The first adventure any golfer will find in playing Nefyn & District Golf Club is in pronouncing its name. In this region of northern Wales, English is a second language. A Celtic tongue, Welsh, is fiercely protected and used by the locals. Driving through North Wales is akin to driving in Thailand: Oddly spelled cities make one feel like a stranger in an exotic land.
When asking a local for directions to the club, expect to hear the name pronounced as “Nevin.” And hopefully you will not get lost on your way to your real adventure: the clifftop holes at Nefyn that form a stretch of some of the most exhilarating golf holes in the world, featuring unrivaled views of picturesque bays, pristine beaches, the mountains of Snowdonia and on a clear day the sun setting over the Wicklow hills of Ireland.
The club has 26 holes, with an opening loop of 10 holes perched on top of a rolling plateau enclosed by the cliffs and two characteristically different back-eight holes—the original course, known as the Old, and the New, designed in 1993 as relief for the Old’s congestion.
It is the Old course that attracts visitors, as four of its holes tightrope among the cliffs playing out to a narrow peninsula dangling like a lion’s paw known as the Point. At the Point, fairways merge over land barely adequate for one hole, let alone two. Tee shots are fired over the preceding greens while public footpaths are filled with hikers zigzagging around golfers. The experience has been described as playing golf on the top deck of an aircraft carrier.
J.H. Taylor, who designed nine holes at the club along with James Braid in 1933, described Nefyn as being “situated on one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen.”
Nature and the setting can take credit for much of the appeal of the course, which began as a nine-holer in 1907, but the quirky layout took its current form under the guidance of Taylor and Braid. Further revisions by F.W. Hawtree and A.H.F. Jiggens in the late 1970s and ongoing current work by Welsh architect David Williams have touched up the layout, which was originally conceived by a bevy of locals who gathered at Ty Coch Inn, which sits along the beach below the course.
Ty Coch remains a popular spot for post-round recounting of holes like the 459-yard opener, which plunges directly to the shoreline. The look of the next holes resembles Pebble Beach as they swoop atop the cliffs. The 401-yard 2nd hole doglegs right over a curve in the bay to a green defiantly perched on terra firma.
At the short 472-yard par-5 4th, tiny inlets eating into the headlands stand ready to gobble errant shots. A touch of vertigo entertains golfers on the 152-yard 5th, where the tee is but a narrow outcropping of rock lying 50 feet above the crashing, rolling waves of Cable Bay.
The inward nine reveals the sensory thrills of playing Nefyn. The first of the Point holes is the 475-yard par-4 12th, one of the curios of golf. Featuring a downhill, blind tee shot that appears headed directly for the Irish Sea; the approach is then blind over a hill, public footpath and finally a 100-foot deep conical sinkhole. Players hitting into this unique hazard generously receive a free drop.
Beside the 12th green is a small pathway leading to the beach and the Ty Coch. Part of the tradition of a round is to have a quick restorative to salve the spirit before continuing play.
Nefyn’s best hole is the 13th, which plays to the extremity of the cliffs. A stout 405 yards, the hole requires a drive to an oblique fairway while carrying an inlet of the bay inviting the long hitter to shorten the hole. With a green surrounded by rock formations rather than bunkers, a shot missing the putting surface is severely penalized, and par is a great feat. Nefyn then works its way back to the plateau, upon which sits the 502-yard 17th. Here, a deft touch is needed to navigate down the fairway, which is squeezed between the cliffs and a large ridge.
The short 324-yard 18th hole ends this clifftop adventure. But for a visitor on a golf tour of Wales, which is hosting the Ryder Cup later this year for the first time, the excitement that comes with discovering a hidden gem of a golf country is just the beginning.