The wind was howling, blowing caps and stray bits of paper across the lush hills and valleys of the South Wales countryside, scattering golf balls into trees and meadows.

For two hours Thursday morning, the first day of the first Welsh Golf Classic, it poured and the harsh wind seemed to make the driving rain come from all directions at once.

A succession of soaked golfers, their scores ranging from a remarkable 64 (Pip Elson) to several suitably disheveled 84 described the weather variously as "diabolical," "abominable," "ghastly," "frightful" and "impossible."

By early afternoon, the rain had stopped but gray clouds still zoomed overhead, and the wintry wind bent trees at right angles.

Twenty-three would-be spectators huddled in a refreshment tent, some sipping tea, others whiskey, wondering as the canvas flapped and the aluminum supports clanged whether the whole structure would collapse momentarily.

At the first tee, where the last threesomes in the 130-man field chasing a $60,000 purse were about to hit off, the chilled starter's lips were turning as blue as his cardigan.

He announced bravely, to a grand total of three onlookers, that David Chillas, representing Scotland's Ben Mohr Hotel, Peter Barber of the Gog Magog Golf Club in Cambridge (named for the gods who, in olden times, were presumed to be protectors of the city), and Adam Sowa of Argentina were about to tee off.

At roughly the same time, on the other side of the rambling brick and stone structure that used to be Wenvoe Castle, former British and U.S. open champion Tony Jacklin was completing his round in even-par 71.

He was three under par until a bogey on 17 and a double bogey at the 397-yard finishing hole, where his good chip shot unluckily hit a bump in the fairway and kicked dead right into a bunker.

"Desperate conditions today, but this is typical of what you expect over here," the frustrated Jacklin said. "It's the middle of June now, we could have had a perfect summer's day to play in. Who would have known that you'd need two sweaters and a sou-wester? It's crazy. But that's Britain, you know."

Welcome to the Wenvoe Castle Golf Club, just outside Cardiff, and this week's stop on the European Professional Golf Tour.

Most Americans tend to be rather provincial in their understanding of professional sports.

They think, incorrectly, that topflight baseball is played only in their major leagues, that the Super Bowl is a football game of global consequence, and that the Stanley Cup is truly the world championship of ice hockey.

In golf, they assume the sun rises and sets only on the U.S. PGA Tour, and that - with the possible exception of the British Open, where 30-odd of the best American golfers compete with the elite players from the rest of the world - the golf universe stretches only from Pebble Beach to Augusta.

But there is another whole world of professional golf.

By American standards, playing conditions often seem other-worldly, but what U.S. players and officials sometimes dismiss condescendingly as "the overseas circuits" comprise a considerable chunk of the world game.

The European Tournament Players Division includes professional and open championship in 11 countries - Great Britain, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Sweden, Poland, Germany and Switzerland - over a seven-month period, with prize money of between $3 million and $4 million.

In the offseason, the European tour also coordinates and sends a contingent of players and officials to a series of tournaments in Africa.

Poisonous snakes in bunkers, attempted coup d'etats, and natives washing their laundry in water hazards and hanging it in fairways to dry have necessitated some tricky local rulings, but, nevertheless, the Nigerian, Kenyan and Zambian opens are events of growing stature.

Because of limited funds for sponsorship and course maintenance and the unwillingness of government operated television networks to fatten purses with huge TV rights, the European tour likely will never approach its U.S. counterpart in slick presentation, wealth or overall standard of play.

Nor will the Welsh Golf Classic, a typical first-year event, which its eager promoters admit is being run on a shoestring budget - ever be confused with the U.S. Open, which this week briefly grabbed away the brightest star of European golf: Severiano Ballesteros.

But for most of the leading golfers of Britain, Ireland, the continent, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and South America, plus a few Americans prepping for a fling at the big time back home, the European tour is a haven and a heaven - competitive, challenging, rewarding, but not so high-pressure that it has ceased to be fun.

"As far as prize money, we now place third among the world's circuits, behind the U.S. and Japanese tours," said Tony Gray, one of two traveling tournament directors on the European tour. "As far as playing standards, we rate ourselves joint second, alongside Japan."

Charismatic Seve Ballesteros is the current superstar, the leader of the European money and Order of Merit lists the past three years, winner of more than $110,000 in tournaments last year. But Tony Jacklin is the man who "made" the European tour a decade ago.

By winning the British Open in July 1969, and the U.S. Open 11 months later, Jacklin did for golf in Britain what Arnold Palmer had done for it in America a decade before.

He made it attractive to sponsors and television, to the man in the board room and the man in the street.

The upsurge in European tournaments, from the pre-1970 level of $10,000 to $15,000 weekly purses totalling less than a quarter-million dollars for the season, was a direct result of Jacklin's popularity. But it left him, as he puts it, "tossed between two shores."

"Sponsors in Britain said they would treble the purse for a tournament but only if I played. So there was pressure to play over here, but I also wanted to prove myself in the United States."

Jacklin, whose determination and performance almost certainly were diminished by the fact that his 1969-70 exploits put him on Easy Street for life, played the U.S. tour on the off for a decade. He won the Jacksonville Open twice, which until Ballesteros won the Greater Greensboro Open last year, made him the only modern European golfer to have won a U.S. tour event.

