Aberdovey is 'one of the best Welsh courses'
Halfway up the Welsh coast, Aberdovey smiles prettily across the mouth of its estuary,
facing due south and, with luck, the sun. It is an unusually colourful scene for
Fishing boats, dinghies and windsurfers ply to and fro, and two-
Hills rising steeply behind the village protect Aberdovey from the north wind, and
it was the mild winter that drew my Victorian ancestors from their home near Machynlleth,
nine miles upriver annually "uprooted", as my great-
With three months to fill, and perhaps the desire to spend less time with his family,
This was in about 1882, when Bernard Darwin was about six, and, although Tenby and Cwmbran may have been playing the game earlier, as far as he was concerned it was from his Uncle Arthur's flowerpots that Welsh golf grew.
Arthur Ruck's brother, Dicky, a good sportsman and FA Cup winner in 1875 with the
Royal Engineers, soon took over as prime mover of golf at Aberdovey, using his engineering
skills to lay out the first 18-
By the turn of the century young Darwin was sweeping the honours board off a plus 4 handicap. He remained loyal to Aberdovey, returning by train for summer and winter golf and describing it with shameless sentimentality in his journalism and copious autobiographical writings. Any "improvement" to the course was an excuse for a nostalgic essay.
Golf and family holidays by the sea have changed less at Aberdovey than in most other places, but it goes without saying that today's pilgrim finds a course that has had many of its quirks ironed out by a parade of fashionable architects Braid, Fowler, Colt that continues to this day.
Coastal erosion is a constant worry, and for the moment we are denied the thrill of driving off our high tees, with golf holes rolled out beneath us to the left, and an immensity of sand, waves and the full sweep of Cardigan Bay, from Bardsey to St David's, to the right. The sea is always close, but the dunes permit only occasional glimpses until the 12th green, a superb belvedere rewarding one of the toughest shots on the course, on a windy day.
The layout is usually described as an old-
Since then the cavernous bunker has become a grassy bank, the green a generous crater.
The wind, the trampling of caddies and the hacking of furious golfers have all taken
their toll on the great sandhill. Cader may no longer strike fear into the heart,
but it remains a charmingly old-
Hope and anxiety hold hands as we knock a ball over the top and hurry after it. Hours later, a stream of children trailing surfboards and cricket bats delays us on the 16th tee, whitening the knuckle as we prepare to launch a ball over a bend in the railway, aiming as close to disaster as we dare, and closer than we ought.
But is it really tough enough, in the modern age? The quest for improvement never ends, and the latest campaign has brought new back tees the "Darwin tees", no less to give Aberdovey a new, sharper set of teeth.
New bunkers have been dug and old ones roughed up around the edges for the fashionably
frayed look. An expensive no-
Those of us who miss the grazing livestock can visit in winter, when a flock of sheep
has the run of the course; their footprint so light that electric fences are not
needed. Golf at Aberdovey began as a winter pastime, after all. It was the mild winter
that brought my ancestors there, and we often leave our little house near Machynlleth
under a frost to find Aberdovey in shorts and sandals. Sunbathers on the balcony
of the Britannia's Look-
So before you book a flight to Florida, spare a thought for Aberdovey, on the Welsh Riviera.
Green fees from £25 (in a winter fourball) to £50 (morning round, until Oct 31). www.aberdoveygolf.co.uk. Bernard Darwin's golf books are out of print but can be consulted in the reading room at Aberdovey Golf