GOLF is a popular sport in Wales. Although the sport of golf in Great Britain is most associated with Scotland, where it was established and developed, Wales can record its first courses back to the 1880s, and today has over 200 clubs.
The first amateur golf competition was held in 1895 and the first professional championship was in 1904. Wales has produced several players of note, including Ian Woosnam, who won one of the men’s Major golf championships, while Wales has twice won the men’s World Cup, in 1987 and 2005. Wales also hosted the Ryder Cup when it was held at Newport’s Celtic Manor Resort in 2010.
The sport of golf in Wales traces its origins to the 1880s. The earliest course was constructed in Pontnewydd in Monmouthshire in 1875, but this was a short course. By the mid-1880s nine-hole courses were built at several sites in Wales on coastal common land where the turf was acceptable.
Several sites claim to be home to the oldest golf club in Wales, though it is generally accepted that Tenby, formed in 1888, was the first, with evidence that the game was played there from at least 1875.
Another early course is found stretching between Borth and Ynyslas being in use from 1885. Other 19th-Century courses, again all coastal, include Conwy (1890), Penarth (1890), Porthcawl (1891) and Aberdyfi (1892).
The opening of the early railway lines and growing tourism in Wales gave these new courses opportunities to attract visitors. Though, as the golf clubs of Wales were initially created and run by the middle class, the sport suffered from a view of being English and elitist.
From its early days, Wales has embraced both male and female golfers. The Welsh Golfing Union was formed in 1895, the second oldest in the world behind its Irish counterpart; while the Welsh Ladies’ Golf Union was founded in 1904. Wales Golf, which governs the sport in Wales, was founded in 2007 after the merger of the Welsh Ladies’ Golf Union and the Welsh Golfing Union.
Dai Rees was one of the first successful Welsh golfers, captaining a winning European Ryder Cup team in 1957. Wales has won the golfing World Cup on two occasions, with the pairing of David Llewellyn and Ian Woosnam lifting the trophy in Hawaii in 1987, and again in 2005, when Stephen Dodd and Bradley Dredge triumphed in Portugal.
Woosnam enjoyed a stellar career. As well as winning the 1987 World Cup, he is also the only Welshman to have won a Major championship, when he took the 1991 Masters Tournament at Augusta.
That year he also reached the number one spot on the Official World Golf Rankings, spending 50 weeks at the top – only four golfers have held the title longer. Woosnam then followed countryman Rees’s achievement when he led Europe to victory against the USA in the 2006 Ryder Cup.
Wales has supplied seven members of the British and European Ryder cup teams. The first was Bert Hodson, who played for Charles Whitcombe’s 1931 team. Hodson played in only one round, losing to an in-form Denny Shute. Dai Rees played in three Ryder Cups, and his captaincy in 1957 was the only time the Americans were beaten between 1933 and 1985. Dave Thomas played in four Ryder Cups between 1959 and 1967, losing only one of his five singles matches. Brian Huggett played in six Ryder Cups and in 1977 was the side’s non-player captain, the last time a British and Irish-only team contested the tournament. Woosnam played in eight consecutive teams, and in 2002 Phillip Price memorably beat Phil Mickelson in his singles match. Jamie Donaldson played in the 2014 Ryder Cup, beating Keegan Bradley 5&3 ensuring Europe won the Ryder Cup.
The first amateur tournament in Wales was held in 1895 at Aberdovey Golf Club and then in 1901 the club became the first in Wales to host the British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship. The first professional golf championship was in Radyr, Cardiff, in 1904.
In recent years, Wales has held several annual golfing events, notably the Wales Challenge (founded in 2003), Wales Ladies Championship of Europe (1996) and the Wales Seniors Open (2001).
The 2014 Senior British Open Championship took place at Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, the first time the event had been held in Wales. Royal Porthcawl is one of the most notable of Welsh courses and in the past has hosted the 1995 Walker Cup, The Amateur Championship on six occasions and the Wales Ladies Championship.
The Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, south Wales, was the venue for the 2010 Ryder Cup; the first time the event was held in Wales. Europe beat the USA by 14½ points to 13½ in one of the most dramatic finishes to the tournament in recent years. The event also made history by becoming the first Ryder Cup to stretch over four days, following heavy rain throughout the weekend.