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Great Welsh courses; Anglesey Golf Club

(September 01, 2014)

Great Welsh courses:
Anglesey Golf Club - a traditional links course

Anglesey Golf Club - club house

When is a golf course not a links course?

In America there is the tendency to describe all golf courses as links. On this side of the pond, there is usually a clear distinction. However, even the most archetypical English person, PG Woodhouse, got it wrong, "The least thing upsets him on the links. He missed short putts because of the uproar of butterflies in the adjoining meadow." This is a mistake few serious European golfers would make. All links courses are golf courses. But not all golf courses are links courses.

A 'links course' is "… along the sea, consists of sandy soil and has little vegetation other than tall sea grasses and gorse, a hearty low-growing evergreen plant. The natural terrain is used to develop the golf holes. Many of the bunkers were once natural windswept dunes. The layout of the holes is also part of a true links course, with the first nine going out to the farthest point from the clubhouse and the second nine bringing you back."

Does it matter? To some people it matters a great deal.

Should it matter? Probably not as much as it does to some people.

It is important though. I think it is important for the psyche of some golfers. This is especially true for some of the traditionalists within golf. Some of these believe it is a duty to maintain standards and part of these standards include the correct naming of things. A links course has certain qualities and golfers, especially golfers who belong to links course, tend to defend their courses quite ferociously.

Anglesey Golf Club - view from fairwayView from the fairway

Some of the traditional standards of the golf world have been eroded in the past decade or so. Waiting lists are now quite rare; where new members would wait up to several years before being allowed to join a club. There is less prejudice in golf clubs against women, foreigners, juniors, non-members, non-committee members - I say 'less' advisedly.

In relative terms, the cost of golf has reduced over the past decades and has now almost reached a level where most people can play. It would be nice to report that these changes have been due to a renaissance in the thinking of golf club members. Unfortunately that is not the case. The economic realities of the past decade have forced most clubs to reconsider their out-dated practices. This still does not apply to all clubs. Some clubs still have a dress code from the 1890s; rules that have been handed down from generation to generation and there are still a handful of clubs you cannot apply to join. I was told that potential members are "invited to join should a vacancy arise". I asked how much membership would cost. The reply, I paraphrase, was that if I needed to ask then I couldn't afford it.

All this is a preamble to the description of one of the best, friendliest, yet traditional links courses in Wales. This year is the centenary of the opening of Anglesey Golf Club, sited on the Rhosneiger coast.

Playing on the course is like taking a step back in time. The morning I visited was dark and windy and raining … and I loved every minute of it.

 

Anglesey Golf Club - howling wind
Anglesey Golf Club - in a howling wind
Anglesey Golf Club - approaching 18th green
Approaching the 18th green

The feel of the golf course will have changed very little in the century it has been in existence. Although the appearance has changed through the decades, it has the same qualities as you would hope a links course to look: unspoiled, traditional, rugged. The greens are small and in excellent condition. A number of streams wind their way through the course. Bumps and hollow protect the greens that will take a lifetime to master. And there are sheep. Sheep who wander aimlessly, totally unconcerned at golf balls flying over their heads. You have the impression there is nothing these sheep haven’t seen.

Anglesey golf course is a fascinating course. It is a throwback to the links courses of yesteryear. If you want something as far removed from the artificial, manicured parkland new courses being built these days, then Anglesey is the perfect course for you. It’s not pretty. It's a test of golf. The course is laid out close to the sea in a traditional links format. The course is built into the land, not the land being shaped to make a golf course. You can hardly imagine the course costing a fraction of the cost many courses cost these days to build small hills, artificial lakes, etc. It is a course, like the best courses in Scotland; St Andrews, Cairnoustie, Prestwick, etc. that is there to be played and enjoyed without any distractions.

The course was built by Harold Horsfall (H H) Hilton in 1914, who designed a number of superb golf course, mainly in north Wales and Merseyside, including Leigh, Ormskirk and the North Wales Golf Course at Llandudno. A feature of the courses he designed is its length. Very few are long courses, but all are full of 'strategy, variety and pleasure' as one reviewer of his Ferndown course wrote. This is certainly true of Anglesey.

H H Hilton was also a prolific writer and a copious smoker – with stories of him smoking 50 cigarettes per round. As a writer he was greatly admired and, at the turn of the century, there was a debate about golfing equipment and balls that added extra distance (sounds familiar). Much as today, the debate was heated and contentious. Hilton joined the debate in Golf Illustrated on 4 July 1902 with his apt summary, "no power on earth, except perhaps the police, will deter men from using a ball that will add to the length of their drive".

World War II had a huge impact on the design of the golf course, as 14 of the original holes were requisitioned by the Royal Air Force. This meant that the club had to re-design the course and acquire new land. This was carried out and a new much-changed course constructed. The new holes are built 'under the bridge' – a phrase still used at the club.

Anglesey Golf Club - under the bridge
'Under the bridge'

Anglesey is a course you will either love or hate. Looking at reviews, the majority of golfers love it. The ones that don’t like it seem to be expecting something quite different. It is a course where the traditional Scottish art of playing little bump and runs around the green is still frequently the best option. It's a classic course; simple and straightforward.

Brandon Tucker, described links courses best of all "Golfers can say they will be on the links in America all they want, but unless they are facing daunting winds, massive greens, naturally rolling fairways and dunes and perhaps bearing witness to an occasional sheep grazing in the fields, they are on a golf course."

Anglesey has all of this – including the sheep.

Byron Kalies, September 2014

If you liked enjoyed this, you will also enjoy this by Byron Kalies:
      Great Welsh golf courses: Royal Porthcawl and Machynys; March 2014

Byron Kalies has had a number of golf books published (see www.byronkalies.com).
His first work of fiction, Mynydd Eimon - Private Hell, has been described as 'golf noir' and 'Taff noir'.

For more on Welsh golf, see Byron's website: byronkalies.wordpress.com

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