Aberdovey Golf Club Feature Review
Review by Golfshake Contributor and co-author of Now for the Back Nine, Simon Hawkins.
Before I start my review, I’m going to stand aside and leave it the great man himself. Here is how Bernard Darwin described Aberdovey:
“There are several very excellent courses in Wales, but I am quite determined to put Aberdovey first – not that I make for it any claim that it is the best, not even on the strength of its alphabetical pre-eminence, but because it is the course that my soul loves best of all the courses in the world. Every golfer has a course for which he feels some such blind and unreasoning affection. When he is going to this his golfing home, he packs up his clubs with a particular delight and care; he anxiously counts the diminishing number of stations that divide him from it, and finally steps out onto the platform, as excited as a schoolboy home for the holidays, to be claimed by his own familiar caddie. A golfer can only have one course towards which he feels quite in this way, and my one is Aberdovey.” – Bernard Darwin
As usual his words are perfect, although I suspect the Aberdovey of today would spark an even greater complimentary passage of perfection.
Like Bernard, I get excited every time I arrive at Aberdovey, although as yet I have still to do it by train. For some reason Freddie Mercury singing, ‘It’s a kind of magic’, starts playing in my mind and I sing along, quietly to myself of course.
I know what you’re thinking – get on with it!
So, here’s my review.
Aberdovey, off the white tees, is 6,486 yards of hallowed golfing ground. Not in the religious sense, though some may disagree, rather a place greatly revered and honoured. Two things happen every time I say Aberdovey.
In one conversation, mention of Aberdovey Golf Club is reverently followed swiftly by warm acknowledgements of Bernard Darwin and the sheer beauty of the place. In the other, I’m met by a quizzically raised eyebrow – ‘Abu Dhabi?’. This review is primarily to put straight those inclined toward the latter response.
Aberdyffi (Welsh) / Aberdovey (English) is a charming seaside village on the estuary of the Dovey River where it meets the Irish Sea in Cardigan Bay at the base of Snowdonia National Park. It boasts five miles of fine sandy beach that stretches North to the neighbouring town of Tywyn (pronounced Tau - win, with the emphasis on Tau). There is something for everybody, all measure of water-sport, fishing, hill walking, climbing or simply drinking in the scenery and fresh sea air but nothing compares to its magnificent championship links golf course.
On arriving, the entrance seems unassuming. You enter through a friendly portico and a gate bearing the warning that failing to close it will result in a £1000 fine – and they mean it. The gate is the barrier to the Cambrian Coast rail line and the station sits just 80-100 yds from the club entrance. For many a golfer this is part of the subtle perfection. Not only because it gets you right to the golf course but also because it only takes 1 hour 11 minutes to hurl you North to Royal St David’s, another of the triumvirate of famous Welsh championship links courses, (the third being Royal Porthcawl).
Once safely across the tracks and down the entry path you are transported to another world. For me, time stops as I look up the length of this quintessential links course. The club was established in 1886 by the influential Formby based ‘Ruck’ family, (of which Bernard Darwin was a nephew). They had the vision and imagination to use the natural topography of the dunes as the course design. Many of the bunkers still in play today were created by sheep burrowing in for shelter from seaside weather. It was and still is a natural course that changes virtually every day although the sheep are no longer in charge of course maintenance.
First stop was the professional shop run by Club Professional Andy Humphries, a very well-run shop with lots of Aberdovey club gear to buy as a memento of your experience. Andy is the most accommodating chap and makes all feel most welcome. Having reported in, it was time to play.
The course is located on a narrow strip of land that separates the sea from Snowdonia and was created by hand (no machinery) with the aid of legendary architects James Braid, Harry Colt and Herbert Fowler who all contributed to its layout.
The result isn’t just an 18-hole golf course, it’s a magical period of time spent absorbing breathtaking scenery and sublime moments.
The front nine features three par 3s, five par 4ss and one par 5. The standout holes for me are, well all of them really, but here are just a few:
You stand on the first tee and like many old-style links, wonder where the green is and then slowly everything starts to become clear. It is longish par 4, (441 yards off the whites) and on this particular day was into a characteristic stiff breeze. Just one bunker protecting the left side of the green and a drainage ditch hazard just one of many water hazards throughout the course. The fairway is narrow and lined with humps and hollows and leads to a small, beautifully shaped, and tricky to read green. Tough start or what?
This is when you start to realise that playing Aberdovey is very different from the norm and it most certainly is neither monotonous, nor mundane. Reaching the third tee after the respite of the slightly easier downhill 2nd, you look around and your first thought is defined by Rudyard Kipling’s honest working men. You then see the marker post and on this particular day I could just make out the tip of the flag about 170 yards away beyond a tall sandy ridge. If playing Aberdovey for the first time it’s worth walking forward to have a quick look at what lies in wait.
Beyond the ridge is a large and deep grassy hollow formerly the famous Cader bunker. If you hit your tee shot well enough to carry that hollow you will probably be sitting on the bowl-shaped green.
A wonderfully challenging par 3 which is archetypal of all the par 3s. I suspect the 2s pay very well in the club competitions!
There’s about a 100-yard walk to the 4th tee and when you reach it, your breath is swiftly taken from you as ahead and below is one of the great sights in golf. The view stretches all the way to Tywyn and is dominated by the dunes down the left, the course straight ahead, the railway line and Snowdonia to the right. It gave me a feeling of destiny and will hold a place in my heart forever.
