Recently rated as the third best golf club in Wales, Aberdovey Golf Club occupies a stunning position on Wales' west coast, and it is hard to imagine which two courses surpassed it for sheer beauty and location. Long serving Head Greenkeeper Meurig Lumley explains how Mother Nature continues to play a big role in the course's life
Aberdovey is living testament to the unique characteristics of links golf. Playing golf here is much more than just a social and sporting activity. It can be considered a journey where you can lose yourself in the beauty of the game nurtured within the beauty of the landscape.
Even if you are playing poorly - you will still be uplifted and energised by the golf experience. So states the course's own introduction to its facilities; and it's hard to disagree.
Located on the west coast of Wales, there is little to protect the course from Mother Nature's whims and, with the Irish Sea as its constant companion, it takes a hardy soul to play the course. In fact, Head Greenkeeper, Meurig Lumley apologised to me for the delay in returning his articles info because he was "battening down the hatches" as Storm Abigail approached. That a UK storm was given a name suggests its impending severity, but Meurig has "seen it all before".
The most recent 'event' was the storms of the winter of 2014, when a significant portion of the 12th green was eroded by the ingress of the sea. For eighteen months golfers were required to hit to a small target on what was already a challenging par 3 and one of Aberdovey's signature holes.
Recently, following plans being agreed and permissions obtained to reinstate a new 12th green a little further inland and away from the ravages of the sea, a temporary layout had to be created to keep 18 holes in play at this championship course. A new green was introduced on what was the par 5, 13th to create both a par 4, 12th hole and a very testing par 3, 13th hole. The work to rebuild the 12th hole has now been completed by contractors and will open for play in the spring, at which point the 13th hole will revert to its original par 5.
Three of the legendary architects of the early twentieth century; Colt, Braid and Fowler all had a hand in shaping Aberdovey as it stands today.
However, it is the untamed elements of the natural rolling links that has had the greatest role in creating the course.
The start to a round immediately introduces the rustic joys of links golf; tight lies, rolling fairways, undulating approaches, dry-firm surfaces and fast greens can all be found in abundance. Holes blend into the dynamic sand dune morphology, its plants and wildlife with elevated tees and greens offering not only spectacular views out to sea and to the Cambrian mountains and Snowdonia, but the feeling of being in harmony with the environment.
Hazards are numerous, deceptive and sometimes hidden. Like any great links course, what you see is often not what you get but, as with the great Scottish links, quirky features abound throughout the course; blind shots, penal bunkers hidden by grasses, wooden railway sleepers and the railway itself that skirts the inland portion of the course.
Aberdovey's coastal setting, with its ever changing tides and winds, ensures that conditions alter on a frequent basis.
Working in these conditions all year round provides Meurig and his team of four - Nigel Green, Daniel Gregory, Stephen Washbrook and Clive Roberts - with many challenges on a day to day basis, but one senses that it is these that get Meurig's juices flowing. The fact that Nigel and Daniel have over twenty-five year's service suggests that they too are captivated by working at Aberdovey. Meurig himself has been at the club for over thirty years. By comparison, Clive (eight year's service) and Stephen (four years) are comparative newcomers.
"Whilst we all have specific skills, we tend to muck in to get the job done, Meurig explains. "At the end of the day, it is the presentation of the course that is most important."
Additional help comes in the shape of a summer casual, an agronomist and, as required, contractors for the larger work. "In truth," comments Meurig, "we could do with an additional permanent member of staff, not least because the growing season is now all year round, so available time for winter projects has become limited."
Meurig learned his skills under the watchful eye of the club's former head greenkeeper, Richie Williams, and has since gone on to complete NVQ levels 1-4.
In 2009 and 2010, Aberdovey was the Wales regional winner of the Golf Environment Awards. The course occupies an SSSI and dune restoration and scrub clearance is ongoing, working alongside Natural Resources Wales.
Because of its SSSI status, the numerous ditches that traverse the course - they come into play on holes 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15, 17 and 18 - clearing them out is restricted, which provides additional challenges for Meurig and his team where the course's natural drainage is concerned.
As well as the aforementioned 12th, Aberdovey has two other holes of note, the par-3 3rd, 'Cader', and the short par-4 16th, the hole that dog-legs left, hugging the railway line.
Golf has been played for more than 120 years over this slender strip of land between the beach and the railway, with the opening fairway presenting a narrow target but, over the opening stretch, the green complexes are designed in such a way that minor miscues may well end up better than hoped.
Set on a 180 acre site, the course is a traditional nine out, nine back links layout and, on most days, golfers will be playing into the wind on one of the nines!
In recent years the club has introduced rough-edged bunkering with the end result being some of the most attractive bunkers anywhere. The longest of the bordering tufts may leave a golfer praying that their ball will find the sand rather than just missing it.
Other projects have seen some tees rebuilt or enlarged and 'sleepering' around tees, including new steps to the raised ones.
As you would expect from a coastal site, the underlying soil is sandy loam. Both greens and tees are all built from the natural soil and all are treated consistently across the course. On the rare occasions that the course suffers from frost, Meurig will use temporary greens.
Additionally, there is a small practice area; "long irons down," says Meurig, a short game area and a practice green. Being located on a narrow strip of land between the sea and the mountains means Aberdovey is not blessed with lots of space!
Renovations are restricted due to the available budget, but a continuous aeration programme on the fairways keeps them up to the required standard. "I generally only take soil samples twice a year, just to see what is going on," Meurig explains.
Communicating the work the greenkeepers are carrying is out is achieved via the clubhouse notice board and monthly newsletter. Stephen also writes a quarterly blog.
Machinery is purchased from Major Owen, who are based just outside Porthmadog, and Oswestry based John Osman who are the local Ransomes Jacobsen dealers. Toro equipment is also purchased, with all machinery secured on either a five-year replacement deal or bought outright as required.
Recent purchases that, Meurig says, have made a difference have been a greens iron and a spinner topdresser, whilst a Toro ProCore, Vredo seeder and a mini digger are on his wish list.
The team are regular visitors to BTME Harrogate and any other seminars that come their way. "The industry's profile has been raised in recent years," states Meurig, "and this has resulted in us being much more respected by our employers."
As one golfer recently noted; "The course is deeply historic and traditional, in the best sense, and is also well prepared and presented." Comments like that must make Meurig a very proud man.
What's in the shed?
Toro 3250 Greens mower x 2
Toro 5400 Fairway mower
Toro 3100 Rough cutter
Tru Turf Turf Iron
Toro 1600 Hand mower
Polaris Truckster x 2
Toro Workman 4200
Kubota STV40 Compact tractor
Kubota 5430 Front loader tractor
Lewis Back Hoe
Charterhouse Verti-Drain 7316
Charterhouse Verti-Core 1300
Turfco top dresser
Honda Quad x 2