What is a links? The developers of Machynys Peninsula Golf Club, a new course close to Llanelli in South Wales, clearly think that being close to the sea is the most important criterion. They have dubbed the course, designed by Gary Nicklaus for his father Jack's company, a 'modern links'.
The golfers of the Ladies European Tour will have the chance to make their own minds up about Machynys when the course hosts the Wales Ladies Championship of Europe from August 11–14. The tournament is moving from its previous home, the great traditional links of Royal Porthcawl.
Playing the Machynys course two months before the tournament – and only weeks after its official opening – it was easy to see where the £7m development budget (which included a substantial amount of public money; this part of Wales is among the most deprived areas in Britain) had been spent. Practice facilities, tees and greens are of universally high quality, and the clubhouse is palatial. But the absence of true sandy links soil – the course abuts a large salt marsh – and heavy recent rain had left the fairways decidedly soggy. The fairway turf has some distance to go before it reaches a standard appropriate to the rest of the facility, and only in a few places did it approach a springy seaside feel.
Gary Nicklaus's design goes heavy on water hazards. On only two holes – ironically those closest to Carmarthen Bay – does water not threaten, although mostly to the side of fairways rather than presenting an obstacle in front of greens. Those holes closest to the bay – from 14 to 17 – are the most visually interesting with the 451-yard par four sixteenth, up a slight rise to a green close to the foreshore, being perhaps the best hole on the course. Staggered fairway bunkers, the nearer one being on the left side, where all the forward tees are also situated, make the drive quite demanding, but a tee shot that avoids the front bunker will give the golfer a range of options for the second shot. A running approach is possible, but the level part of the entrance to the green is narrow, with deep swales on either side.
Superintendent Geoff Robinson says he wants to present the course as "a lean and hungry looking links" that encourages the ground game. The design offers some opportunities to play this way, but with many greens being slightly offset to the fairways an aerial approach is likely to be preferable, unless he can get the turf running extremely quickly.
This article first appeared in issue 1 of Golf Course Architecture, published in July 2005.