Royal St David’s

Harold Finch-Hatton, W.H.More
Championship golf on level linksland with the last 5 holes among the dunes. Wild Orchids to be seen.
North West Wales at Harlech. (postcode ; LL46 2UB)
Gareth Lewis
01766 780361
Gareth Lewis
Green Keeper
Rhys Butler


Access Policy:
Visitors welcomed
Dog Policy:
Welcomed on a lead
Open Meetings:
Winchilsea foursomes- Easter. St David's Gold Cross- July.
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£65 - 2015


Only from the 16th tee can one see the sea at Royal St David’s; nevertheless, there is a romanticism to the Morfa under Harlech Castle ‘brooding massively’ over the links that adds to the “joy to be alive” feeling  which continues to bring friends back year after year to this the finest ‘running-game’ Championship course in North Wales.

In an early piece of clever branding the founding fathers in 1894, following St Andrews in Scotland and Royal St George’s in England, called this Welsh course St David’s rather than Harlech.

With considerable Royal involvement in the Club, it was natural that it became Royal St David’s.

clubhouse below Harlech Castle

clubhouse below Harlech Castle

Your experience starts with a rather quaint walk over the old Aberdovey railway line to the functional one-storey Club house with the mountains of Snowdonia on one side and the huge sandhills screening the sea on the other.

In between, the first 13 holes are on level links land with a profusion and variety of wild orchids in the rough. Many is the change in direction of the holes and tighter bunkering put in place on several some ten years ago, they are a severe test.

The club believe that, working with Natural Resources Wales, where practical, refurbishing some of the bunkers on the course would improve their character, visibility and playability and add to the aesthetical value of the course. Also over the years scrub and bramble has encroached in some areas and this is now being opened up to not only speed up play but take the course back to its natural, challenging, traditional ‘running-game’ conditions.

Indeed, 6629 yards Par 69 SSS 73, one realises that others also struggle to play to par! The only other fine course in the British Isles with an SSS of plus 4 off white tees to my knowledge is Southerness though new blue tees to attempt to stretch the course to counter-act the power of the modern ball, are now being added on many courses!

One needs to biff the ball here but one never gets the feeling that slogging it will help in any way.

I would not say there are any great holes on the first part of the course, just consistent fineness and challenge, off dry running turf, while the short 5th and 9th require very solid long irons both to raised greens made fascinating by the wind.

the 14th amongst the tumbling dunes

the 14th amongst the tumbling dunes

At the 14th we disappear into the sand dunes which do hold three great holes. The 220 yard 14th, to be sought out among the dunes, is now a little easier and some might say fairer with a slightly raised tee.

The best hole is the 15th with a drive over tangled dunes to a flat fairway at 45 degrees giving a strategic choice for your second, a long iron again over tumbling mounds to an obscured green.

It has everything in beauty and design to allow the high handicapper to hit six good shots and be happy with his double bogey while two exact and crafted shots from the expert gives him his tingle of joy.

Having said that, this green did suffer from over wetness in 2013 and a possible raising/redesign of the surface is being considered.

from behind the 15th green

from behind the 15th green

The 16th from a high tee, with views of Tremadog Bay and often strongly downwind, in a dry summer can be fun as a matchplay hole to try to run between the many greenside bunkers.

The last time I visited, this tee, perched on top of the dunes bordering the beach, was suffering from blown sand submerging the turf. A perennial problem of this gorgeous type of links country.

The 17th requires a long accurate drive to set up the possibility of flying the cross bunkers to the green, a choice that comes at the right time in the round.

These cross bunkers have been redesigned recently to give a more visually open sand effect.

Similar to the Red at The Berkshire, the round simpers to a finish with an ordinary 200 yarder. What a pity one further great 2 shotter could not have been conjured up to give the climax to a course that, even as it is, many professional and amateur champions have raved over.

The Club has been lucky enough to have employed a series of greenkeepers and secretaries who have known their jobs.

the 14th green

the 14th green

The following quote from Alistair Beggs, of the world renowned Sports Turf Research Institute(STRI) in Bingley, in March 2006 gave credit to their efforts:

“It is an exemplar site in respect of best practice. Turf on all playing surfaces is dominated by finer bent and fescue turf types and the benefits they convey are very apparent at this time. Putting surfaces are firm, smooth and incredibly fast for late March. They showed a Stimpmeter reading of 12 at a height of 6mm! The current management programme and the results it is bringing with it is the perfect demonstration that greenkeeping is a study of infertility and that the best possible year round results are produced by promoting the finer grasses within a supportive and consistent club framework”.

There is a lovely story of an early greenkeeper who was often found comatose from drink, stretched out on various parts of the course. A local rule was created that a ball coming to rest near his figure could be dropped two clubs’ length away without penalty.

If only every problem was so easily circumscribed!

The course can suffer in wet weather from a high water table and it is recognised that the cut of the greens was kept below 4mm for too long in the wet 2013 summer . More aeration is now part of the programme in the pursuit of austere greenkeeping,  to support the development of the deeper rooting fine grasses.   The fact that the Club is quite open in its discussion of the eradication of these problems reflects an enlightened Club leadership.

The recent introduction of a Dormy House is a most welcome facility for travelling golfers.

Review by Lorne Smith 2008.        Leave us a comment below

Reader Comments

On August 4th, 2019 Nick Armitage said:

I played St David’s for the first time yesterday. It was a wonderful golf experience to play a true links in the unique setting beneath Harlech castle with Snowdonia in the distant background. However it didn’t exceed my expectations. The par 3 eighteenth is an anticlimax after the course rises from an ordinary links over holes 14,15,16 and 17. If it wasn’t Royal would it be so highly rated?
To put my comments in context I’ve played almost all the top links courses of GB and Ireland over the last almost 40 years. I recall meeting someone who was launching Finegolf a few years ago but can’t quite remember that person’s name or where. It might come back to me or I might find an email on my old laptop when I return to Sydney.
Best wishes
Nick Armitage

Dear Nick,
Congratulations on your achievement of playing almost all the finest links courses in GB and I and I wish you well in continuing on to all the finest running-golf courses across the heathlands, downlands and moorlands which can be just as much fun.
Good luck
Lorne Smith

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