Royal St. David’s Golf Club
Gwynedd, Wales, United Kingdom

Eleventh hole, 150 yards; While the greens of the prior two par 3s were gracefully pushed up from their surrounds, this one was sunk down between dunes. Much of the putting surface is obscured by a pair of bunkers that front the green. Good and bad breaks help define links golf and this hole provides more good fortune than most on the course. Favorable kicks from the high dune walls sometimes rectify the error of pulled or pushed tee balls. This hole’s playing characteristics fit in nicely between the bruising tenth and twelfth holes.

A real charmer, the green is snuggled low between dunes. Ideally, every links would have such a short hole where the ability to flight the ball through the wind is paramount.

A real charmer, the green is snuggled low between dunes. Ideally, every links would have such a short hole where the ability to flight the ball through the wind is paramount.

Twelfth hole, 435 yards; À la the fifth and sixth, a bend in the fairways and bunkering schemes conspire to make the twelfth and thirteenth holes play differently even as they head in the same general direction over similar land. The view from Campbell’s elevated twelfth tee shows the green ahead with the straight line view from tee to green being well right of the fairway. This is what the great golf intellect Max Behr referred to as the ‘Line of Instinct.’ The golfer needs to take care in properly aligning his tee ball and not let the flag act as a siren, wooing him too far right. Six bunkers in the driving area thwart any hope of reaching the green in regulation should one’s tee ball come to rest in one.  The Line of Instinct shifts to the left from the thirteenth tee so the golfer needs to stay alert and aim away from the flag off the tee even though he knows that makes the hole will play longer.

Campbell quite correctly moved the tee away from the beach path, benched it into the dune line, and lined play up to the one-of-a-kind backdrop of Harlech Castle. This gentle left to right bend in the fairway is balanced against the thirteenth’s which plays from right to left.

Campbell quite correctly moved the tee away from the beach path, benched it into the dune line, and lined play up to the one-of-a-kind backdrop of Harlech Castle. This gentle left to right bend in the fairway is balanced against the thirteenth’s which plays from right to left.

Old, established courses have a way of featuring unusual hazards. This imaginative bunker fifty yards short of the twelfth green is one such example at Harlech.

Old, established courses have a way of featuring unusual hazards. This imaginative bunker fifty yards short of the twelfth green is one such example at Harlech.

Fourteenth hole, 220 yards; In Finch-Hatton’s day, both the green and flag were blind from the tee and you hit over the deep and famous Castle bunker. As the game’s popularity increased, practical considerations took hold. At some point in the 1920s, the dune scape 90 yards off the tee was nudged down some seven feet so that golfers could discern when the green was clear. Happily, the putting surface remains obscured from view to this day.

As seen from the castle, the fourteenth plays from right to left and calls for a long shot over broken ground to a green at the base of the reclaimed dune. No bunkers needed!

As seen from the castle, the fourteenth plays from right to left and calls for a long shot over broken ground to a green at the base of the reclaimed dune. No bunkers needed!

The array of recovery shots one faces during a playing season is to be lauded. The fourteenth is both long and hard as well as fun and memorable, a combination that links golf serves up more readily than heathland or parkland courses.

The array of recovery shots one faces during a playing season is to be lauded. The fourteenth is both long and hard as well as fun and memorable, a combination that links golf serves up more readily than heathland or parkland courses.

 

Fifteenth hole, 440 yards; The next three holes form a classic triangle, the exact sort of design feature that master architects like William Flynn strived for in windy locales like Shinnecock Hills. That amateur architect Finch-Hatton recognized the inherit benefits of such a configuration is impressive. So too is the supreme quality of all three holes. One thinks that even his brother, Denys, made famous in Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen would have approved of man’s subtle though intelligent interaction with the land.

A hole with few peers – the bunkerless fifteenth at Harlech. The tee ball is played to an angled fairway and again in true links fashion…

A hole with few peers – the bunkerless fifteenth at Harlech. The tee ball is played to an angled fairway and again in true links fashion…

... the putting surface for the long approach shot is invisible from the fairway.

… the putting surface for the long approach shot is invisible from the fairway.

Tucked into the dunes, there are many ways to use the surrounding ground to approach this green.

