Bulwell Forest – A Course For All Seasons

What a winter we have had it just does not want to go away, never mind using a golf buggy on the course, a boat would have been more appropriate to get around! There is only a hand full of local courses that can take such a battering from the awful weather we’ve had, and one of these is Bulwell Forest, built on sand stone this course drains really well and thank goodness for that because at the time of writing this I still had not swung a club in 2018!

Let’s get to the point, this course is a lot better than you may first imagine, on first impressions you might think it’s not in the best position against a ring road and a large housing-estate, but you would be wrong to think that because this is the original Nottingham Club and I just love the layout. You have some majestic tee shots and some cracking par 3s to test the very best golfer, theses vary from 93yards to 200 yards.

The Club house benefitted from a refurbishment a few years ago, and they serve a good breakfast and nice pint too. The pro shop will keep you stocked up on balls, chocolate bars and water. This is a very friendly club and relaxed, just the type of course to invite your mates to, especially those that haven’t played in a while. So instead of a hole by hole review, I’ll introduce you to some that I think you’ll enjoy.

You will find there is no par 5 on the front for men and just one for the ladies. The first few holes 1-3, are the ones to help you get warmed up, they’re quite forgiving and you stand a good chance of getting a par on at least one of these. Hole 4 is 255 yards and a par 4. Even though it’s stoke index 16, if you have a slight slice or draw from your tee shot it will leave you a lot to do. Why? Because down the right is out of bounds and down the left are dense trees. To make this a little bit more difficult there are a couple of trees in about 100 yards blocking your straight shot to the green, forcing you to go left.

Put it this way – I walked off with a 7 and Newby a 5 – it could have been a lot worse. Moving on to hole 7, this is a very short par 3, 93 yards uphill. Directly behind the back of the green is a large netting to stop you hitting it onto the road. I always struggle with really short holes, I’m either hitting it way too far or way too short! Newby opted for a 9 iron and a gentle swing which looked like it hit the green. I opted for the same and it looked like mine did also. When we got up there Newby had managed to find a hole in the net! I managed just to cling on and a gentle tap with the sand wedge left me an easy putt for a par. Basically a pitching wedge would suffice. This is the start of 2 of my favourite holes, the 8th a 325 par 4, this is what I call a driving hole. An elevated tee looking down onto a sweeping fairway which goes to the right. For you right handers it should be an easy shot, but for us ‘lefty’s’ with a bit of a slice it could end up on the next fairway. In true Lefty style this is exactly what I did. I had to play my second shot from the 12th fairway. The green on the eighth is massive, so fortunately for me my second shot landed on the green but still left me a 40-foot putt. Now we start to climb back up – the 9th, 311 yards par 4 / index 2. Don’t get caught out on this hole like I did, it’s all about your second shot. It looks, from standing on the fairway, that the green is closer than it is, when in fact it is a lot further back, on a hill. So, do not under club! If I had known this I probably would have got a par.

The back 9 really vary from hole to hole. A good example of this is the 10th, which is a blind uphill tee shot with your second shot having to go over a big dip and hit an elevated green. You have to be accurate and hit it with a lot of power. Not many will walk away with a par on this one. As you get to the 15th the course opens up again giving you the opportunity to hit big long drives which are very enjoyable to play.

The 17th is another cracking par 3, it’s a good old way at 200 yards again so you need to crank up the power. The course finishes with a gentle par 4 winding its way back to the club house.

Over all I like Bulwell Forest, it’s a course I could quite happily play every week, the green keepers do a cracking job of keeping it in great condition despite the locals (some of whom don’t seem to appreciate what a lovely oasis of green this is!) in fact when you play here you get the sense that this is like the start of Hollinwell in some places. If you were looking to become a member of a club then you’re going to be hard set to find a friendlier place and this course offers real value for money.

Cavendish Golf Club – Buxton

If I met Dr Alister MacKenzie…

…which is unlikely, since he sadly died in 1934, I would buy him a pint of beer and tell him that I played golf like him! MacKenzie was self-described as a “good putter, but a mediocre ball striker”, the latter bit I know my golfing partners will argue with because on a bad day I can be rubbish. On the greens however I’m happy just like MacKenzie.

Now, following in the footsteps of MacKenzie at the only original MacKenzie course left untouched in the world, Cavendish Golf Club Buxton, I would go as far as to say I would add a wee dram or two to the aforementioned beer.

As we set out for Buxton the sun shone brilliantly on a March day. The temperature dropped slowly as we approached Buxton and then rose steadily to be the most glorious day with blue sky, moving white clouds and a brisk wind gusting at times. A perfect golfing day for us.

We were greeted, and given our scorecards, by Rachel a very chirpy person indeed who bemoaned the fact she hadn’t had her hair done for us coming. Fortunately as it was a windy day ours didn’t look great! So she beat us hands down.

I have to say that the all round welcome we received was an improvement from my last visit more than ten years ago. That may sound a bit critical but attitudes have had to change in the world of golf due to economic pressure and the rise in people who play on a more ad hoc basis. Clubs have to be more open to visitors and view them as a lifeline to financial stability. Membership at Buxton though still provides great value for money for the weekly golfer.

