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THE IRONY was not lost on me as I drew back the curtains in my room at Hotel Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales.

Here I was, looking out on the beach which was an integral part of the setting for the Sixties cult TV series The Prisoner having been given, briefly, the equivalent of the freedom of the golfing area.

‘Golf As It Should Be’ is Wales’ slogan and a four-day visit was offered to prove it is more than the marriage of slick marketing and regional pride.

If your idea of golf is challenging courses, friendly and helpful service, and excellent accommodation and food, then Wales is unlikely to disappoint.

Trying to get a feel for an area on what amounts to a whirlwind visit is never easy. Shifting hotels daily can present its own difficulties, although as long as your clubs and golf shoes are not among any items inadvertently left behind at any stage the golf travel writer can generally cope. The four courses selected for myself and my American companion Diana, who had travelled several thousand miles from Denver, Colorado, as opposed to my comparatively short journey of a couple of hours’ drive, were Porthmadog, Nefyn, Royal St David’s and Conwy.

The fates were to conspire against us on our third day, dreadful wet weather driving us off the course after just six holes to the sanctity of the clubhouse at Royal St David’s which everyone we spoke to concurred would have lived up to its billing as ‘a magical place’, in terms of both scenery and golfing layout.

But the trio of courses we did play, in excellent autumnal weather, made amends and gave a taste of the links golf to be enjoyed here, starting with Porthmadog, a course with two distinctively different nines. The first is situated away from the sea and is more heathland than links golf, but is no less enjoyable for that. However, it does not compare ethereally with the back nine where the sea is a constant companion, and reaching the 13th tee was worth the journey on its own, even for Diana.

Standing drinking in the majesty of the Snowdonia mountains and the beauty of the coastal beaches of theLleyn peninsula and the Meirionydd beaches, it was impossible not to feel sorry for all those who have never savoured the joys of golf while at the same time being thankful that they aren’t clogging up such astounding venues.

Nefyn, played the following day, was no less inspiring and threading your way through the back nine laid out on a narrow peninsula demands accurate driving and iron play. The 12th, for instance, throws up both a blind tee shot and blind second shot and has a crater-sized pothole waiting to gobble up any errant golf balls. It is small wonder that those engaged in social golf are often disposed to make the short walk down from the 15th green to Ty Coch (the Red House) pub in the hamlet of Porthdinllaen.

This, though, will leave less time to enjoy the welcoming atmosphere of Nefyn’s clubhouse, which was matched by that of the fourth and final course visited, Conwy, where golf has been played since 1869. Its use as an Open qualifying venue underscores the challenge it presents, but it is a course not to be missed. Flanked by Conwy Mountain on its south and overlooking the Conwy estuary and Llandudno’s Great Orme to its north, there are ample distractions to help calm the nerves.

Wales abounds with accommodation to suit all budgets, but I enjoyed stays at not only Hotel Portmeirion but also the nearby Castell Deudraeth, the 17th Century Bodysgallen Hall in Llandudno and the modern Quay Hotel & Spa at Deganwy, Conwy.

Golf As It Should Be? If we accept Wales cannot be expected to have control over the elements, then I would say a resounding ‘yes’.


Published: December 28, 2007

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