More years ago than I care to remember, a schoolfriend of mine wasted three years of his life at Aberystwyth University failing to achieve even a basic degree pass. I remember visiting him one weekend not long after I’d got into golf and playing the course perched high above the town. The views were simply magnificent. I also distinctly remember driving through the middle of the links at nearby Borth, long before my love affair with seaside golf had begun, and marvelling at just how close the course played to the road and how good most golfers must be to avoid the dreaded sound of Surlyn on windscreen. I certainly couldn’t have guaranteed as much back then. That aside, my golfing visits to the mid-Wales coast had been few and far between, though I had played the region’s premier tracks at Royal St David’s and Aberdovey in the distant past. So when the opportunity arose to revisit in mid October, I set off with GM photographer Kevin Murray to renew acquaintances with the courses I’d played before, and to finally find out whether I had the game to avoid endangering passing motorists at Borth 20 years down the line …

Royal St David’s par 69, 6,403 yards

The wonderful links at Harlech starts out with a series of stout, if less spectacular, holes that have more of a heathland flavour, before gradually building to a crescendo. It really comes fully alive after the 9th as you begin to flirt more closely with the dunes on a back nine of quite supreme splendour. Kevin and 
I savoured a magic golfing moment on the long par-4 13th, firing in majestic 4-iron approaches that set up matching birdies, thus allowing us a mutually self-satisfied smile on the 14th tee, a 220-yarder whose semi-blindness may not meet with universal approval, but will certainly linger in the memory. In many ways the approach on the 15th mirrors that tee shot, as you fire in over a raised fairway to a partially obscured flag. This is the standout hole, bringing to mind Royal Aberdeen’s exhilarating front nine. And of course Harlech Castle watches imperiously over you the whole while, just as it has over countless would-be intruders since the 13th century. The pickiest of golfers might lament the absence of sea views, but this is a small price to pay for a links of this quality.

Aberdovey par 71, 6,502 yards

Golf has been played for nearly 120 years over this slender strip of curving linksland wedged between the beach on one side, and the railway on the other. The opening fairway presents a narrow target, but the first three greens and their surrounds all boast a degree of helpful concavity that must be a blessed relief when the weather really kicks in. Things had changed since my last visit, with the cattle that once roamed the fairways now gone, and the presentation spot on. Neat paths and Astroturf steps up to the tees sit comfortably alongside rugged bunker surrounds, where long grasses and a less manicured look bring a welcome reconnection with the game’s less perfection-obsessed past. It looks wonderful, though you may feel less generously disposed should your ball end up in one of those long bunkerside tufts. The most memorable holes come on the back nine, starting with the excellent 12th, a mid-length par 3 played from the flatter terrain up to an exposed green on the dunes with magnificent beach views. After the majestic 13th and 14th you switch back to the railway side for a final stretch starting with a par 5 that narrows alarmingly in the lay-up zone, and then a short par 4 fraught with danger as it tightly hugs the railway curve.