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Where’s Diana?                                          Golfing in Wales



Girls just want to golf -- In Wales
Wales offers up world-class golfing against a breathtaking and beautiful natural backdrop.
By Diana Rowe

These days, it seems more and more girls just want to play golf, so why not play golf where the game started – or at least nearby in Wales, where "golf is as it should be" is the country's slogan? A four-day whirlwind visit allowed me to discover that Wales, the home of the 2010 Ryder Cup, is indeed a golfing gal's new best friend.

Scotland might be considered the home of golf, but the price of a round can bring a girl's swing down. Wales boasts a stunning backdrop of sea and mountain, hill and vale, welcoming people and a natural setting for some of the best golf in the world, much less expensive and crowded than their neighbors. That's quite enough to put this small, often-missed gem of a country back on the map.

Welsh courses rate amongst the best in the world and this country has been re-emerging on the shortlist as Emerging Golf Destination of the Year, with three courses making the Golf Digest list of the world's top 100 outside of the USA -- including one of my stops at Royal St. David's (Harlech).

The landscape of Wales is reminiscent of my Iowa farming roots: mostly rural with many mountains and rolling hills. The vibrant green foliage is made richer by the on-and-off again drizzling rain we encountered. The rolling hilltops are scattered with wooly sheep and cattle painted against a distant skyline.

Our road trip weaved through the narrow roads, flanked by the stone hedges. The quaint villages emerging along the way boasted tantalizing Celtic names like Pwllhel and Gwynedd, with extra consonants and missing vowels. How could these unobtrusive villages and farms be home to world-class golf, we wondered aloud, until surprisingly a challenging and well-designed golf course sprung into view.

The first was Porthmadog Golf Club, created at the turn of the century by James Braid. Two distinctive nines were equally enjoyable. The front nine is away from the coast, more accurately described as heathland, though not less defiant, than the others that backed the sea. My traveling partner Chris described the front as a feast of vales and swales -- a low tract of land, especially when moist or marshy and a perfect description of the undulating links. The seaside nine is a perfect opportunity to challenge nature as the water makes itself known on the five back holes, but the breathtaking scenery and the breezes more than make up for the additional strokes.

Nefyn is a small town on the northwest coast of the Ll n Peninsula in Gwynedd. Nefyn & District Golf Club is laid out along this peninsula. The course is magical from the first hole to the last, with waves crashing on the rocks, the faint hint of thyme on the cliffs, the orange beaks of the oyster catchers, the distant cawing of the seagull and unrivalled sea and mountain views from all 26 holes.

No hole has more distractions than Nefyn's twelfth. The blind drive, blind second shot and crater-sized pothole is only less distracting than the Ty Coch (Red House) pub, where your drink is just steps away from your finishing putt at the seaside hamlet of Porthdinllaen.

Many Welsh golf courses give players an instant glimpse into its rich heritage, and such is the case at Royal St. David's. We'd heard that Royal St. David's would be magical, but unfortunately, after just six wet holes, the rain drove us off the course into the warmth of the clubhouse. Those that had already gathered for shelter only confirmed that we indeed were missing some of the best golf in the Wales.

Yet it was obvious that the expanse of natural links land, shadowed by the Harlech Castle, perched on a cliff top overlooking the course, could only be meant for great golf. Only twice do successive holes follow the same direction, which means the wind can be trouble amongst the dunes. Host to a multitude of championships, Royal St. David's is described as the toughest par 69.

Our last stop was Conwy Golf Club and unfortunately the only course where I experienced a bit of the "men's club." Initially, one host wasn't as accommodating (even contrary). This might be due to the pride in the course's long history. Golf was played here as early as 1869 at the mouth of the River Conwy. Its reputation as a link course, though, is renowned throughout the area.

The last three Conwy holes are the most challenging, where our hosts warned us that many good rounds have been ruined. The16th hole is a 363-yard, narrow gorse-lined fairway, demanding accuracy or risking strokes. The next two holes continue with narrow fairways, blind shots, greens surrounded by grouse and sand. I won over our gentleman hosts by playing these last three holes tight and straight, neatly ending with a respectable three boogies. A short 15 minutes later at the clubhouse, I received an apology and a beer as a peace offering.

We shifted hotels daily, taking advantage of the range of accommodations.

Our first night was spent at the unique Castell Deudraeth in Portmerion, located on a private peninsula overlooking sea, sand and mountain. Following extensive refurbishing, the imposing Castell Deudraeth offers dining and superior accommodations in its 11 rooms, a perfect mix of contemporary amenities and Victorian elegance. The eclectic Gothic and Tudor architectural feature a vaulted porch reminiscent of a portcullis, and the entry way is a welcoming fireplace and bar. The conservatory dining room overlooks the recently restored Victorian formal garden and fine glass of port is a perfect complement to a feast of Welsh lamb chops.

Prior to heading to our second round of golf at Nefyn, we packed our bags and left them in the hands of the concierge who transferred them to Hotel Portmeirion, our next night's accommodation just a few minutes into the heart of the village. This seaside hotel was the setting for the cult 60s TV series The Prisoner with 14 rooms and suites in the main building of The Hotel Portmeirion. The decor again is an exciting mix of contemporary and Victorian – and a splash of Mediterranean -- with an old world elegance emanating from the staff to the fine dining.

The Quay Hotel & Spa recently opened in Northern Wales. This contemporary, 74-room hotel is situated on the shores of Conwy Estuary near the walled town of Conwy. Its location is conveniently only minutes from the Conwy Golf Club.

Our final stopover is one of Britain's finest house hotels, the 17th century Bodysgallen Hall. Surrounded by 200 acres of its own parkland to the south of Llandudno, Bodysgallen Hall boasts spectacular views of Snowdownia and Conwy Castle and offers quaint Victorian accommodations fit for a queen.

Golf in North Wales is a constant contrast of mountain and moor, sandy coastline, salty seas and wooded vale. Its collection of castles and historic places are worth checking out. My quick sampling of golf and hospitality in this friendly country only confirms that a Welsh's promise is as good as the experience: Wales is "golf as it should be."

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