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Great Welsh courses: Cradoc Golf Club

(March 01, 2016)

Great Welsh Courses; off the beaten track

Cradoc Golf Club

Cradoc Golf Club, second hole
Cradoc Golf Club, second hole

Powys was sunny, hot and hilly. We were in Cradoc, a few miles north-west of Brecon, Wales. Even for a golf course it is remote. The drive from Bargoed over the Brecon Beacons was spectacular, though slightly frightening, with speedster John driving and Pensioner Dave keeping up a rally-like commentary.

The golf course at Cradoc, however, is well worth the anxiety attacks. It is a really, really nice golf course. It seems a little up-market for the likes of us. But we love it. 'Us' being myself, my brother, John, my cousin Andy and Pensioner Dave. At Cradoc they hold regular open days where the likes of us valleys golfers can mingle and see how the other ninety nine percent of golfers live; proper golfers. Out of respect for the club we even changed our shoes in the changing rooms rather than the car park – we like it that much. The staff are friendly and courteous. This is also a novelty to us. We tend to frequent clubs where the 'pro' pockets our money and indicates the general direction of the first tee with a grunt and a wave of his hand as he disappears with our cash into the bar.

On the tee we see… a starter. Yes, a starter. I explain to Pensioner Dave that a starter can be something other than a prawn cocktail. A starter is an elderly man - it is always an elderly man - whose sole purpose is to chat to anticipatory golfers and tell them they are next to go, or they're early and should get a cup of coffee. It's a person who smiles… constantly.

"He's a bit like Jimmy Two Shoes, up the club," says Pensioner Dave.

"Well no, not really," says John, "He doesn’t follow you around talking about his dogs and goldfish." He indicated the starter, "He’s a professional talker."

We are up next. It’s surprisingly nerve-wracking. The starter calls us up and bashes through the rules for the hundredth time with a seemingly sincere smile. "It’s a 'Texas Scramble' today," he smiles, "each person has to record four tee shots each. You must drop your ball after it has been appropriately marked, within two club lengths," and on and on and on. I'm amazed there are so many rules in golf. I've sort of lived with three: hit it; find it; hit it again.

The starter has finished now and laughs appropriately at the nervous bad jokes and banter from John and Andy. We are good to go. Remember, this is not the first tee at Augusta where there are millions watching on TV. This is a tiny village in south-mid Wales with possibly four people looking up from their drinks and two more on the practice putting green. None of whom we will ever see again.

This is Cradoc Golf Club. Cradoc is civilised. It has a history that doesn’t involve coal and steel, struggle and hardship. I was reading about the history and educating my playing partners in the car on the trip up.

"In 1093 there was a battle a mile from the clubhouse." I informed them.

"Really. I didn’t see any evidence the last time we were there." replies Andy.

John chips in, "Well that was nearly a thousand years ago, like. There may not be too much evidence left."

"Ah but there is one clue that remains," I continue mystically, "the name of a village close by."

"Aberyscir?" replies John.

"No." I say, "Battle. The village of Battle."

"I was going to say that, but I thought it would be too obvious." says John.

"Actually," says Andy, who never enters into any of these debates, "I've been doing some research myself and you're wrong."

Silence.

He continues, "The name of the village is not taken from a battle, but named after the church of Battle, which is named after Battle Abbey in Sussex."

We drive on in silence.

Cradoc is a nicely balanced course with two par 3s on the front nine and two on the back. The first short hole we encounter, the 3rd, is only 125 yards. However, a pond is in front of the green waiting for us. The hole is played from an elevated tee and it looks spectacular, and dangerous.

We hit three shots in the water, then Andy hits one decent shot onto the green and Pensioner Dave makes a spectacular putt to give us a rare birdie.

Gradually we move up and around as we wind our way up the mountain with the fourth green set in front of the mansion that once belonged to the owners here at Penoyre Park. Further up the mountain, spectacular views of the Brecon Beacons National Park appear from the par 3 seventh and we go steadily further up.

 

Cradoc Golf Club, seventh hole
Cradoc Golf Club, seventh hole

At the top of the course we needed to wait as the 11th hole is blind and there is a danger of big hitting John hitting the group in front, "Only if they're in the rough," remarks Andy. It's been a pleasant few hours – sun, chat and some quite decent scoring.

So we sit and I tell my captive audience the history of the course:

"It was designed and built in 1967 with the drive and commitment of local members especially John Morrell and Les Watkins." I announce, "The Scottish course architect CK Cotton has been responsible for designing and remodelling a number of amazing courses, amongst them Royal Lytham and St. Anne's, Pennard near Swansea, St Pierre in Chepstow as well as many in his native land. The courses all share similar characteristics; all use the land effectively. At Cradoc he used the changes in elevation to form spectacular views and some challenging holes. Many of the holes offer stunning views across the valley.

John says he's going to drive off if I don't shut up, saying he'd rather be banned for life for hitting someone on the head than putting up with another of my stories. Fair enough. I stay quiet and we move down toward the valley floor.

At the final wait, on the spectacular straight par 5 14th, I supply my final piece of information:

"Rhys ap Tewdwr, born 1065, was a descendant of Cadell ap Rhodri, King of Seisyllwg, son of Rhodri Mawr. He lived a short but eventful life. He seized the throne of Deheubarth in 1078. It was not an easy time however, as he had continual political unrest – alliances and battles with Caradog ap Gruffudd ap Rhydderch and Gruffudd ap Cynan, King of all Wales. In 1088 he was forced into exile in Ireland but returned for more coalition and chaos with fellow Welsh princes, and eventually the Normans. Rhys was slain in the Battle of Brecon by Bernard de Neufmarche in April 1093."

"Ah, near the village of Battle," remembers Pensioner Dave.

"Which isn't named after a battle," John reminds us.

"Confusing isn't it," says Andy.

The final holes are fairly flat as we play away from the clubhouse and sweep around to play the final few holes back to the clubhouse.

The final hole is perfect. It's a nice par 3, finishing up alongside the clubhouse. There is added pressure as golfers drinking in the veranda can critique your final shots. As it happened none of us made that final perfect approach shot. Pensioner Dave did chip in though and we ended up with an acceptable but unlikely to be winning score of 66.

We changed in the car park, had a drink, spoke to a few old sorts who were on the same 'open day circuit' as us and headed home. A great day, and waiting for the next day at Cradoc. As pensioner Dave said, "It's not he winning that counts, it's the not coming last and making an idiot of yourself that matters."

Byron Kalies, March 2016

Cradoc Golf Club
Penoyre Park
Cradoc
Brecon
LD3 9LP
01874 623658
www.cradoc.co.uk

If you liked this, you will also enjoy these by Byron Kalies:
     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 www.byronkalies.com)

His latest book - It's About a Murder, Cariad - is now available on his website

 

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