Not even 30mph winds and torrential downpours could dampen my spirits as I joined European Tour star Rhys Davies for what I hoped would be a day’s golf at Royal Porthcawl in South Wales.
As we kicked back in the luxurious clubhouse before tucking into one of the biggest bacon sarnies I’ve ever seen, Rhys put us at ease by chatting to everyone before leading a group of us out to play the opening nine holes.
The Welshman then made us even more relaxed by missing the fairway by 50 yards en route to a double-bogey six.
Par for Roberts. Two ahead. Game on. Breathe.
So impressed with my fairway, green, two-putt start, I was about to text Alex to tell him to get my P45 ready. If only my phone had not crashed when rain seeped into my golf bag. That will teach me for leaving my PING rain cape at home, three hours back down the M4.
As soon as I started believing I had a career on Tour, my game quickly descended in similar fashion to my mobile as I found the whispy wet rough off the tee on the spectacular par-4 2nd, played tight to the coastline into a swirling left-to-right wind.
Good job I never sent that text.
You can’t afford to miss the fairways at Royal Porthcawl. Once you’ve spent several minutes looking for your ball, the best you can do is chop it back onto the short grass, taking care to avoid the strategically placed pot bunkers.
Rhys appeared inspired by my bogey-five on the 2nd and rolled home a glorious 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 3rd. Anyone would think he’d played here before. Into the wind it was one of the toughest holes on the front nine, demanding a big draw over the brow of the hill, followed by a well struck 4-iron just to reach the front edge of the green. Unfortunately, the pin was 80 feet away so another bogey went down on my soaking wet card.
The 200-yard par-3 4th, was my favourite - not just because the master of the flatstick praised my putting stroke but because I hit my 5-iron flush, found the green and from 40 feet rolled my putt within inches for a tap-in par.
“Brilliant stroke mate,” said Rhys. I thought it was nice that he called me ‘mate’, before realising it was probably because he’d forgotten my name. Though, it didn’t quite live up to his efforts as he poured in his second consecutive birdie from 15 feet. “Great putt pal,” I replied. That’ll show him.
The 5th is a beautiful uphill dogleg par-5 and despite measuring less than 500 yards there’s no chance of finding the dancefloor in two in such treacherous conditions. But with rain lashing down harder, the greens were softening, so we could really attack the pins with our wedges.
To my amazement, and I’m still in shock, I holed my putt and Rhys missed from ten feet. Ok, he did have a downhill right-to-left swinger and I had a putt that resembled my bank balance; not much in it.
Normality resumed on the short par-4 6th. The shrubbery on the left looked so appealing that I went to pay my respects before making six, while Rhys laid back from the trouble, stiffed his pitching wedge to 12 feet and claimed a third birdie in four holes. Incredible.
The shortest hole at Royal Porthcawl is the par-3 7th. Its green is no wider than my bedroom and is surrounded by small hummocks and bunkers. The tee shot demands plenty of attention and head pro at Royal Porthcawl, Peter Evans, who joined Rhys and I for the opening nine, explained work begins next week on revamping several greens including this one. After three-jabbing from 25 feet, I thought about commencing work with my PING Anser putter head a week early!
Rhys explained where best to hit the drive at the daunting par-5 8th: “I usually aim straight over that large tree on the left, but in these conditions, it’s best to play right of it.”
Taking on board his advice, I took dead aim over the tree as Rhys’ manager yelled: “Tiger line, love it.”
It took close to five minutes to find the ball and buried was an understatement. A hack out sideways, with a swing I’m not even sure was legal, left me some 230 yards away from the pin. Rhys found the bunker off the tee but quickly made amends by spanking a low, piercing 5-wood from 220 yards to within four-feet of the flag for a fourth birdie in eight holes. Quite frankly, the man was on fire.
The inward loop finishes with a classic short par-4, requiring an approach to a well-bunkered green. Pars all round as we rushed back to the shelter of the clubhouse, perched 40 feet above the sea.
The pint and sausage and mash lunch tasted great even though I was 5-over, compared to the Davies sodden scorecard recording 2-under. Perhaps I’ll put my plans to turn pro on hold!
Despite the horrendous weather, Royal Porthcawl, which celebrated its centenary 16 years ago, certainly lived up to my high expectations. With the absence of sand hills usually found on many links courses in the British Isles, I was still able to enjoy memorable views out to sea - south to Somerset and Exmoor and north west across Swansea Bay to the Gower Peninsula.
We only played nine holes but I used every club in my bag - testament to the course’s structure and design. Research also revealed it was once described as one of the 12 finest courses in the world by Tom Scott, late editor of Golf Illustrated.
And it’s easy to see why. Since his day, the course has been extended to 7,065 yards and has acquired a large practice area and further course improvements to keep Royal Porthcawl in the global spotlight. Its status has also been sustained by many prestigious pro and amateur events including the Walker and Curtis Cups, the European Team Championship and the Ladies Amateur Open.
Sadly Wales has never been given the chance to stage The Open - but Royal Porthcawl would still be a leading contender. It will, however, hold the senior version of golf’s oldest major in 2014.
Hopefully I can go back one day and finish my round...
Visit www.royalporthcawl.com for more information.