WHEN it comes to golf, Wales is the new Scotland… or even Ireland.

Traditionally, domestic fairways have ranged from St Andrews to Ballybunion – but now we’re flocking to previously hidden gems in the Principality.

With nearly 200 courses, including 22 genuine links, Wales is easily accessible from Dorset… expect to spend about three hours on a comfortable drive up country and across the Severn Bridge to the Celtic Manor resort near Newport.

The venue for the 2010 European Ryder Cup triumph has helped raise Wales’ profile, but the rise in golf tourism began several years before Monty’s boys beat the Americans.

Why? Well, there are lots of stunning courses in fabulous surroundings, whether lush valleys, imposing mountain ranges or alongside waves pounding the Atlantic coast.

And it’s affordable too, with over 200,000 golf tourists in 2010 (up nine per cent on the previous year) spending an average £209 for a four-day break, and green fees averaging £32.

Many opt for stays at resorts such as Celtic Manor, with its three courses (Roman Road, Montgomerie and the purpose-built Twenty Ten) or The Vale, home to the Wales National and Lakes, both championship courses, as well as the training base for the national soccer and rugby squads.

Wherever you’re based, though, you’re never far from other top courses, such as Royal Porthcawl, midway between Cardiff and Swansea, a punishing (especially when the wind blows) but hugely enjoyable links.

It was here that a young Tiger Woods made his only (unsuccessful) appearance in the Walker Cup before turning professional… look out for his photo in the men’s locker room in the exquisitely quaint clubhouse.

This has everything you’d want from a seaside course, and more... deep, deceptive bunkers; greens like the finest carpets; rough so treacherous you could lose your bag in there, never mind your ball; and views of the sea from start to finish.

If it sounds tough, that’s because it is. You’ll need complete mastery of every club in your bag (not least the putter), but if, like me, you walk off with a frankly pathetic score, I guarantee you’ll still be beaming from ear to ear.

Southerndown, a downland/heathland course that thinks it’s a links, boasts fine fast-drying fairways closely mown by the hundreds of sheep that roam the land oblivious to flying balls and even stand by the tees, staring inquiringly as if to say, “Where are you going to stuff this one then?”

Once again the outlook is amazing, across the limestone headland towards the Bristol Channel and all the way over to England.

(Fascinating fact: Gene Sarazen, the first Grand Slam winner, played Southerndown in 1966 during the Shell Wonderful World of Golf Series.) The Vale, in 2011 voted by an independent panel as “the UK’s most enjoyable golf course”, has hosted several European Challenge Tour events, plus celebrity guests including Catherine Zeta Jones, Charlotte Church and several football stars (we spotted Spurs ace Gareth Bale teeing off on The Lakes … then, just in case, hitting a provisional.) The Wales National, opened in 2003, is one of the longest championship courses outside the US (at nearly 7,500 yards off the back tees) and its second hole is the longest par five in Wales.

Finally, back to Celtic Manor, a massive and ongoing success story, and a tribute to its owner, Sir Terry Matthews, who even managed to turn torrential rain at the onset of the Ryder Cup into a PR triumph, leading to an event so good it tipped over into a sun-drenched extra day with the happiest of endings (unless you happen to be American.) The Roman Road, designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones Senior, is named after the ancient routes that cross the site, while the Montgomerie bears the distinctive stamp of Colin of that ilk.

Both are championship standard and extremely popular. But the jewel in the crown has to be the Twenty Ten, built specifically for the Ryder Cup, which doesn’t have just one signature hole, but several.

In fact, it’s the whole experience that makes the hairs stand on the back of your neck, from the early rough-fringed holes to the mid-section through the lakes right up to the 15th (dare you try to drive it like the pros?), the 17th, where Graeme McDowell memorably sealed victory, and the beastly closing hole.

If you’ve discovered the joys of Welsh golf, you’ll know where I’m coming from. And if you haven’t, well, what are you waiting for?


For more information about golfing trips, visit the website golfasitshouldbe.com or visitwales.co.uk

Celtic Manor Resort, Usk Valley, Newport – 01633 413000, celtic-manor.com

Vale Hotel Golf and Spa Resort, Hensol - 01443 667800, vale-hotel.com

Royal Porthcawl, Rest Bay - 01656 782251 or royalporthcawl.com

Southerndown, Ogmore-by-Sea, Bridgend - 01656 880476, southerndowngolfclub.co.uk