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Links in the Sky: Pennard is Wales’ Hidden Treasure

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Known as the “Links in the Sky,” sitting 200 feet above sea level, Pennard Golf Club has captivated golfers for over a century with its breathtaking seaside links. Originally designed in 1896 by James Braid, Pennard has retained its classic charm while undergoing upgrades from architects like C.K. Cotton, Donald Steel, and Tom Doak. The ruins of Castle Pennard are visible from multiple holes along the way, as well as panoramic vistas of Three Cliffs Bay, Oxwich Bay, and the sandy beaches below.

What makes Pennard so unique is that despite its lofty location high atop seaside cliffs, the land is pure links – sandy soil. gorse, heather, coastal grasses, and fast-draining turf give Pennard a traditional links feel. Its crumpled, rumpled fairways and blind shots over ridges are common traits it shares with links courses in Scotland and Ireland. While it consistently ranks in the top 3 courses in Wales, Pennard remains one of Wales’ hidden treasures.

Until now – my connection with Wales was limited to Bron-Yr-Aur and its role in Led Zeppelin lore, but In this post, we’ll review the Origins and History of Pennard, as well as the characteristics of the course. We’ll do a detailed walkthrough of each nine and conclude with suggestions for further reading and videos to bring the course to life. As always in this series, all images are simulated to provide context and set the scene.

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Origins of Pennard Golf Club

Pennard Golf Club was founded in 1896 on land owned by Thomas Penrice, part of the Kilvrough estate. Penrice allowed a small number of golfers to play on his land but limited the membership to only 20 people, leading to a long waiting list. Access was also difficult at the time, with no road from the village of Pennard to the golf links. After Penrice died in 1908, the club was reconstituted and officially founded as Pennard Golf Club. The club initially leased the land from Penrice’s daughter but eventually purchased the land known as Pennard Burrows in 1920.

In Pennard’s early years, membership was still limited, but Sunday play was now allowed. James Braid, 5-time British Open champion, visited Pennard and designed an 18-hole course in 1908, part of which remains today. Upgrades by C.K. Cotton and Donald Steel have enhanced the course while maintaining its traditional links qualities. 

More recently, Pennard continues to invest in upgrades like revetted pot bunkers by architects Tom Doak and Clyde Johnson, which enhanced strategy and playability. Doak referred to the site as one of the most spectacular he had ever seen. 

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Did You Know?

The ruins of Pennard Castle have stood watch over the rugged Gower cliffs for over 800 years. Constructed in the 12th century after the Norman invasion, the castle and accompanying village were eventually abandoned as encroaching dunes made the location uninhabitable by the 1500s. The crumbling ramparts now peer out over Three Cliffs Bay, sentinel over ever-changing terrain.

The course was laid out along windswept headlands below the castle ruins. Two holes play directly towards the ancient castle remains – its namesake par-4 7th, “Castle,” and the backbreaking 17th, which doglegs sharply left, then right along the cliff’s edge. The course provides some of the most stunning vistas in British golf, stretching across the Bristol Channel and Oxwich Bay.

The castle ruins and Pennard Links have been intertwined for over a century. As a custodian, the club maintains public access to the site, where rare yellow whitlow grass flowers grow amongst crumbling towers and baileys overrun with grass. A round of golf here feels like stepping back in time, with the ever-present castle remnants bearing silent witness from the cliffside as golfers walk in the footsteps of knights and villagers past.

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The Course

What makes Pennard truly unique is its integration with the surrounding pastoral landscape. Golfers share the course with grazing cattle and horses, and local hikers walk their dogs, adding to the timeless spirit, while blind shots, uneven lies, and constant coastal winds intensify the test.

The course plays to a par 71 at 6,420 yards. The tumbling, sloped terrain at Pennard has been compared to courses like Sand Hills in Nebraska, St Enodoc in Cornwall, and Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, which all feature severely rolling and undulating terrain. The joy of Pennard is embracing its rugged imperfections and soaking in views many consider among the most spectacular in links golf.

