Rhayader man uncovers long-lost golf course in lockdown

By Craig Duggan
BBC Wales News

  • Published
Media caption,

Chris Powell said he had spent hundreds of hours clearing the land to reveal the long-lost course.

Many of us have taken on lockdown projects during the past year or so - redecorating the house, painting that garden fence, or even clearing out the attic.

But few of us will have used our time to try to uncover a long-lost golf course.

That's exactly what Chris Powell did when he started clearing bracken on common land near Rhayader, in Powys.

"I was told by one of my friends that I had lost my mind up here. But I quite enjoyed it," said Mr Powell.

The nine-hole course in mid-Wales was designed in the 1920s by Dr Alister MacKenzie, known in golfing circles as "The Course Architect".

Image caption,
Chris Powell started clearing bracken on common land near Rhayader, in Powys
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Dr Alister MacKenzie, who designed the course in the 1920s, also designed Augusta National Golf Club

Dr MacKenzie was responsible for some of the world's most famous courses, including Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, the home of the Masters, and Pebble Beach in California, which has hosted the US Open Championship.

His course in Rhayader hadn't been used for decades - until Mr Powell started to clear the bracken that had taken over.

"I'd always known about it - I came up as a kid on my pony and I'd seen a couple of the old greens, but didn't really know where many of them were," he said.

"Over the last year, I've probably spent the best part of 1,000 hours up here, either playing or cutting or doing something.

"I came up most evenings in the summer. We were locked down and there was nothing else to do, so I came up and I usually have one club, one ball and a sickle for cutting the bracken down when I lost my ball."

Image caption,
Chris Powell has been helped by the area's four-legged inhabitants

And Mr Powell has made a difference - you can now see the tees and greens and get an idea of how the course would have looked.

Putting on the greens would be very difficult, if not impossible, but Mr Powell has found some of the original holes with the metal cups still inside.

He didn't do all the clearing with the scythe in his golf bag - he took a ride-on lawn mower up the mountain, and had some help from the area's most populous inhabitants.

"The grass is never very long because it's grazed by sheep, so really the only problem was the old dead bracken at certain times [of the] year.

"In the summer the bracken grows up very high and it's almost unplayable - it can be chest high in places."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Ian Woosnam, from Powys, won the US Masters at Augusta in 1991

In 1991, Welshman Ian Woosnam, also from Powys, won the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club.

MacKenzie designed Augusta in 1931, but in the preceding decade was responsible for plotting courses big and small across the UK, including the course at Rhayader in 1925.

John Llewellyn runs the Golf's Missing Links website, which lists more than 2,000 golf courses that have been lost either to nature or development.

"Mackenzie's names are on the plans that we've seen, with his description of the course and the routing of the course and the yardages of the holes," said Mr Llewellyn.

"So it's pretty evident that he was there at that time."

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The area offers "spectacular" views over the Elan Valley in Powys

Mr Llewellyn said the views over the Elan Valley made it a "spectacular" course, although its distance from the nearest town of Rhayader would have made it difficult to get to.

Mr Powell is planning to hold a charity round of golf at the "course" to raise money for the NHS.

"I think it's probably how golf was originally intended to be played," he added.

"Peter Alliss often used to make a big thing on his commentary that Augusta was not how golf was intended to be played in the early days, and this is probably a lot more like it."

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