|Nigel Edwards Course Review
Before reading further it is perhaps wise to remind you that, when the course was designed by Harry Vardon in the early 1900s, his simple brief was to “maximise the views from every tee and from every green”. Those familiar with the course will tell you that Mr Vardon strutted his stuff very nicely indeed.
The first tee, set in front of the clubhouse, overlooks the lake and an ancient oak wood with the towers of Victorian Llandrindod peeking above the tree line in the near distance. Running alongside the first fairway is the driving range. Now, if you can put all of that out of your mind and concentrate on your drive you will discover a tough opening hole that gives the players two options. Take a Driver and aim to get over the mound that stretches almost the whole width of the fairway and leave yourself with a short iron to the narrow entrance or a fairway wood/long iron that would leave a mid iron approach. Apart from the false front one of the flattest greens on the course. Finding the green in regulation leaves the player with a good opening chance of a birdie. An interesting thought as you stand on the first tee is that an irreverent slice might get you a hole in one - on the 18th.
A short stroll from the first green leads to the second tee, which is a short par three slightly downhill. Generally a 7 or 8 iron to a small and undulating green that takes no prisoners. It is all too easy to select the wrong club, to be short and have difficulty getting close to the pin with your second or be long or, even worse, right and leave yourself in a predicament you would rather not contemplate.
Cross the road from the second and be in awe of the third, the first par 5, with a dogleg left. It is important to find the right hand side of the fairway to leave a clear shot into the elevated green that falls away sharply to the right. Copses of fir on both sides of the fairway wait to trap the wayward shot – but a definite birdie opportunity if you steer clear of the trouble.
The fourth is a tough par 3 for any golfer, ocassionally played into the prevailing wind. There are copses of trees on the left and right hand sides that shelter the green but it is important to stay on the left side of the green with your approach shot. Three of the par 3s on the course have a low stroke index and a par here is always welcome, birdies are rare and bogeys are commonplace. It is here that you might encounter your first skylark and the views down to Builth take your breath away.
The elevated fifth tee is situated right beside the fourth green and you are now looking at a hole that is Stroke index 1, a long par 4 that gives the player a blind tee shot into the valley of a generous fairway. The second shot plays downhill to another sloping green that very rarely gives away birdie chances. Do not be taken in by “the valley of a generous fairway”, to the left of the green plenty of trouble awaits. It is a pretty hole, well deserving of its premier stroke index, and a challenge of your skill with your second shot particularly. Try not to let the gorse copse on the left put you off, nor the steep bank to the left of the green.
The sixth is a nice par three where the middle of the green invariably offers the golfer an excellent opportunity for a birdie, but be ware the out of bounds to the left, it is closer than it looks off a tee which is much lower than the green. The next hole, the seventh, is home to our annual pair of Canadian geese. In 2005 this pair raised 5 offspring and, nesting on a small island in the middle of the pond, managed to escape the attention of foxes but not always of the buzzards. The medal tee is hidden in a copse with a tee shot over the pond. Don’t be fooled by the sheltered tee, the prevailing wind will push the tee shots away to the right. The green has a steep slope, so it is important to find the correct level if you are going to get that birdie.
The course is home to a wide variety of birds, both tiny and large. Buzzards are often seen, red kite visit frequently, skylarks are a welcome sight and sound in early Summer, Sparrow hawks are not as plentiful as they once were because Goshawks tend to dominate their territory but many other varieties of birdlife make their home here. We have even trained crows to collect the golf balls of slow players!
The eighth hole runs parallel to the seventh, it is a lay up par 4 that is protected by banks on either side of the green. Not difficult, a hole that offers some respite, much needed as the ninth can ruin any card. After a short walk up to the elevated ninth tee you are staring at a tough par 4 to finish the front nine. Often played into wind, a good drive will leave a long iron or fairway wood to a narrow entrance. You would be wise to favour the right side of the green - that will push the ball towards the hole. With out of bounds to the left all the way to the green and daunting rough to the right, not to mention the pond directly in front of the tee which you cannot see, but is most certainly there to catch a topped drive, you will appreciate why I said earlier that the ninth can ruin any card.
