by Tony Williams
The AA Book of Golf Courses is an invaluable aid to those who like to extend their golfing experience. It gives a brief description of each notable course in Great Britain and Ireland and the 1977 edition undoubtedly got it “spot on” when it described Southerndown as “A unique course - near to sea - entrancing views".
Strange then that more recent editions describe it as “A downland championship course." Visitors now come to Southerndown expecting to see a golf course like scores of others built on the great belt of chalk that stretches from Kent to Dorset. Consequently they are frequently stunned by what they find. One bemused golfer from Goodwood in West Sussex said, “We haven’t got a single fern or gorse bush like this in our area."
The renowned lady golf professional Mickey Walker recognised how different Southerndown is. She said, “I’ve played golf all over the world but I’ve never before played a course quite like Southerndown".
Gorse and Bracken
The reason why Southerndown is so different is explained by former Cardiff University lecturer Dr Mary E Gillham in her book Limestone Downs (Vol 3 in the Glamorgan Heritage Coast Wildlife series). She describes a situation where, at the end of the Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago, strong winds blew a layer of light soil - called Loess - over our local downs. This soil was acidic in nature. Thus we have on Southerndown a layer of topsoil which is very rarely found on top of limestone and is perfect for growing the crisp turf so typical of this renowned golf course. However, as the learned Doctor points out, “Loess, essential to the existence of limestone heath, cannot be re-created until we suffer another Ice Age. Once destroyed by agriculture and quarrying, it cannot, therefore, be reinstated. It should be accorded the highest conservation priorities. There are few sites in Britain where they occur and no site is more than a few hectares in extent."
“Southerndown has been described most aptly as the finest inland seaside course in South Wales and it is an easy claim to substantiate. In the first place it is ideal golfing country with every variety of hole. The turf is as springy as you can desire. You are fairly high up and will receive all the ozone you can cope with whilst the greens are of the finest texture and condition I have found."
“Round the South Wales Courses” by Clem Lewis. Extract from The News Chronicle, August 1931.
It follows, obviously, that Southerndown must be the only golf course in Great Britain that is laid out entirely on a limestone heath. We should afford our environment the greatest care and protection, for it is like no other anywhere in the country.
One question that is constantly asked by golfers from across Wales is why Southerndown closes so rarely. The course remains open when prolonged spells of wet weather have closed virtually every other golf course in South Wales. Not only is the topsoil very porous but the limestone rock is full of cracks (or fissures as they are properly called). So even after a deluge or a thunderstorm has flooded the bunkers, give it an hour or two and the course is quite ready for play once again.
by Gwyn Davis
Three hundred and sixty million years ago rock (still seen in the exposed cliff face adjacent to the access road to the clubhouse) was laid down in warm tropical seas just south of the Equator. Formed from the remains of countless billions of marine animals deposited over thousands and thousands of years, this is now part of the carboniferous rock strata that underlie the Southerndown golf course.
Continental drift and massive tectonic forces resulted in the slow movement of the rock structure to its present location. The course sits on the western extremity of a major geological feature, the Cardiff to Cowbridge Anticline. This structure in the carboniferous series is an important mineral resource. There are numerous quarries in the area, and also an important aquifer which emerges just below the Club at Schwyll, with a reliable yield of about 6 million gallons per day. This was the source for the very first piped water supply for the town of Bridgend.
Schwyll – Limestone fissure
The rock beneath Southerndown Golf Club is limestone. This rock formation, with its alkaline characteristics could, and perhaps should, have influenced the topography, soil structure and vegetation of the area. At Southerndown this is not the case as more recent events - in geological terms and timescales - have greatly influenced events.
A series of extremely violent storms in the 12th century resulted in vast quantities of marine sand being deposited all along this part of the coast and the interior to a distance of a mile or so. Perhaps the most dramatic and illustrative example of the effects of these events was the overwhelming and burial of the Borough of Kenfig which to this day remains totally submerged beneath the invading sands.
At Southerndown evidence for the wind blown derivation of the sandy soil substrate lies in the topographical soil profile, with a considerable depth of pure sand at the western extremity of the course adjacent to the 2nd green tapering to a very thin covering at the 14th.
Schwyll at source
Whilst these sands were blown inland from the adjacent beaches, they originated as glaciation erosion products from the Pennant Sandstone Series of the Upper Coal Measures. These can be seen to the north of the golf course in the shape of low hills enclosing the mining valleys. The significance of this derivation to the golf course is that the Pennant sandstones are formed from the cementation of acidic silica grains and not calcium based processes. This has accordingly resulted in the formation of an acidic sandy soil overlying the limestone base rock. It provides the ideal medium for the growth of fine-leaved, drought resistant bent and fescue grasses so much desired by golf course architects and greenkeepers, and by golfers themselves.
