Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Borth Golf Club

I’m driving down to Borth on the Cardigan Bay coast, and listening to Toby Stephens play James Bond in a radio dramatization of Goldfinger. It’s the classic scene where Bond takes Goldfinger down the 18th, misses his putt to save the hole, the match and $10,000 only to ‘find’ that Goldfinger has been playing with the wrong ball and therefore looses the match by default. They are, of course, playing to the ‘strict rules of golf.’

Bond plays off 9, which is Ian Fleming taking the opposite of the Kim Yong IL approach. It’s the ’I could have been a contender’ handicap – ‘but what with the day job and my work abroad, it’s just hard to get in the practice.’ It’s nicely judged.

I arrive at Borth Golf Club to find myself taken from the 1960s world of Bond to the 1880’s, as everyone is playing in turn-of-the-century dress – long dresses for the ladies and proper tweed coats and plus fours for the men. What’s going on? I’ve already been given a golf sensory overload and I haven’t even hit a ball. What’s going on is part of Borth’s 125 anniversary celebration. Fair play, as the club claims to be the oldest in Wales, ahead of Tenby by three years, and they are rightly proud of this claim, against which no doubt Tenby will fiercely counter claim.

But let’s get back to 2010: I’m here to play some links golf, and find out if the rumours that this is an under-rated golf gem are true. I’ve chosen a late afternoon tee-time on a fresh but clear Easter weekend to find out. There are still patches of snow on the distant hills, and a rainbow stretches across the Dovey Estuary behind me; but it’s not raining, and I’m just so grateful to be out in this beautiful landscape. And at £20 for an evening round, that represents great value as far as I’m concerned to play any decent links course.

The wind’s coming in from the north, so as I tee off at the first I’m thinking the front nine’s going to a long walk. The first three holes hug the coastline, so the sea is a constant hazard companion. There’s trouble on the right as well, as a hook will put your ball onto the road that dissects the course on the first, and a hook will do the same on the second and third.

Insurance is actually compulsive on this course, and is included in your green fee. So the hazards are very real, and you can imagine that there has been more than the odd cracked windscreen over the years, as a steady flow of cars makes their way to and from the seaside town of Borth.

You’ve also got to get your golfing gears moving pretty sharpish here as the 2nd is a par 4 13 yard stroke index 1, which plays 454 yards off the whites. I find the opening holes a little unremarkable, but still manage to drop quite a few shots.

It’s at the 6th that the course really comes into its own, and the run from here through to the 12th is just so much fun; quirky, entertaining, varied, and dramatic.

The 6th is par 4 341 off the yellows, with a drive that requires you to avoid gnarly trouble on the left. But the hole’s all about your second shot, which is a mid iron onto a green which sits at least 30 feet above the fairway. You can afford to go long, as chances are you’ll get roll back onto the green; but leave it short and your ball will be rolling straight back to you.

By the seventh you are entering into the course’s heartland of high dunes and deep rough. The 7th is played from the side of a steep dune-like hill for the ladies, and the white tees. But for some strange reason the yellow tees are on rather flatter, less dramatic, land 45 degrees to the left of the other tees.

The 8th is 471 yards off the yellows par 5, which takes you out to the furthest point of the course. On the turn is a lovely downhill 170 yard par 3, with high dunes to the right hand side which obscure your view of the sea. Stoke index 2 follows with the 10th, which as classic a links hole as you’ll find anywhere. Your second shot needs to drift in from left to right to find a green which is well protected by high dune banks.

This fantastic sequence isn’t over yet. You’ve then got a gorgeous little 132 yard par 3, where you shoot from the sea wall down onto a tight little green, with dunes to the sides and back. Not hard but very easy on the eye.

The 12th is wonderfully idiosyncratic – it’s not long at 281 yards, but I couldn’t for the life of me see where the pin was as I stared out over a sea of contorted humps and mounds. There’s quite a carry, and trouble everywhere. But if you can land it safely, you’ll then you a short iron onto the green, which occupies a little hollow at the far left of the hole.

By the 13th your back out onto the main, more open, links and a return to golfing normality. The 14th is a fine 188 yard par 3, with the sea in play, whilst the fifteenth is a slightly mundane par 4.

You then re-cross the main road to play the final three holes, which are a gentle come down after the delights of the mid course run. The course has its critics for its relatively weak opening and soft landing of a finish; but it just proves that you can’t please everyone all the time. I loved every bit of it, and I’ll be back in the shake of a lamb’s tail.