The 2010 Ryder Cup starts next weekend at Celtic Manor in Newport, east Wales. The luxurious resort boasts three hotels, numerous bars and restaurants, two spas as well as three championship golf courses: the Twenty Ten Course, specially built to host the biennial sporting event between Europe and the US; the Roman Road course; and the Montgomerie course, designed by 2010 Ryder Cup European team captain Colin Montgomerie.
Golfers hoping to follow in the footsteps of Montgomerie, Tiger Woods and US team captain Corey Pavin will have to pay for the privilege. Green fees on the Twenty Ten Course cost from £155. By the time you’ve paid for a buggy, a box of balls, a sandwich and a drink, you will not have much change from £200. But that is about as pricey as it gets in Wales: the principality has more than 200 other courses, varying from nine-holers to championship links that compare with the world’s best.
Many are unknown to outsiders; some are barely known even within Wales. Often these alternatives offer sea views, mountainous terrain and every possible kind of weather. And the good news is that you can have three rounds of golf plus two nights bed and breakfast for the cost of a round at Celtic Manor.
At almost the opposite end of Wales to Celtic Manor, is Milford Haven golf club. The par-71 course, 18 holes of rolling parkland, is positioned on a headland overlooking the Milford Haven waterway.
Here, where the westerly winter gales knock first, and hardest, on Wales’s door, there is something to interest and test golfers at all levels. Each hole on the 6,035-yard layout offering a unique challenge. While the 140-yard par-three 16th looks like a doddle on paper, the reality is different. When you stand on this very elevated tee, two cavernous bunkers in front of the green act as ball magnets.
On this course, there are distractions everywhere: tiny tugs guide giant futuristic tankers into the new liquefied natural gas terminal; gulls and other seabirds dive and wheel overhead. But one word of warning: gaze on the new marina or the odd trawler making for the old dockyard all you like but don’t let the spectacular views of St Anne’s Head on the Dale peninsula and Thorne Island distract you on the 10th. Green fees start at £10. www.mhgc.co.uk
Just 30 or so miles away from Milford, in Gwbert-on-Sea, is Cardigan golf club. Set on a hill above the Teifi estuary, there are spectacular views on this 6,687-yarder, a mix of meadowland and links.
Autumn is a lovely time to play the course. It may rain but it will almost certainly be mild. Be prepared for breezy conditions at any time of year and tricky undulating greens. Green fees from £27.50. www.cardigangolf.co.uk
Inland, above the spa of Llandrindod Wells, in Powys, golfer Harry Vardon, a six-time open champion, created a mountainside course in 1905 that offers silence and solitude. Famous for its “death or glory” 18th hole over a ravine, it is the kind of place that makes you realise why you took up golf. The clubhouse restaurant appears to be perched on a cliff edge and has superb views. Green fees from £25. www.lwgc.co.uk
Another mountain course of rare beauty. James Braid, the Scottish professional golfer, was the clever architect of the Welshpool course in 1930. The fronts of the greens are unprotected and set up for bump and run shots and every hole needs careful thought. Take, for example, the par-four 12th – 385 yards and really tricky when playing into the wind. With out-of-bounds on the left and a ditch and thick rough in the middle of the fairway about 220 yards from the tee, choosing which club to use is not an easy decision. How you approach the green, which lies downhill on an old Roman fort, will depend on the wind. Green fees from £20. www.welshpoolgolfclub.co.uk
Over the Menai Bridge in the Isle of Anglesey is the Bull Bay club near Amlwch, the most northerly golf club in Wales. Once a favourite of Prime Minister David Lloyd George, it is a tough par-70. The club motto is “Her Degar Hen Dir”, which means “an honest challenge on ancient land”. There are panoramic views – of Snowdonia, across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man and to the distant hills of the Lake District – so long as it’s not raining. Green fees from £22. www.bullbaygc.co.uk