Wye-Dean Border Country
The Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley has been a bit unlucky in recent years, in golfing terms.
Because of the 2010 Ryder Cup, and the Wales Opens either side of it, the region has been somewhere golfers have driven through on the way towards Celtic Manor.
We’ve been making a mistake, though, because there’s some great golfing country to discover.
As you might expect golf in these parts comes with a lot of trees and plenty of water too. The forest is ancient and whilst the golf courses aren’t quite that old they track between trees that have been around for centuries.
It makes for a beautiful setting, not just when you’re on the golf course, but making your way between them. The land rolls either side of the English-Welsh border, with the River Wye sneaking up on you and then twisting into the distance.
St Pierre, Marriott Golf & County Club
Remember the Epson Grand Prix? A match play event that was full of the glamour of European golf’s glory days of the 1980s. St Pierre was the venue and it played host to the five legends of that decade – Seve, Langer, Lyle, Faldo and homeboy Ian Woosnam.
Perhaps a bit short for modern tour golfers, the course is however (and somewhat ironically) a more mature test now than it was back then. It always tracked its way between beautiful, and often huge, old trees, but the land has settled nicely.
The back nine is especially attractive and a stern test of ball-striking too. It moves backwards and forwards from the lake and ends with the famous long par-three 18th hole, with the lake below, the final test of your ball-striking.
A 14th century manor house (now hotel) and 11th century church (and graveyard) lie behind the 18th green. Pick and choose your 19th hole destination according to score.
It’s a fine destination course offering the thrill of following in the footsteps of golfing legends and a good test of any standard of golfer, with a stunning backdrop of ancient parkland.
St Pierre is in the south of the region, overlooking the Severn estuary (there are particularly good views of the Severn Bridge from the fifth and sixth holes). At the northern end is …
The Rolls of Monmouth GC
The 1982 British Masters was held at St Pierre and the winner was Australia’s Greg Norman, who knew a thing or two about the area as the touring professional for The Rolls of Monmouth.
This is no ordinary golf club. In fact if you live in the Midlands or West Country it is something of a slow-burning legend, with whispered rumours of a bright golfing oasis in the foothills of the Black mountains.
It’s certainly true that after the lush green valleys of the River Wye and scented avenues of the Forest of Dean, when you drive through the town of Monmouth and climb into the hills the scenery becomes a little more bracing.
Then you turn through the gates of the one-time home of Charles Rolls (of Rolls Royce fame) and all is changed.
The property is dominated by the stunning red sandstone home, with the course sweeping back and forth so that you rarely miss the quarter hour peel of bells from the clock tower (a neat way of preventing slow play). The house is surrounded by ancient trees and the farthest corner of the course runs alongside pine trees and conifers.
It’s a deceptive challenge: in one sense often wide open from the tee and yet always calling for smart options. It’s also one of the most charming challenges you’ll ever take on. The experience leaves you gasping for more because the fun element is massive and, as with St Pierre, a long par-three test awaits on the final tee.
Alone St Pierre and The Rolls would make a superb golf break – and both offer accommodation: St Pierre’s Marriott hotel, The Rolls’ lodges. But there are other options in between the two.
Ross on Wye GC: a tight test, Ross on Wye perfectly captures the region: dense woodland and beautiful water features.
Forest of Dean: otherwise known as The Bells Hotel it is a great spot for big groups, with plenty of rooms, a large clubhouse restaurant and a course that won’t punish the high handicappers.
Things to do
The area has plenty of off-the-course options.
The Wye-Dean is home to plenty of fine food options, from riverside pubs to town restaurants and a perfect example is the Tudor Farmhouse in Clearwell. It’s popular with glossy magazines and unsurprisingly so, with a menu that utilises local produce. The cider-cured salmon and roast duck were superb.
The Forest is home to a series of wonderful cycle tracks for all abilities and bikes can be hired from the excellent Pedalbikeaway. More experienced mountain bikers can also try their hand at a series of challenging MTB and downhill trails.
Head to Symonds Yat, a gorge that offer river walks or a climb to the peak which offers views of the hovering bird life. The adventurous can try canoeing from the same spot, or watch someone else have a go from the many beer gardens.
For more information about visiting the Wye-Dean region visit the official website.
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