Pennard Golf Club Pt. III
by Sean Arble

14th hole, 368 yards, BRAIDS: Braid’s favourite hole at Pennard. Another Braid original (1908); the tee was extended 35 yards in 1984.

The 14th with

The 14th with Bill

The approach to the 14th demonstrates why Pennard is often called the Links in the Sky.

The approach to the 14th demonstrates why Pennard is often called the Links in the Sky.

To borrow from Sir Ernest again, Pennard: A Course with a Great Future was written for a 1926(?) issue of Golf Illustrated. The tee shot for the 14th was described as “a long carry over broken craters of sand and a high pitch shot over a high rampart of sand.” The description sounds accurate except for the mention of sand everywhere! This hole was obviously affected greatly by sand and that is no longer the case. There are but two bunkers. The first, which lies blind at the start of the fairway, is affectionately known by me at least, as Bill’s Bathtub, on account of my mate Bill McBride being the lone person I know to have visited this pit! The second is a large front right greenside bunker which very much influences play. Like Braid, this too is one of my favourite holes at Pennard. The elephant’s graveyard fairway (presumably turfed over sand craters) combined with the rather abrupt uphill second, showcase two essential skills if one is to play well at Pennard: controlling ball trajectory and coping with wonky lies. One final thought before heading to the 15th, take note of the seamless transition between the fairway and green. Many holes at Pennard exhibit this quality, but none better than Braids.

15th hole, 165 yards, BOSCOS DEN: One of the many caves in the Pennard Cliffs. The last of the original Braid holes designed in 1908.

This is the last in a series of short, tricky holes. The 15th is an unusual hole at Pennard for two reasons. First, the hole is relatively flat, the only such hole on the course. Second, the green strikes one as contrived because of the three tiers. A pot bunker rests about half way up the right side of the green and certainly comes into play especially when the hole is cut on the middle or back tier. One interesting feature of the green is that it narrows progressively from front-to-back. This is a good hole despite the obvious touches of man’s hand.

The 15th green viewed from just above the 10th.

The 15th green viewed from just above the 10th.

The 15th green viewed near the 16th tee.

The 15th green viewed near the 16th tee.

The final three holes offer one last look at the sea before turning for home. The drives at holes 17 and 18 are very unusual for Pennard because they feel constrained and are quite penal; only the correct line and/or shape will do and why not?

16th Hole, 493 yards, GREAT TOR: The small headland viewed behind the green. Originally the green was down near the present 17th tee. In 1927 the decision was made to keep the 1908 Braid tee, but move the green about 65 yards further back into the dunes, not far from where the old 17th tee used to be. Braid strongly objected to this alteration, perhaps because it may have included moving the 17th tee from a glorious position and creating another blind drive. The green was extended further right in 1995 to create more hole locations.

The tee shot at the 16th.

The tee shot at the 16th.

Even from this distance, the 16th green doesn't give away any of its secrets.

Even from this distance, the 16th green doesn

If Pennard has a signature hole then this is it. I will leave it to James Finegan to describe: “heartstopping panorama of cliffs and beach and Channel “ the drive falling to a typically Pennard fairway ¦the approach rises steeply to a cliff top green that slopes perilously down from back to front, sending many a lag from above the hole, when the greens are skittish, down into the fairway.”

17th Hole, 488 yards, HELWICKS: I believe the name derives from the Helwick Bank; a large sand bank between Port Eynon and Worms Head. It isn’t known who is responsible for the current tee position, but Braid (1908) is responsible for the general routing and Hawtree (1920) for the green.

This is what the player cannot see when driving on the 17th.

This is what the player cannot see when driving on the 17th.

The risky option of going for the green in two.

The risky option of going for the green in two.

A closer look at the 17th green.

A closer look at the 17th green.