Within 1⁄4 mile of the Clubhouse is one of the largest springs in the British Isles, and it is virtually unknown. Schwyll, The Great Spring of Glamorgan, is a freshwater rising percolating to the surface via a series of narrow, blocked fissures in the banks of the Ewenny River. The volume of outflow here is over 6 million gallons a day, by far the largest freshwater spring in Wales.
Iron Age Remains
On the hillside just above Schwyll is the site of an Iron Age hill-fort, which owes its location partly to the presence of this important source of fresh water. The track which leads from the hill-fort to St.Bride’s runs just behind the 15th white box, while another ancient track crosses most of the front nine holes on its way through Heol-y-Mynydd to Southerndown.
In 1841, stone workers digging for limestone in the area came across a cemetery of ancient graves. As well as bones, archaeologists discovered weapons such as swords and spears, together with bronze helmets decorated with gold and silver. These were identified as belonging to the Iron Age.
The track in front of the 15th white box is more recent, dating from medieval times. This is ‘Heol-y-Milwyr', the ‘Military Road’ which runs from Ogmore Castle to St Bride’s and merges with the Iron Age track just to the right of the 14th green. It marks the boundary of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast and respect for its antiquity may well impede further quarry encroachment.
Ogmore Castle was built around 1116 by the Norman conqueror, William de Londres, who claimed the land east of the Ogmore River as his lordship. By 1282 there was no male heir, and so the inheritance went to an infant, Matilda. At ten years of age she was married to Edmund Earl of Lancaster, and that is how the land on which we play our golf came to be in the possession of the Duchy of Lancaster - which today is the landed estate of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
The other local landmark often used to direct visitors to Southerndown Golf Club is a popular pub called The Pelican - or more properly ‘The Pelican in her Piety'. The pelican is a medieval symbol of selfsacrifice, because it was believed that she fed her offspring by tearing flesh from her own breast.
Pant Marie Flanders
In the Middle Ages small groups of refugees from religious persecution in the Low Countries seem to have eked out a precarious living on the Down. Virtually nothing is known about them except for the place names which have survived. Across the valley from the 6th tee is Pant Marie Flanders. This valley takes its name from a Flemish weaver who came here to help deal with the wool produced on the great sheep walk that stretched over downland and farmland alike. In the days before mains water was installed Marie Flanders’ well was an important water source not only for livestock but also for those living at Heol y Mynydd and Norton Farm.
Marie Flanders Well
The origin of the allotments beyond the 6th fairway is uncertain. Some say that they were brought under cultivation during the first or second world wars when food supplies were scarce. But although they do not feature on the OS map of 1884/85, they are clearly marked on the plans of the original 1905 lease and are referred to in the Local Rules of 1906.
These are the features that surround that part of the Ogmore Down on which Southerndown Golf Club was created: land owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, grazed by farmers with time-honoured Commoners’ rights, criss-crossed with ancient tracks which horse-riders and ramblers may use, traditionally hunted by the Glamorganshire Hunt - and for the past hundred years a major leisure resource enjoyed by golfers locally, nationally and internationally.
|1904||John Alexander’s enthusiastic ‘Founders’ Walk’|
|During 1904||Licence obtained from Duchy of Lancaster and agreement reached with Commoners|
|Winter 1904||Willie Fernie prepares temporary course of 5 holes for play in 1905|
|Spring 1905||Temporary course of 5 holes in play|
|May 1905||Daily Chronicle criticism of proposed 7170-yard length|
|5th August 1905||John Moxon’s lunch at Dunraven Arms - final decision on location of clubhouse|
|21st August 1905||Registration of Ogmore Down Golfing Society|
|12th December 1905||Statutory General Meeting of Ogmore Down Golfing Society at Dunraven Hotel|
|13th February 1906||Formation of Southerndown Golf Club|
|May 1906||Tenders for clubhouse advertised|
|23rd May 1907||Official opening of clubhouse and course|
|1907 – 1908||Herbert Fowler’s alterations|
|1913 – 1914||Willie Park’s alterations|
|June 1915||Ogmore Down Golfing Society finally wound up|
|1919 – 1920||Harry Colt’s alterations|
|1st February 1924||Present-day sequence of holes adopted|
Southerndown Golf Club
Ogmore by Sea