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Great Welsh courses: Tenby Golf Club

(September 01, 2016)

Great Welsh Courses; Tenby Golf Club

The Railway, James Braid and Dai Rees

Tenby Golf Club
Tenby Golf Club

Tenby is a town with a lot of history, its earliest known settlements from the Celtic Iron Age. As far back as the ninth century Tenby was the subject of one of the earliest surviving Welsh language poems. Edmyg Dinbych (Praise of Tenby), preserved in Llyfr Taliesin (The Book of Taliesin), tells of laughter and mead-drinking in the fortress overlooking the sea.*

Tenby Harbour Sept 2013Tenby Harbour

Settled by Norse Vikings as a fishing village, Tenby was developed by the Normans from the late 11th century. Its architecture reflects the steady progression of history, with some of the finest buildings remaining intact. St. Mary's, for example, the largest parish church in Wales. It is thought that this has been the site of a church since Norman times and the tower of the current church is over seven hundred years old. The 15th century Tudor Merchant's House on Quay Hill is the oldest furnished building in Tenby and still decorated with authentic Tudor fittings. However, the most striking features of the town are the walls, built following the destruction of the town by Llewelyn ap Gruffudd in 1260, that surround part of the streets and alleyways. The narrow streets in some parts of the town give it an air of cosiness and warmth, at least for a great deal of the year. In the height of summer this protection from invading armies can become quite claustrophobic as the visitors push and jostle their way along the narrow, medieval streets.

Tudor Merchant's House on Quay Hill, © Robert EdwardsTudor Merchant's House on Quay Hill
image © Robert Edwards

In stark contrast is the golf course, situated close to the town, where the layout of fairway, rough and gorse give it the traditional links feel of being at one with nature. It embodies the word 'links', which literally means the linking of the land with the sea.

The town of Tenby is known in Welsh as Dinbych y Pysgod. This translates as 'little fort of fishes', which would have perfectly summed up the town and the surrounding walls for much of its long history, where fishing has always been a vital part of the town’s economy.

The steady pace of the town's history came to an abrupt turn with the arrival of the double-edged sword of the railways. The town was seen as a health resort and William Paxton, politician and merchant banker invested heavily in the town. The Napoleonic wars had prevented affluent Georgians travelling to continental Europe and the area soon became increasingly popular. This trickle of elite tourists in the first half of the 19th century became a flood of popular visitors as the railway arrived at Tenby in 1863.

To accommodate the influx of visitors and their increasing desire for sport and entertainment, the business people of the town created the golf club. The club was also a focal point for local business owners to relax, play and meet. Although the club was officially founded in 1888 there is evidence that even thirteen years earlier the game was played along the coast. In a report in the 'Laws of Markets and Fairs' it is revealed that that court proceedings were delayed as the Mayor of Tenby adjourning a case to play.

Tenby is the oldest golf club in Wales. It was established on September 31st 1888 after a meeting in the Town Hall. At the meeting six local residents decided to officially form a club. The first membership fees were 10/6d per year or 5/- per month (equivalent to £280 / year or £130 / month today).

Tenby Golf Club was the first affiliated club in Wales and a founder member of the Welsh Golfing Union in 1895 with Porthcawl (founded 1892), Swansea Bay (1894), Glamorganshire (1890), Caernarvonshire (1890), Borth – Ynylas (1885), Aberdovey (1892), Rhyl (1890) and Merionethshire.

Tenby Golf Club, with Tenby town in the distance
Tenby Golf Club, with Tenby town in the distance

The golf course is as perfect as you can make a golf course. The gently undulating but rugged land running along the coast is perfect for seaside golf. The rough and gorse have been used to its maximum effect. If you hit a good shot, you’ll get a good result. It’s a course for thinkers not sloggers. It's not a long course and each hole is different from each other, and different from the previous day. The wind has a huge effect on the course as it should with a links course. The views across Carmarthen Bay and the monastic Caldey Island are spectacular. The course uses the features of the area in a fascinating contest that echoes the original golfing layouts of Scotland. It especially echoes the course at Prestwick, the setting for the first Open Competition. It can be tough, but always fair. Although there are some blind shots they add to the flavour of an 'old-fashioned' course compared to the relative homogeneity of today's courses where WYSIWYG. At Tenby there is still that element of surprise and luck that modern golf architects seem to be determined to take out of the game.

This is no accident. The main designer of the course, and the man responsible for the feel of the course is James Braid. Braid a golf professional and course designer from Fife, Scotland won five Open championships at the turn of the 20thcentury. However, it was as a course designer that he felt his great passion and designed over two hundred golf courses in Britain including Championship courses at Carnoustie, Troon, and Prestwick. He worked on twenty courses in Wales. He was prolific and worked the same way. He kept the greens committee happy by charging a low fee and communicating his ideas quickly and effectively.Tenby Golf Club scorecard

James Braid was brought to the club early in its existence. In July 1902 he was paid £6 to inspect the course and suggest improvements. Five years later he returned with suggestions and the course was expanded to eighteen holes. This new course was opened at Easter 1907 and has largely remained the same ever since.

The course has had a number of famous supporters; Lloyd George, the only Welsh Prime Minister and keen golfer was a frequent visitor and had a holiday home close to the course.

Dai Rees, the Welsh Ryder Cup captain that took the Ryder Cup from USA in the middle of a period where British golf was dominated by America was also a keen player.

An unusual feature of the course is that each hole is named (see scorecard, right). Dai Rees is commemorated with the par three third. Other holes include; 'Monks Way', 'View O’Caldey', 'Swn Y Môr', 'The Railway' and of course, 'James Braid'.

The American writer and golfer Robert Kroeger toured the links courses of Wales and summed up perfectly many golfers’ thoughts on Tenby golf course;

"Tenby was my favourite course in Wales. The blind shots didn’t seem overwhelming and the drama of high dunes and deep hollows more than compensated for this lack of visibility. The greens, true, fast, and always undulating, were the best we’d seen in Wales." – Robert Kroeger.

Byron Kallies, September 2016


* Edymig Dinbych begins (following a short appeal to God):

Addfwyn gaer y sydd, ar glawr gweilgi
Bid lawen ynghalan eirian y ri
Ac amser pan wna mor mawr wrhydri,
Ys gnawd gorun Beirdd uch medd lestri.

There is a fine fortress overlooking the ocean
May joy come to its splendid festivals
And even at times of a raging turbulent sea,
the noise from the Bards and their vessels of mead is louder.

More on Llyfr Taliesin here (xxi Mic Taliesin):


Tenby Golf Club
The Burrows
SA70 7NP
01834 844447
Twitter: @TenbyGolfClub

If you liked this, you will also enjoy these by Byron Kalies:

     Cradoc Golf Club; March 2016
West Monmouthshire Golf Club; September 2015
Golf Clubs of the Rhymney Valley; Dectember 2014
Anglesey Golf Club; September 2014

Royal Porthcawl and Machynys; March 2014

Byron Kalies has had a number of golf books published (see

His latest book - Putting is a Form of Self-Torture (ISBN 9 781533 538246) - is available on his website now


cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan:
Caregos Cyf., 2016

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