Tucked into the dunes, there are many ways to use the surrounding ground to approach this green.

Sixteenth hole, 350 yards; From this tee high on the dune the golfer is treated to a view of Tremadog Bay and the Llyn Peninsula. So stunning is the vista that the golfer can’t help but wonder why a few more holes aren’t back in these majestic dunes, so broad and pervasive are they. The answer is Mother Nature; the club has tried on the odd occasion to add holes but the dune line is growing by accretion and any fledging holes have been lost quickly to blowing and shifting sand. So be it! Time to turn one’s gaze from the west to the east and tackle the most heavily defended green on the course.

Standing high on the tee, the golfer is afforded a view west away from the course that highlights the bracing environment.

Standing high on the tee, the golfer is afforded a view west away from the course that highlights the bracing environment.

Ringed by the deepest bunkers on the course, the sixteenth demands precision as one might expect on a hole of such modest length.

Ringed by the deepest bunkers on the course, the sixteenth demands precision as one might expect on a hole of such modest length.

 

The golfer's ball is too close to the front of the bunker. The sixteenth green is to his right … but he is forced to play out sideways.

The golfer’s ball is too close to the front of the bunker. The sixteenth green is to his right … but he is forced to play out sideways.

Built in 1910, the St. David’s Hotel lorded down on the course and sixteenth hole in particular for decades before closing near the start of the following century. One imagines the halcyon days when the orchestra played and the tuxedoed gents and gowned ladies peered down upon late day golf events. The heart breaks. Perhaps one day this grand Edwardian edifice will be restored? Or maybe a similar arts and crafts type design could be built in its place?

Built in 1910, the St. David’s Hotel lorded down on the course and sixteenth hole in particular for decades before closing near the start of the following century. One imagines the halcyon days when the orchestra played and the tuxedoed gents and gowned ladies peered down upon late day golf events. The heart breaks. Perhaps one day this grand Edwardian edifice will be restored? Or maybe a similar arts and crafts type design could be built in its place?

Seventeenth hole, 430 yards; Good players like Bob Charles have long spoken fondly of Harlech in part because your shot generally gets the result it deserves. That’s not to say that Harlech isn’t without its quirks; the seventeenth is the lumpiest and cruelest fairway on the course. Five and six foot landforms situated in the middle of the fairway scatter balls left and right. Too far right and the tee ball is gobbled up by one of the three bunkers or worse yet, out of bounds. The seventeenth is another example of a superbly proper links hole of the sort that is sorely lacking at Royal Birkdale and Muirfield.

Fisher points out that the great Harry Colt was brought in before the 1926 Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship. Not much was required but he is credited with this impressive cross bunker 30 yards short of the putting surface.

Fisher points out that the great Harry Colt was brought in before the 1926 Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship. Not much was required but he is credited with this impressive cross bunker 30 yards short of the putting surface.

Like several other well-known courses (Congressional CC, The Cascades Course at the Homestead, and Garden City Golf Club) Harlech finishes unconventionally with a par three. At more than 200 yards in length the hole can be anything from a nine iron to driver depending on the wind. It plays in the opposite direction to the fourteenth, so the two never play the same. This hole is advantaged by finishing beside the clubhouse but lacks the magic of the others on the back nine. Wonder what Finch-Hatton was thinking? Well, Fisher’s Centenary provides the answer with a photograph that shows a handsome nest of bunkers extending well out from the green toward the tee. In its day, Fisher muses that it would have looked like an island green awash in a sea of sand. One hopes that the club will look to restore that innovative bunkering scheme. A course in such a sublime setting deserves a dynamic finish.

Regardless of the report card that the course delivers on one’s game, the club’s distinguished history and the course’s intoxicating setting on a peninsula with the mountains in the background conspire to leave an indelible mark in the player’s mind. Short on size but long on beauty, Wales has many quirky and wonderful settings for golf. Some are of the ‘hit and giggle’ variety which spectacularly compliment the standard bearers of Royal Porthcawl to the south and Royal St. David’s to the north.

Mr. Fisher sums it up nicely when he writes: Harlech is both a great place for a game of golf and a great test of golf (not quite the same thing).  In short, it offers the best of both worlds.

The End