It is surprising; to me at least, that Sir Ernest Holderness selected this hole in addition to Colonel as one of his favourites in Britain. Many great courses have at least one highly controversial hole and surely Helwicks fills that role at Pennard. The 17th presents three main difficulties. First, the tee shot is blind. Not at all a bad thing if it weren’t for the second problem; the hill takes nearly every shot straight right. To alleviate this sporty element a rather clumsy attempt was made at leveling a section of the fairway in 1984. Additionally, the heavy gorse down the right of the fairway is periodically cleared to widen the fairway corridor. For the most part, these remedies have been successful. The final piece of the puzzle is the awkward lay-up beyond the dogleg because of the exceedingly narrow fairway. Despite, or perhaps because of these faults, I am gradually taking to the hole. I always look forward to the opportunity of going for this green in two. It’s a foolish play I know, but temptation gets the better of me on most visits.

18th hole, 415 yards, HIGHWAY: Presumably named for the road leading to the course. This hole used to play blind over a large sandy area (down the right side of the current 18th fairway) which later became the practice the ground. In 1971 a new tee straightened the hole down to the Hawtree green (1920). In 1989 a large dune in front of the ladies tee was topped to make the fairway visible.

If the golfer has experienced a trying time on the links the playful nature of the ponies often grazing near the front of the tee is a welcome distraction. This last hole is unique for Pennard because the tee shot calls for a fade to work into the left sloping fairway. Like the penultimate hole, Highway is a bunkerless hole, but it is well defended by severe rough and heather up the left. The second shot is one of the more straightforward approaches on the course, but it is a satisfying finish nonetheless.

The home hole.

The home hole.

The 18th green from the rear  “ the 10th hole is in the middle background.

The 18th green from the rear “ the 10th hole is in the middle background.

Just as most games begin at the proshop, it is also the case that many golfers wouldn’t consider the day complete without repairing to the clubhouse to settle debts while taking ale. The clubhouse is fairly new, but in no way ostentatious. The most inviting room is the spike bar, located, unusually, on the 1st floor. Much to the visiting Englishman’s chagrin and true to the traditions of South Wales, rugby, rather than football, is the sport of choice for post golf viewing. The spike bar is however, cheery and comfortable no matter what is on the telly.

That then is Pennard, short on yardage, but long on character. The same cranky, undulating land which creates sporty bounces is also responsible for Pennard’s greatest asset, shot making options. These options combined with continuously changing weather mean the course will never become too familiar. Is this variety not the very definition of a great course? Tom Doak proclaimed Pennard to be one of his “all-time favorites.” Max Faulkner thought it the best course in Britain. James Finegan held nothing back when he exclaimed “I see no reason to back away from an unflinching conclusion: Pennard is a very great course, in my experience one of the twenty greatest in the world.” I can only add that Pennard is a course to savour not over-analyse.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Many thanks to www.neilgower.com , www.hickorygolfers.org, www.pennardgolfclub.com and Philip Gawith for their generosity in granting permission for the use of their images. I am grateful to my beautiful wife, Julia, who often dips from her well of patience on my behalf. A word of appreciation to Chris Clouser, Philip Young, Tom Doak and Jim Thompson for taking the time to respond to my pleas of help. Most of all, though, I must thank my editor-in-chief extraordinaire, Mark Rowlinson, whose efforts far surpassed what was asked of him.

REFERENCES

Tom Doak: The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses 1996 edition page 271

For a further explanation of short grass as a hazard see http://doakgolf.com/essays.asp?e=besthazards

For information on the Gower see www.explore-gower.co.uk

James W. Finegan: All Courses Great and Small “ A Golfer’s Pilgrimage to England and Wales

2003 edition pages 268-270

P.M. Grant: 100 Years On The Cliff “ The Complete History of Pennard Golf Club

1995 edition pages 12-13 & 26-57

Sir Ernest Holderness: Golf Illustrated “ January 1928

Sir Ernest Holderness: Golf Illustrated “ 1926(?) A Course With a Great Future

Donald Steel: Classic Golf Links of Great Britain and Ireland 1992 edition pages 152-153

The End