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Outward Nine

The outward nine at Pennard stretches to 3,150 yards from the back tees and is a classic mix of strong par-3 and par-4s with one par-5. The holes are situated over undulating land, full of humps and hollows. The first nine features blind shots, interesting greens, spectacular backdrops from the ruins, and birdie opportunities on the closing holes.

The first few holes head uphill and are not directly along the sea. Blind shots feature as you play through mounds and hollows. The 4th hole is the first par 5, measuring 543 yards, with an interesting green featuring two well-placed bunkers. The par-3 5th is played downhill to a delightful green with multiple pin positions, considered one of the best holes on the course.

The 7th is played between a small church ruin and Castle Pennard ruin as a picturesque backdrop for the tee shot. The green perilously sits on a ledge sloping away from play. The short, scenic 8th offers a birdie opportunity before closing out the front nine with the 467-yard par-4 9th, which plays slightly uphill.  The undulating land and unique hazards make the front an engaging warm-up for the spectacular inward nine.

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Inward Nine

As the holes play out towards the sea, they provide a mix of great golf and incredible views. Pennard takes full advantage of the spectacular seaside location with a terrific stretch of holes culminating at the signature 16th which plays along the cliff tops.

This downhill par-5 497-yard 10th plays adjacent to a hazard running down the entire left side while the Three Cliffs Bay backdrop provides a picturesque view. The 11th is an uphill 180-yard par-3 that demands an accurate mid to long iron to hold the large and undulating green protected by bunkers short and right.

The 12th, the shortest par-4 on the course, doglegs right around a dell, while the 13th plays slightly uphill and into the prevailing wind, with a putting surface divided by a ridge. The 14th is said to have been James Braid’s favorite hole. It’s a strong par-4 that demands an accurate tee shot to set up a mid-iron approach. The 15th plays across a valley to an angled green protected short left and long right. Club selection and line are imperative on this picturesque par-3 as the putting surface slopes substantially from right to left and back to front.

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Closing Stretch

The closing stretch begins with back-to-back par-5s. Arguably the signature hole at Pennard, the downhill 16th offers spectacular sea views from the tee and demands a well-struck tee shot to set up a chance to reach in two, providing a birdie opportunity for the long hitter. The putting surface falls off significantly on the right, and the prevailing wind blows from left to right. A birdie opportunity for the long hitter.

The penultimate hole is a double dogleg risk-reward par-5 with a narrow fairway. Missing the fairway erases any chance of reaching the green in two. The beach borders the entire left side while the gorse protects the right. The green is elevated and divided by a ridge with steep falloffs. The home hole, known as “Highway,” is a strong par-4 closer with a narrow fairway and a large undulating green.

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Pennard Today

Pennard Golf Club remains a private members club owned and managed by its members. It continues to invest in improving its classic links course, most recently renovating all bunkers in partnership with EcoBunker to promote sustainability. Though it retains its heritage and traditions, Pennard actively looks to involve new members and grow the game through beginner programs and events for women and juniors.

Over its long history, Pennard Golf Club has hosted several prestigious amateur championships and tournaments. In 2014, Pennard hosted the British Ladies Amateur Championship, won by American golfer Annie Park. The club has also welcomed the Welsh Ladies Championship, Welsh Boys Championship, and Welsh PGA Championship over the years.

The club made history again in 2022 as the first to jointly host the Welsh Men’s and Women’s Amateur Championship. Pennard is now considered one of Wales’ top golfing venues, with its rich history and breathtaking setting making it a bucket list course for many golfers. In contrast, its friendly atmosphere and breathtaking setting make Pennard one of Wales’ premier venues.

Visit Pennard online at https://www.pennardgolfclub.com/.

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PuttView Golf Books

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Further Reading

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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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Anatomy of a Golf Course
by Tom Doak

Summary: The book explains the thought process and strategies used by golf course architects in designing courses, including factors like hole length, placement of hazards, and routing. It aims to help golfers understand why certain design choices are made so they can better approach playing the course. Written by acclaimed golf architect Tom Doak, it appeals to both knowledgeable golfers and beginners interested in course design and architecture. The book also includes an appendix with examples of noteworthy golf courses that are worth studying.


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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

Pennard Golf Club
Pennard GC – Promotional
Pennard – Mark Crossfield

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