Cymru Culture

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Golf clubs of the Rhymney Valley

(December 03, 2014)

Great Welsh courses:
Golf clubs of the Rhymney Valley

Bargoed Golf Club 5th hole

Golf in the Valleys
There's a tension in golf clubs today ... especially amongst Welsh golf clubs, where money has become increasingly tight. The tension is between a club raising enough money to survive and the club's standards dropping - whatever that means.

In the 1960s, there was a 6 month or even a 12 month waiting list, where you basically had to wait for a member to die before being offered the 'opportunity' to go before the committee and explain why you wanted to join. Today, anyone with the money can join. This doesn't necessarily mean anarchy. There will always be rules of conduct in any organisation. What the older guard seem to resent is any challenge to some of the archaic rules; the dress code for instance. If a rule has good reasons, then most people seem happy to comply. When not having your shirt tucked into your trousers is a potential disciplinary offence … well …

Tradition
The people who live in the Rhymney Valley - buried deep in the soul of the south Wales coalfield - live up to many of the stereotypes non-valleys people have. The 'People of the Valley' are very keen on music, drinking, sport and singing. People really are called 'Ted the Bread' (baker) and Dai Snips (barber). At Bargoed Golf Club there are twins – Dai Proper and Dai Copy - guess who's the eldest?

So, outsiders wouldn't naturally equate the valley with golf. Well, they'd be right ... to a certain extent. There is still a feeling that golf is a game for a 'certain type'. This type is elitist, rich, old … a business owner, headmaster or a bank manager. There may even be some discussion of whether golf is a 'real' sport, like rugby, darts or football. These stereotypes definitely still exist within golf. However, I feel the number of people who really believe this has shrunk dramatically over the past decade or so.

The three golf clubs situated along the Rhymney valley – Tredegar and Rhymney, Bargoed, and Caerphilly, are traditional golf clubs. For the most part, they are as rigidly traditional, possibly more so, than many other golf clubs in the UK (Scotland in particular, seems to be devoid of the petty rules that deter people from taking up the game). There is a very strong ethic in the valley clubs of time-honoured, conventional, conservative tradition. This shows strongly in the power of 'the committee', and the implementation of its rules. These rules cover all aspects of life within the golfing community – the dress code, the code of conduct, and the dreaded threat of being put in 'the book'. This ultimate threat involves another member reporting you to the committee for any number of offenses – playing too slowly, playing too quickly, having your shirt outside your trousers, wearing a hat in the clubhouse, swearing in the presence of a lady … and many, many more wrongdoings.

This is changing, though. For most clubs, the power is now more balanced toward the individual rather than the club and the committee. The clubs though, have a far more diverse membership than they ever had. Due, in part, to the economic crisis, the dreaded 'waiting lists' to join has disappeared. Clubs are desperate for more members. And just as desperate to keep them. This has led to a greater understanding that golf is a game, and (whisper it) fun. It is not just for the elite, the monocled, P.G. Wodehouse colonel sipping, their whiskey in the corner of the lounge. It can be that. It can be a weekly excuse for a chat with friends. It can be a cut-throat competitive sport. It is a game that anyone can play, as is the case in Scotland. And it's now beginning to be like that – even in the Welsh valleys.

The golf clubs
A number of golf courses are along the glacial valley that stretched southward from the Brecon Beacons to the Severn estuary at Cardiff. These clubs will never be written about as 'courses to play before you die' or 'hidden gems'. Nevertheless, they are remarking golf clubs, that reflect the people who work, rest and play there. Each has its own mini culture, community, history and folk heroes.

Tredegar and Rhymney

Tredegar and Rhymney Golf Club

At the top of the valley, Tredegar and Rhymney golf course is spread across the mountain at Cwmtysswg between, unsurprisingly, Tredegar and Rhymney. The course meanders up, down and across the mountain. It is quite sparse. In fact, it is pretty featureless, but contains an element of how golf should be played … how golf was played in the beginning. It seems somehow Scottish, and wonderfully basic.

Tredegar & Rhymney GC

The land was bought in 1921, but had a troubled opening few years, due to the financial difficulties of the time - as the iron and coal industry showed the first signs of decline. Ironically it was the financial support from Mr Tallis, chairman of the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company, that enabled the club to finally open, on Saturday, 6 June 1925.

Tredegar & Rhymney_GC_long

Due to the location it has not been overrun by visitors. Although those have seem to enjoy it. One comment posted in 2009 summed the course, and club, perfectly: "Very friendly people. Definitely not one for the silly trouser brigade … Great day of golf. Small tricky green, great views, challenging holes." A Thomas

Bargoed

Bargoed Golf Club view 6th tee

Ten miles south of 'T & R' is Bargoed Golf Club. On the website, it is defined as 'an easy walking 18 hole golf course'. Compared to the Tredegar and Rhymney course and the Caerphilly course, this is absolutely true. There are, however, a number of holes where you may be inclined to disagree. It is a relatively short course. There are some excellent holes. It is a course for careful, thoughtful players. There aren't the open spaces that there are on the Tredegar and Rhymney course, for instance. But, there are tight fairways, annoying trees and excellent but smallish greens.

Bargoed Golf Club 18th

Established in 1910 it has survived a great deal. Originally played as a 9 hole course, it was extended to an 18 hole course by Don Baker. It has made the most of the limited space available. It is a little remote. In fact, it is so remote that the website comes with a warning – "We are not located on any Sat-Nav".

Caerphilly

Caerphilly Golf Club 18th fairway

A further ten miles down the valley, on the southern outskirts of the town, is Caerphilly Golf Club. The address of Pencapel, Mountain Road, gives a clue to the terrain. The course is situated at the northern edge of Caerphilly Mountain. The mountain, separating Caerphilly from Cardiff, features regularly on the Tour of Britain cycle race. The course follows the mountain's contours and initially goes up and up, then up again. A challenging course with amazing views, it was originally designed by William "Willie" Fernie, the professional at Glamorganshire in Penarth.

Caerphilly Golf Club 18th tee

The club was established in 1905 by Charles Stuart Goodfellow, a solicitor from Caerphilly and Clerk to the Magistrates, after a visit to Minehead apparently. It has seen various changes and had to wait until 2003 before becoming a full 18 hole golf course.

Byron Kalies, December 2014

If you liked enjoyed this, you will also enjoy these by Byron Kalies:
      Great Welsh courses: Anglesey Golf Club; September 2014
      Great Welsh 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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