Still only 34, Jacklin gave up the U.S. tour three years ago to play full time again in Europe. He has not won a tournament in five years, and only recently has shown signs of coming out of a prolonged, dreadful slump.

But though he ranked only 37th on the Order of Merit list last season, earning barely $15,000 in 19 tournaments, Jacklin still is a draw, very much in demand, just as Palmer is in the United States.

Jacklin says he easily can make in excess of $100,000 a year in offcourse endorsements, exhibitions and corporate "VIP outings."

He is the only player in the Welsh Classic receiving "appearance money." He was paid 2,000 pounds (about $4,000) to come to Wenvoe Castle this week instead of taking a planned rest at his home in Jersey in the Channel Islands. (The promoters also had agreed to pay Ballesteros $10,000 - "We met his terms," as they put it - but he decided to play in the U.S. Open, where he failed to make the cut).

"I had 10 years in America, which I enjoyed thoroughly, but then my circumstances and ambitions changed," Jacklin said this week.

"When I first went there, my wife and I didn't have any children, and we just went around with a couple of suitcases. Then three kids came along, and we needed a base and a home.

"Also, and maybe this was just me, the life on the U.S. tour seemed to change. Ten years ago, when Vivien and I first went over to America, young couples went out together in the evenings. We had a nice dinner and a bottle of wine, a talk and a laugh.

"The last few years I was there, it wasn't like that anymore. There's so much money around, it has become dog eat dog.

"You'd go into a restaurant and there'd be four pros in there, and they're all sitting on different tables on their own. They don't take a drink and don't socialize because their coaches told them they'll never be great players unless they keep their nose to the grindstone.

"So for me, it was no longer the way I wanted it to be. You only live once, so you better enjoy it. If I hadn't played in one tournament in America, I'd always have wondered. But now I'm not wondering anymore, and I'm very content playing in Europe."

Jacklin and his colleagues agree that the camaraderie he so relished still exists on the European tour, where golfers frequently travel as a group, stay at the same hotels, take their meals together and swap stories over pints of lager.

Jacklin reckons the life is a bit like it was on the preprosperity U.S. tour, when players were scrambling to eke out a living. In European golf there is still something of that pioneer spirit, especially on the continent. Course conditions and bungled organization can be maddening. A golfer must learn to laugh through adversity. That can be a character-building experience, and it builds delightful characters.

"The one thing I miss about the United States, as a golfer, is the conditions we played under, which were superb," said Jacklin.

"The courses are immaculate because Americans have the money, the manpower and the expertise to groom golf courses and maintain them. The organization is first-class because the tour is well-financed and staffed.

"Every opportunity is given to the players to perform their best, and it's a fair test of skill. Every foreign player who has ever played in America will tell you that.It's the greatest place in the world, as far as conditions are concerned.

"Over here, you learn to take potluck. Some weeks you're going to play on a good course, and some weeks you're not. Maybe the greenskeeper knows what he's doing and maybe he doesn't.

"You know you're going to have to accept bad kicks and bounces. Like today, on the 18th, I was so mad I could have cried. I hit a good shot, and I wound up in the sand trap, through no fault of my own.

"So you coe off, seethe for half an hour, and then say to ourself whatever it takes to make you go out and play again tomorrow.

"I found it difficult to cope with when I came back from America. I was spoilt to hell. I would come in and bitch about the conditions and how unlucky I was. Now I just bite my lip and take it philosophically.

"Some Americans come over here - usually for one week, to play the British Open - and they're so used to playing in perfect conditions that they say 'Goddam, the fairways are bumpy, the wind is blowing like crazy, who can play golf in weather like this?'

"The fact is you can't, but the great ones have done it. Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Tom Weiskopf - they are the ones who have been good enough to adapt to any conditions and perform, that's what it's all about."

A friend who had taken a week's vacation to help Gwynne Jones of Cardiff and Keith Brain of Machester run the tournament came into the office at Wenvoe Castle.

"Do you think the promoters of the U.S. Open are sitting around in a scruffy little room like this, counting spectators, with people barging in every two minutes saying, 'So and so has lost his dog,'" wondered Brain. "Do you imagine that's what the USGA chaps in their blazers are doing today?"

In the parking lot behind Wenvoe Castle, policeman Clive Griffiths - an outgoing man who typifies the friendly, hospitable people who make South Wales a traveler's delight- waved to an Australian golfer who had just emerged from a phone booth and given him a high sign.

"When he drove in here this morning he asked me who was the good-looking policewoman at the front gate," explained Griffiths.

"I said, 'You fancy her then?" He said, 'Do you think she'd want to go out with me tonight? I'm just off to play golf but could you have a word with her and get her phone number?'"

The friendly local policeman held up his hand. The number was written in ink on his palm.

"He just called her, I guess he's got it all arranged," said the matchmaking bobbie. He looks happy, doesn't he?"

The Australian had shot 75, but that was forgotten until tomorrow. He was happy. For a happy-go-lucky Aussie, golf in Europe may not be glamorous, but it certainly is amorous. CAPTION: Picture, Hale Irwin congratulates his wedge after chipping in for birdie on third hole. UPI