I’ve circled the globe a fair few times as a professional golfer. I started my career in the late 1970s, travelling across Europe in a Volkswagen Dormobile caravanette which my father bought the VW to make life on the road a little easier. The journeys were often long and I regularly had to drive through the night just to make my tee time. I always seemed to run out of petrol at the most inconvenient moments. Once, I can remember breaking down in Calais just a few hundred yards from my ferry home and wondering if I could push it onto the boat.
I guess this was character-building stuff. Friendships with my travelling companions and fellow pros were certainly forged during this time of my life. It’s this kind of camaraderie that I’ve always loved about golf, right from the first day my father took me to Llanymynech Golf Club, near where we lived on the border of Wales and England. I was just seven years old and we were a farming family, not the kind of people normally associated with the game of golf. So much for stereotypes – both my parents went on to become captains of the club.
Some people have suggested that if we’d walked into another clubhouse in another place we might not have been made so welcome and that I might never have had the opportunity to enjoy my many adventures in golf. I don’t know about that, but Llanymynech means a lot to me and things don’t seem to have changed very much there. I guess the same can be said for most of the clubs in the area.
Home at the time was Oswestry which is in England. At this point in might be worth mentioning that I was born at home, which was 200 yards into English territory. People who question my nationality on the basis of this information tend to get short shrift. As I’ve said before, I feel as Welsh as David Lloyd George, the only Welshman to have become Prime Minister of the UK. He was a fluent Welsh speaker and one of the greatest cultural icons of Wales. And he was born in Manchester.
I’ve been proud to play with the Welsh flag next to my name. If I was paid a pound every time I was asked were Wales was, or what the golf was like in my home country, I would probably have doubled my career earnings. One US journalist even asked me to explain exactly where in Scotland Wales could be found. I’ve always enjoyed the difference of being Welsh. We only had four touring golfers in Europe when David Llewellyn and myself won the World Cup in Hawaii back in 1987. Being proud of being Welsh means you’ve always got a story to tell. And golfers love stories, particularly if there’s a drink on the table.
I’m always amazed by the variety of courses in Wales, hugging the coastlines, at the top of mountains and down in valleys. "
I’m always amazed by the variety of courses in Wales, hugging the coastlines, at the top of mountains and down in valleys. People will be familiar with names like Royal Porthcawl, Royal St David’s, Aberdovey and Nefyn, but there are more than 150 courses in Wales, many of them built and maintained by the communities for the love of it, not for show. When you come across these hidden gems you soon find yourself becoming part of this great golfing family.
Now and again Wales does like to make a grand statement. The Celtic Manor Resort, venue for The 2010 Ryder Cup, proved that Wales can match any golf destination in the world. I’m proud to have been associated with the Celtic Manor since the 1990s and The Ryder Cup has given me memories that will never fade – eight times as a player, once as vice-captain in 2002 and finally as captain in 2006.
The 2010 Ryder Cup was an unforgettable event for a global audience of millions, as well as the lucky few that experienced it first-hand. It was a fantastic showcase for the warmth of hospitality, as well as the golf Wales has to offer. Best of all, it was just one example of the hugely varied golf experiences awaiting visitors to Wales.
You can feel free as a bird here, drifting from one place of natural beauty to another, playing great golf courses, eating great food and enjoying the unique welcome of Wales. Just talking about it makes me want to get back behind the wheel of the Dormobile and head out there.