The RhonddaValleys and Rhondda Golf Club
The History of the Rhondda Valleys Before coal was mined in the area known then as Ystradyfodwg - later to become known as the Rhondda Valleys - the area was amongst the most picturesque in Wales. It was described by Charles Cliffes as having "meadows of emerald greenness", and the air as being "aromatic with the scent of wild flowers and mountain plants" By the time the area became known as the Rhondda Valleys, the description would have dramatically changed, and few places in the Valleys had escaped the blackness from the coal dust that spread through the Rhondda rivers and covered the Rhondda mountains with coal waste. Many Rhondda women died during childbirth, which certainly in the early days would be in their own homes. Even if mother and baby survived childbirth, child mortality was high due to their living conditions, poor diets, and the many diseases that were prevalent in those days. Because many were widowed either by accidents at the mines or during childbirth, many would have been married more than once. It was essential for a man to find a new wife to care for his surviving children, and for a woman to find a new husband to provide an income - there was no national assistance in those days. So, the background of the Rhondda Valleys was one of hard work, poverty, bereavement, and in many cases short lives.
An article from the Rhondda Leader dated 14th May 1910 entitled ‘The Joys of Golf’ showed both photographic and editorial evidence that golf was already being played at the Rhondda Golf Club at Gelli Farm on the breezy down of the Gilfach Goch mountain, situated in the centre of the valley at Tonypandy.
This was at Gellifaliog Farm situated on that side of the mountain and adjacent to the Nantgwyn Collieries.
There is no longer any visual evidence of the original course due to housing. However, there is a photograph of the area showing the Nantgwyn Collieries and adjacent fields. From available information we are aware of the site of the original course, its location and we know it was only a 9 hole course. The mountain side above the area was already being mined for coal and quarried for stone, so further development would have been limited.
The official opening of the pavilion and links in Tonypandy took place on Thursday June 9th 1910. Mr Leonard Llewellyn President drove off the first ball, and a foursome match was played between himself and Dr. Gabe Jones against Dr. T R Llewellyn and Mr Frank D Llewellyn. The match was won by two holes by Dr. TR & Mr FD Llewellyn. Mr E R Thomas, Secretary had appointed handicaps for some games played at this time and Mr John Lewis returned the best score on the day. It was believed that Dr J D Jenkins, Medical Health Office to the Rhondda and Captain from 1910-1921, initiated a meeting that was held in the Porth Hotel in 1910 for people interested to amalgamate establishing golf clubs, and to consider building a centrally situated 18 hole golf course in Penrhys by leasing land adjacent to Penrhys Isaf Farm.
Dr Jenkins apparently learnt his golf skills whilst a member at Radyr Golf Club, where he was quite successful and won a number of meetings organised by the Welsh Golfing Union. He won the Trubshaw Trophy on two occasions and the JA Jones bowl based at Radyr off a 9 handicap.
The location of the colliery adjacent to the course may well have had something to do with re-location of the club, having only opened earlier in that year. Unfortunately a number of the records covering the earlier years were lost due to a fire at the Rhondda Club House in 1959.
On visiting the original site in Tonypandy, the idea to build another course may well have been facing them every time they played golf. Directly opposite the valley was the wide open space on top of the mountain. This would have looked inviting for an 18 hole course, as it indeed it still looks today. Mr Leonard Llewellyn and others would have had knowledge of the availability of land to lease, who to contact and to how to finance the development.
Mr JF Abercrombie an architect of some note was commissioned to draw up plans for an 18 hole golf course. Work commenced on the course in 1911, and with mine owners permission, ready labour may have been provided by miners to earn extra money. Initial work was undertaken to enable play as early as 1911and with little expenditure.
It was noted in an article by the Rhondda Leader in Feb 1911 “ That few clubs had better prospects than the Rhondda Golf Club where in addition to Mr Leonard Llewellyn, the club has succeeded in securing the valuable assistance of Mr Rhys Williams of Miskin Manor on whose land the major portion of the links are situated. Messrs Treharne and Treharne, Pentre locally represent Mr Llewellyn of Baglan Hall on whose estate the clubhouse and five holes will be built and the Crawshay Bailey Estate owners have promised a handsome subscription and the Crawshay Bailey Challenge Cup”.
The road between Ystrad and Tylorstown was not completed until 1920, so access to Penrhys in 1911 would have been limited. Penrhys could only be reached by the parish road that ran through the course. This was a well used track wide enough to take a horse and trap from the Porth end of the valley and similar tracks from the Fach and Fawr sides. The original parish road is still in use and runs through the course. Access to the course in the early 1900’s could have been reached by walking, horseback or by horse drawn carriages. Trams were operating down on the valley floor, but were limited at this time. Motorised transport would have been a luxury available to very few.
The formation of a Golf Club at this time must have been in sharp contrast to the hardship that was being experienced by the majority of families, who were very poor, and struggling to exist on their limited income. There will be later reference in this book to events that took place around the inception of the Club and special mention of the Tonypandy riots that were caused by the reduction of wages paid to miners in 1910.
It may be suggested that due to limited social entertainment and discouragement by church elders for professional people to enter public houses that a golf club would have been an ideal cover for socialising away from the Valleys. Records show that in 1904 the mining population of Rhondda was over 110,000 and still expanding so in 1910 it must have been a very unhealthy place to live.