Cardiff was a thriving port in the second half of the nineteenth century and in 1891 a group of businessman, involved in both coal and shipping industries, decided to build a golf course near Porthcawl. They approached the Porthcawl Vestry and were granted permission to build a nine hole course on locks common.
The Porthcawl Hotel was made the HQ for the aspiring club and H.J. Simpson was appointed captain for the first 2 years. The following year, Charles Gibson, the professional at Westwood Ho!, was asked to lay the course out and work started on clearing the common, which was covered in gorse and bracken. The club grew quickly and ground for a further nine holes was sought and in 1895 a lease was signed with the Margam estate on what is now, in principle, the site of the present course.
Having built a further 9 holes and therefore creating South Wales’ first 18 hole golf course, albeit, with quite a walk between the two nines it was soon decided to abandon the original nine holes and build 18 holes and a clubhouse on the recently acquired land. The club called upon the services of Ramsay Hunter, a Scottish greenkeeper who had earlier laid out Royal St Georges, to design the new course. The club received its greatest honour in 1909, it was bestowed the rare privilege to use the prefix “Royal” and became the second course in Wales and only one of 25 clubs in the world to have that mark of distinction.
The course underwent a number of alterations in the period between the Wars, nevertheless, following a visit from The R & A Championship committee with a view to adding the club to the Championship rota, in 1933 J Simpson was asked to bring about some major alterations. No sooner had the alterations bedded in than WW2 broke out, and there must have been a degree of anxiety within the club that, once again, the course was going to be appropriated for agricultural use. Fortunately, that was not the case but, no doubt, for many members the bigger problem of rationing, in particular whisky, was introduced. Members were only allowed one tot per day, although this was very much at the discretion of the secretary, who must have enjoyed the sort of popularity never experienced before or, indeed, in the future.
The Club didn’t really establish itself after the war until 1950 and hosted its first major tournament, The Amateur Championship in 1951. This brought about a real enthusiasm for the game and, under the watchful eye of the Head Greenkeeper, Marcus Geddes, the course improved dramatically and this was quickly reflected with a raft of good tournaments held at the club in the early sixties, both amateur and professional, including various International Matches and the Curtis Cup. More recently, extensive improvements to the clubhouse, offices and pro shop, as well as alterations to the course, have ensured Royal Porthcawl is still as challenging and hospitable a club as you will find in the British Isles.
The number of tournaments held at Royal Porthcawl over the years is as varied as it is long and, being in Wales, it comes as no surprise that every Welsh Championship has been played on the Glamorgan Links. The Amateur Championship has visited the course no fewer than 6 times and, on the first occasion in 1951, was won by the American Dick Chapman. The 1965 Championship produced one of the great finishes in the Championships history – the legendary Sir Michael Bonallack got off to a terrible start in the final round an found himself 7 down after 8 holes to Clive Clark. However, he showed extraordinary resolve to claw the deficit back and win 2 and 1! Maybe, the lunch break had something to do with his victory as on his way out for the afternoon round he put 6d into the fruit machine and won the Jackpot!
Duncan Evans became the first Welshman to win the Amateur in 1980 in front of a home crowd, but appalling rain slightly took the shine off his memorable win. The 1988 championship produced another superb final, with Christian Hardin of Sweden getting the better of the South African, Ben Fouchee at the 36th hole. Also of significance that year was the participation of Bill Campbell, then Captain of the R & A, who had also played in the 1951 Championship – possibly an accomplishment never to be repeated. Without doubt, the pinnacle of Amateur golf at Royal Porthcawl came in 1995 when the Club hosted The Walker Cup, which was won by Great Britain and Ireland by 14 – 10. This historic event will probably be remembered by many for Gary Wolstenholme’s famous victory over the golfing phenomenon, Tiger Woods.
Professional golf has also played a major role at Royal Porthcawl and in 1932 and 1933 it hosted the first Penfold tournament, won in its first year by Percy Allis, a former assistant at the club and father of the well known golfer and commentator, Peter. In 1961, The Dunlop Masters attracted a small field of 30 and was won by Peter Thompson, who’s searing one iron into the last, in a howling gale, ensured victory by 8 shots from Christie ‘Connor.
The Coral Welsh Classic was first played in 1980 and with a quality field of 80 was won by Sandy Lyle, who carded a course record 67 in the third round and posted another brilliant final round of 69. Martin Foster was second, Howard Clark third and tied fourth were Brian Barnes and Nick Faldo. The Classic was played for the final time in 1982 in somewhat eventful circumstances. The tournament was interrupted by a terrifying thunderstorm, with lightening striking the clubhouse several times and the TV aerial on the press tent, which brought about consternation to the members of the press who were studiously watching World Cup Football! The golf was equally exciting, with Carl Mason, gallantly trying to win from the front, being overtaken by Gordon Brand Jnr, who won by 3 from Greg Norman, with Mason in third.