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  • Neil White

Royal Porthcawl

“Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” they sing in homage to Wales being Old Land Of My Fathers.

For me, Porthcawl is the land of my grandmother and her brothers who were well-known businessmen in the town.

Our family came here on holidays when I was very young and my first memory is of being at the fun fair.

Although I cannot recall it as I was only three years old, I have often been told that we watched England’s 1966 World Cup Final victory on TV in Porthcawl.

What a coincidence, therefore, that, after many decades away, we should have returned on the day our country’s women were attempting to repeat the feat.

I had called Royal Porthcawl to see if it would be showing the match in its clubhouse but was told it would not, so we had to settle down at a nearby pub.

Upon arrival, shortly after England’s defeat, I understood why. This is a pure golf venue with only Welsh rugby likely to compete for conversation time.

Behind its grand gates, it easily justifies its position as the only Welsh course in the world's top 100.

After a friendly welcome, we spent an hour unwinding with a drink and baguette on a table overlooking the sea, teeming with families enjoying the summer sun on its glorious beach.

It was a bit of a trek to its practice ground before we returned to take on links that literally prompted me to gasp.

The first hole leads the way, a par-four alongside the ocean with waves crashing into the rocks in the distance.

At 350 yards, it should ease players into their round but errant drives will find either thick rough or the bunkers which I soon realised are Royal Porthcawl’s chief defence.

Having seen some of the world’s best veterans humbled in horrible conditions in the Senior Open three weeks previously, it was a relief to be bathed in sunshine and for the wind to be moderate.

Because, even when it is benign, this is a tough track.

This was apparent from the second hole which was against the breeze and demanded a long carry over rough and a giant bunker.

From there, there is still a heck of a long way up to a green with out-of-bounds to the left and a sand trap to the right.

The sea path runs alongside the hole and dozens of walkers witnessed me making a mess of it.

Those who enjoyed the despair of a grown man had another opportunity on the third, offering more stunning views alongside the brine.

I had played the par-four well but three-putted on its giant green.

The putting surfaces at Royal Porthcawl are a bit of a conundrum. They don’t run particularly quickly and don’t appear as undulating as some but the borrows are so subtle they can repeatedly confound.

Meanwhile, the general conditioning of the course is simply fantastic from the superb grass pathways to the wonderfully tight fairways, smooth run-offs and incredible bunkers (I admit, begrudgingly).

The fourth is the first of the par-threes and looks gentle from the tee. However, sand awaits anyone who leaks left and the terraced green makes putting mighty tricky.

In my opinion, the biggest opportunities are the par-fives and this was proven by Mrs W and I both having birdie chance on the curving, down-wind fifth that ascends to a two-tier green.

Emboldened, we belted our drives on the par-four sixth between fairway bunkers, setting up blind shots of just 150 yards into the green.

I was especially chuffed with a seven-iron clip having believed I had identified a route past the sand traps only to find my ball in the face of the one in front of the flag.

But joy did prevail on the short par-three seventh where I selected the right club and nestled home a six-foot birdie putt.

Incredibly, I found myself equally close to glory on the ninth, a bending par-four with bushes down the right and big bunkers and rough down the left.

My tee shot was spot on and my approach landed eight feet from the flag but my putt was scratchy.

The Bristol Channel comes back into view on the 10th which has arguably the most narrow fairway at Royal Porthcawl. I can testify, it is easy to be drawn into the rough down the right from its elevated tee.

It is followed by another daunting par-three with five bunkers on the left protecting a plateaued green.

The short 14th is even more awkward even though Mrs W exclaimed, before playing it, that “a par-three should not be stroke-index five.”

I pointed out that there was a very small landing area and that it seemed the run-offs would filter the ball into the bunkers on either side. Needless to say, she found herself in sand and could not extricate her ball. Blob.

This along with the brutal 15th and 16th comprise the best run of holes on the course and we played them as the sun was beginning to set.

The 15th is a 400-yard+ par-four into the wind which I played as a five, having eyed the huge sand traps that cross the fairway.

“What are you doing? You are going to hurt yourself!”, exclaimed Mrs W during my adventures in the colossal bunkers on the ruinous 16th.

I had struck a poor drive into the rough but thought I could comfortably clear the giant obstacles with my second shot.

Big mistake. I was then faced with trying to go about 15 feet vertically to maintain even a loose chance of scoring. The ball ascended but became stuck in the grass on top of the crater.

This left me standing above it and trying to lever the ball away without toppling into the chasm.

Mrs W was right to fear for my safety but, nevertheless, I gave it a go, only to move the pill three feet… backwards. Somehow, I reached down with my pitching wedge, scooped it up and put it in my pocket. Blob.

The home hole at Royal Porthcawl is certainly worthy of this magnificent course with bunkers and rough down the left, a giant trap on the right before a dune that protects a target with the sea in the background.

The sun fell as Mrs W held the flag for my putt which seemed destined for the middle of the cup but ran around the hole.

I might have been dry but I knew how those seniors had felt after being defeated by these wow-factor links that have venom belying their length.

They left me vowing that I will return should England make a World Cup final again. I am hoping it won’t be 57 years!

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