Teeing off from the raised tee there is a line of bunkers down the right that you should avoid at all costs (like all the fairway bunkers) and then you play straight to the green which is protected by a couple of bunkers down the right. The slope of the fairway and green carries the ball strongly from left to right, so it is essential to stay left but too far left and you’re in the dunes.
The rest of the front nine offers superb variety, the other main standout hole for me is the 8th, which is a classic, shortish par 4 (335 yards) heavily protected by bunkers.
This offers a wonderful variety of par 3s, 4s and 5s. The standouts are:
Anyone who has ever been to Aberdovey will remember the 12th hole that vies with the 16th as being the signature hole.
Having played a couple of tough par fours (10 and 11) the 149-yard 12th should be welcome relief. I’m really not sure about that, but it does raise your spirits as it is a truly wonderful hole, possibly not the fairest but as Jack Nicklaus once said, ‘Golf is not, and never has been, a fair game’.
The green is raised some 25-30 feet with dunes between tee and green and out of bounds all the way down the right of the hole. To get on the green you have to carry the ball onto the green as anything short stays short and presents a tricky chip. There is no safe way to play the hole as far as I can see. One of the toughest holes I’ve played and yet remarkably it is stroke index 18.
The green when you finally reach it is equally tricky. It is open to the elements and relatively new (the original was swept away in a storm in 2014).
After the trials and tribulations of the 12th (I missed the green) the 13th promises to be a nice and welcome relief, a 530-yard par five, with dunes down the right and nasty rough and ditches down the left. Straightness off the tee is essential to avoid the trouble on the left and the cavernous fairway bunker on the right.
I loved this hole, particularly the green and the tiny bunker that protects it. The green is large and slopes quite strongly from right to left and positioned at the front slightly left of centre is a small bunker which is cleverly placed and can create some very tricky pin positions. Another bunker is well-positioned behind the green to catch overhits.
I think this hole is one of the very best I have ever played. It’s only 288 yards long but offers all kind of temptation and risk. It’s a left-handed dogleg and follows the curve of the railway line as it bends into Aberdovey.
The fairway is relatively generous and slopes right to left offering the player who lays up a flattish lie for their approach shot. It ends about 50 yards short of the leaving a series of humps and hollows between fairway and green.
The green itself is very small and narrow with a deep hollow to its left and a rough mound to the right.
When playing to the green you need to carry the humps and hollows in front of the green and land slightly right as the terrain will send the balls to the left.
The final hole came around far too soon, not just because of the excellent pace of play, but because I can’t remember ever enjoying a round of golf as much.
It’s a long par four to finish at 443 yards. The tee is slightly raised, and you drive across a ditch to a nice wide fairway. The green (below) is overlooked by the clubhouse and protected on the right by the large Captain’s Charity bunker and beyond that another ditch. Down the left and behind is out of bounds and overhit approach puts you on the practice putting green. It’s a superb finishing hole.
I had a wonderful day; the weather was silky and the course magnificent. I came off the course feeling utterly sated. A rare and wonderful experience.
My wife Penelope (our photographer) and I went inside to enjoy the clubhouse hospitality. As you head up the stairs you walk past a snapshot of the club’s history. The bar is run by Gareth Pritchard and his team’s welcome is infectious. The menu offers delicious food and local beers (mine was the locally brewed and yummy Purple Moose.)
Glorious, golf as it should be, me against nature. No tricked-up holes, everything natural.
I loved it!
The club has a dormy house which offers a great place to stay for a golfing break. It overlooks the 18th green and is immediately adjacent to the clubhouse - it couldn’t be more convenient!
The accommodation is serviced daily and is ideal for parties of up to 12 people.
If you can’t get into the Dormy or fancy staying in Aberdovey itself, there are a number of B&Bs and one of the most highly rated is Awel y Môr. Situated on the sea front, it offers great accommodation at a good price and the most superb service and breakfast.
Situated next door is the Sea Breeze Restaurant which offers the most superb food including freshly caught fish of the day.
I have been fortunate to play many famous and fantastic golf courses during the past 55 years and none have had the same impact on me as stepping onto this hallowed turf. I intend to return again and again to the course and to the village of Aberdovey where the welcome is warm and wonderful.
A visit here should be on every golfer’s bucket list!
Aberdovey Golf Club Ratings:
Overall Rating - 9.5/10 - this rating is slightly subjective, but I have never come across anyone who doesn’t love playing this wonderful, natural links.
Course (Conditions) - 8/10 - the course was in very good condition. The greens were superb.
Course (Hole Variety/Layout) - 8/10 - the variety is terrific with nothing samey.
Course (Green Condition) - 8/10 - typical seaside links greens, they putt very nicely indeed.
Course (Challenge/Difficulty) - 8/10 - the course offers challenges for all players with the course varying from 6,104 yards up to 6,685 from the “Darwin’ back tees.
Club Facilities & 19th/Clubhouse - 9/10 - the modern clubhouse is superb.
Practice Facilities - 8/10 - there is an excellent short game area close to the first tee.
Friendliness/Hospitality - 9.5/10 - we were made to feel most welcome.
Pace of Play - 9/10 - I was delighted with the pace of play and amazed to be let through three times.
Value for Money - 9/10 - The fees a great value and at the time of writing this review are as follows:
1st April to 10th October 2021
18 Holes before 2pm - £70.00
18 Holes after 2pm - £55.00
Full Day - £85.00
The fees from 10th October 2021 until 31st March 2022 have yet to be confirmed but in 2020 winter golf at Aberdovey cost: 18 Holes £40.00, Full Day £50.00.
For more information, visit https://www.aberdoveygolf.co.uk/.
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