By now you will have begun to appreciate how well the course drains, how springy and comfortable is the turf beneath your feet and how the scenery subtly changes. Here, to the left is a valley and hills time forgot, whilst alongside the tee is the old tea rooms where, in days gone by, the charabanc called Colonel Bogey would take ladies from the town to tea.
The start of the back nine is a long par three at 236 yards, stroke index 2, it often looks as though it is a par 5. It is amazing how difficult it is to hit the green with your tee shot, your second shot, even your third shot, so it is worth knowing that there is more room to the right than can be seen from the tee. After a difficult tenth you are quite pleased immediately to have another par 3, the eleventh, which is stroke index 18, a par three called “the armchair” that plays back up the hill. Shots from the left will be gathered on to the green, whereas an errant shot to the right will leave the player with a testing chip to the small green. The hole looks absolutely innocuous but can be deceptively difficult. If you look closely to the right of this green in May and June, you will find the most beautiful little yellow flowers, streaked with a deep purple – a wonderful treat to the eye.
The twelfth tee is separated from the tenth tee by a small copse of firs, this tee is at the highest point of the course. Be very aware of low flying aircraft here, for not all the hawks are of the feathered variety. The twelfth is a blind downhill tee shot with out of bounds very close on the left, and be wary the second shot usually plays a club or two less than you might think due to the severity of the green and slope at the front. The green falls from front to back. The thirteen tee is adjacent to the twelfth green and a good drive from here, over the bank to the plateau, will leave a short iron to the green, a great opportunity for a birdie to start the homeward run with a flourish but again the out of bounds will often come into play so take care.
The fourteenth (Out) and fifteenth (Turn for Home) are parallel par 5s divided in part by a fir copse. For much of the year it is quite possible to play out of the copse but in May and June the copse is a riot of bluebells capable of hiding any ball that comes their way. So if you wish to continue to admire bluebells stay out of the copse! The fourteenth is a reachable par five that can catch the over aggressive player as out of bounds encroaches very close to the back of the green. The fifteenth, another par 5 is played in the opposite direction to the fourteenth. On this hole longer players can be aggressive from the tee and carry the gully. The left hand side is out of bounds all the way to the small green and straight shots are needed to stay out of trouble. After two long par 5 holes the sixteenth continues the journey homewards, and off the tee you can see the clubhouse beckoning in the distance. The sixteenth is for many the signature hole of the course, with a blind tee shot into a valley, the lie of the land falls from right to left, and a good drive will leave the player with a mid iron to the green. Use the right hand side to bring the ball towards the flag. Finding the green in two shots is rewarded with a relatively flat putt and opportunity of a birdie.
If you have the time to look to the left as you stand on the tee, you will see the old Welsh church with its graveyard to the side facing the course. Many a silent pair of eyes will be watching you from the graveyard, for many club members have chosen to be buried there close to their beloved course. They will not pass judgement on a wayward shot because all of them will have done exactly the same at some point in their playing days.
The seventeenth an uphill, par 3, semi blind is yet another par 3 with a low stroke index, another of the finishing holes that slopes from right to left. The green is sheltered on the right hand side by a copse but is quite large, so why is it so difficult to hit? This is a conundrum few club members have yet to solve. When you have replaced the flag, ring the bell, and move on to the final challenge. Not for nothing did Harry Vardon name the eighteenth “Death or Glory”. It is a driveable par four to finish – do or die, with out of bounds encroaching on the left, but a good opportunity to close your round with a flourish despite the heavily contoured green that slopes from right to left and falls from front to back.
But remember you do not need a birdie here to believe you are in heaven – simply look around you at the best scenery mid-Wales has to offer. You are bound to feel life is bountiful and to think that playing at Llandrindod is an
experience like no other, a good test of golf, a tonic to your spirits, an opportunity to commune with nature at its finest, and the 19th includes a refurbished clubhouse in which to refresh those very few parts the course has
been unable to satisfy.