Following the herd in Wales

A junior match tees off at Pennard in front of an indifferent spectator.
A junior match tees off at Pennard in front of an indifferent spectator. ( Martin Kaufmann )

Monday, October 5, 2009

It’s evident even before you pull into the parking lot at Pennard Golf Club that you’re in for a unique experience. Cattle roam the area along Southgate Road and near the clubhouse on Wales’ scenic Gower Peninsula. The opening tee shot potentially can get a bit hairy as the cattle graze near the forward tees. Keep your head down.

It goes without saying that Americans travel overseas looking for something they can’t find at home. Pennard, a links that dates to 1896, fits the bill. While in Wales in late September, I had the opportunity to pair nine holes at Pennard with 18 at Southerndown Golf Club, where the critters that roam the course are sheep.

With few exceptions, most notably Celtic Manor, which will host the 2010 Ryder Cup, golf in Wales is simple and unpretentious. You show up, pay your greens fee – typically very reasonable compared to elsewhere in the United Kingdom – pick up your yardage book and head directly to the first tee. A few warm-up swings and you’re off. Walking, not riding. American tour operators with whom I’ve spoken compare the experience to Ireland before that country got hot 20 years ago: authentic links golf at affordable prices.

As our threesome was coming off Pennard’s ninth green, wishing we had time to play the back nine, I took a few photos of a junior tournament teeing off under the steers’ watchful eyes. Actually, they weren’t really watching; they were more interested in eating and seemed a bit put-off as one of my playing partners and I circled them, snapping some shots.

The cattle are a sore spot for the Pennard membership. Mike Bennett, the long-time head pro, said the club is immersed in a legal dispute with a local farmer over grazing rights. It’s understandable. For a first-time visitor like me, the cattle were an amusing quirk to a tremendous old links. And since none of my shots landed in a cow patty, I could laugh it off. But I can see how it would quickly get old for members. Bennett would love to have the cattle removed from the course and tear down the electric fencing that encircles the greens.

To answer the question you’re probably mulling, Pennard and Southerndown have similar local rules to deal with animal dung. Both courses allow drops under Rule 25 if your ball comes to rest in manure – provided that you’re inclined to remove the ball. But both courses are a tad draconian on this point. As the scorecard at Southerndown reads: “Relief is restricted to lie and area of intended swing. Relief does not apply to stance.” readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.