
A quirky, natural, fine grasses, James Braid 'links in the sky'. Tremendous sea views with pitching/tossing fairways of running-golf.
South side of the Gower Peninsular. Postcode SA3 2BT
Sally Crowley, GM: Rhys Morgan
01792 233131
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:
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£60 - 2017


I have to thank Sean Arble, a regular contributor to that superb golf architect website, golfclubatlas, for introducing me to Pennard and its traditional quirky fine running-golf.

The splendour of Pennard

The splendour of Pennard

This Club founded in 1896, it is hidden away on the Gower, west of Swansea, 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.  It was managed in a fully sustainable manner (low inputs, lower costs) under the brilliant eye of Chair of Green John Beynon.

FineGolf was pleased to be able to introduce the traditional greenkeeping consultancy from Gordon Irvine  whose advice has been subsequently retained, though there was an interregnum between 2014 and 2017. More of that later.

The small interesting greens, aprons and run-offs  are of increasing high quality, running with trueness at a good speed 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 as will always be the case when a well designed (James Braid) course on distinctive ground pursues a long-term objective of improving the fine grasses agronomy.

The 8th green

The 8th green

Like Brora in the Scottish Highlands, historic commoners’ rights are exercised by the grazing of cattle, though there is always hope that the farmer may stop exercising these rights.

Inevitably when I first played Pennard I started with some scepticism and with the second hole out of commission and a weak hole coming at the par five fourth; the course did take a little time to warm me up but it then just blew me away.

Hole after hole poses the strategic challenges 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’ 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 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 now has a card stretching to 6809 yards with audacious carries from the new back tees at 2, 3, 13, 14, and 17. Nevertheless some of these back tees are never used as the course is quite difficult enough already! I did find that the back tee at four made it a proper par five and reduced the encroachment of the OOB and the ninth tee.

Playing with Mike Bennett who has now retired from being the popular Pro here for 40 years, 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 a 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.

This has all happened following an infectious outbreak of what is called ‘Augusta Syndrome Disease (ASD)’ among the membership looking for faster greens, had swept the previous traditional greenkeeping policy away.

Huw Morgan (a Master Greenkeeper – BIGGA’s top accolade), after arriving to take charge of both the office and the course in 2014, 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, after being, if you read FineGolf’s review, the greenkeeper and later secretary at Ashburnham. He has now exited Pennard in 2017 and the membership led by the Chair of Green since 2014, Tony Smith, must be complimented on recognising their mistakes and have invited Europe’s leading fine grass consultant Gordon Irvine back again to help the same greenkeeping team re-introduce his programme for fine grasses and the running game.

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.

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) 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) has been through a number of changes in recent years, none to complete satisfaction and a new fescue turfed green will be opened in 2018 on higher ground further back.

The third (President) is a fine strong left-hand dogleg into the prevailing wind and the fifth (Penmaen) 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) crosses a path down to the beach and has a long uphill drive sloping right. The second shot to an enclosed green is two clubs more than you think.

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) is of similar length this time to a high tiny green also with lots of movement. But on both of these holes even if 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) 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. 450 yards 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 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) has a dangerous drive when the fairway is running and the long iron to the par three eleventh (Tower) 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 Admiral

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

But it gets us across a high dune to a great par three (Colonel) that plays considerably more than its 200 yards all carry and into the prevailing wind. Why anybody should want to ever play off the new back tee as a par four of 252 yards leaves me bewildered!

Mike Bennett on the 14th back tee.

Mike Bennett on the 14th back tee.

The fourteenth is named after Braid suggesting it was his favourite. It is worth a walk to the new back tee high in the dune 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.

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

The drive at the 16th

You need to allow the sixteenth (Great Tor) 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). 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 is 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.

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, the fourth and particularly the fifteenth among the members but for the sake of debate let me add a further impression.

James Braid putting at Pennard, finest courses

James Braid putting at Pennard

The James Braid routing is, as usual, magnificent in the questions it poses, though if a way could be found for another short hole, so as to do away with the rather weak uphill, double-tiered par three fifteenth, it would allow the white eighteenth tee to be relocated, as it presently frankly should give an almost impossible right to left sloped fairway drive, though having said that when the lusher new Poa annua fairways were being encouraged they did stop the ball running away into the heather so quickly!

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 2018.

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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