Secretary Mike Watson  and club Professional Simon Townend were the perfect hosts and we sat together enjoying breakfast, discussing the course which they are rightly proud of.

Cavendish Golf Club have got together with nine other  imaginatively designed MacKenzie courses all within easy reach of Buxton to form an ‘alliance’, so that you are encouraged to play them all.  The first to play is naturally Buxton as it is the most authentic MacKenzie course to survive and MacKenzie’s inspiration for Augusta, which, among other courses, has altered beyond recognition to accommodate the modern game and TV thereby losing it’s complete authenticity, I would be so bold to say. When Ford stopped producing the Cortina and introduced the Sierra to keep up with modern demands the Cortina was dead and buried. If you change a golf course to accommodate current trends the ‘Old Course’ has sadly gone. I can now put the soap box back in the cupboard!

We smiled as Mike showed us a book that he had been reading about a MacKenzie golf course in Ireland, which I will not name here, whose members thought the MacKenzie course wasn’t hard enough so changed it all round. So much for history Eh?

I read with interest the Cavendish Golf Club’s web page before we arrived. It states “Cavendish is thought by some to be Dr MacKenzie’s most accomplished work in the UK and quite possibly the best layout in the world under 6000 yards. It illustrates how skilfully and creatively he blended the layout of the golf course into the surrounding landscape. Nothing jars the eye, nor distracts from the beauty of the natural setting. Those outstanding course design skills, which brought Alister MacKenzie international acclaim when he created the magnificent Augusta National course, in association with Bobby Jones, were developed and honed during his formative years in Great Britain. Cavendish exemplifies MacKenzie’s belief that “length has nothing to do with the quality of a hole”. I couldn’t beat that description so I won’t try because I agreed with it all even on a March day.

With all this rattling in my brain Simon, Lefty and myself headed out onto the course. We were a man down as Newby hurt his back chopping a tree down on Sunday and then attempted  to play the Brabazon two days later and did more damage, so I decided to play along with Simon and Lefty, whilst I took photographs and wrote about my experience. Not the ideal way  to concentrate on your next shot  but nothing could take away the classy style of this course. I think MacKenzie was a typical Yorkshire man (we could be invaded soon!)  “give nowt away” and this course doesn’t. Bunkers are placed to deceive the eye. You think they protect the green only to find the green another fifty yards or so further on. I considered withdrawing my offer of the wee dram at times… but it still stands.

The Clubhouse is light and airy but Mike said that a revamp is long overdue, so it is due for a complete overhaul. The plans are on display as you walk into the Mackintosh style entrance.  Budgets have been set and work was due to commence two days after our departure. From what we saw it will be a great improvement.

I read one report recently on Cavendish which said it was a bit wet underfoot! It’s Buxton we are talking about here, you get what you get. I lived in Buxton fifty years ago and you accept that it has it’ own climate. Even a Derbyshire Cricket Club match was abandoned here in 1975 due to a heavy snow storm. Some say it was only hail but I was putting a tent up in a friend’s garden in Fairfield that day and I say it was snow as the pictures taken can prove!

Time for golf

At 5721 yards off the yellows this isn’t the longest course you will play but then MacKenzie didn’t worry about that as his idea was to give the golfer a challenge and Cavendish certainly does. He used the natural contours of the land, no earth-movers, just hard hand labour to make a course that blends in and weaves through the  countryside. Nothing is forced it’s just natural, but really tricky to play.

We all got away nicely on the first hole including me! Simon, who has been the Professional here for 18 years went a bit to the left which surprised me! Not really, he was a great sport showing me and Lefty the way and having lots of banter all the way round. The first is a nice par four that slopes a little right to left. Avoiding the trees to the right is important.

It was great to go round with the professional pointing out the features of the course and advising on shots. He got us chipping onto the green at the 15th to see if any of us, including himself, could get near the hole from the back of the green. Even on a green that was a bit wet we couldn’t stop the ball rolling away. He was pointing out the importance of getting the tee shot right on this hole to give you a chance of a decent score. MacKenzie was sadistic!

Take the 122 yard par 3 4th for instance. The pin looks miles away, somewhere  down there over the small stream. Simon, annoyingly,  hit the green, Lefty went right into a bush and I completely over-hit and went across the road into a ditch. On the plus side I missed the stream, lake, bunkers and bush! 122 yards, that’s putting distance nearly.

The sloping third green is great, especially if you end up topside of the hole.  I went into the bunker – great! If you put the ball to the right of the green –  that’s so wrong. Stay left and the putt will be easy on the very quick level green. I think this was my best hole, I went a bit downhill from there!

I loved the 8th. We rounded the corner from the 7th and the sun shone down beautifully as the wind just hit us in the face. Simon’s tee shot held up in the air and dropped nicely on the fairway. A big hit but the wind affected distance. My tee shot went off left down the slope leaving a very tricky ‘back up the hill’ shot. The rewards of approaching the green are the most amazing views of the Derbyshire countryside and you become master of all you survey. I do have to admit that one of the attractions of golf for me is the chance to be in the countryside. Perhaps that is why I don’t play too well as I am easily distracted by a beautiful view.  I just can’t help admiring what I see. While some rush to the next shot I want to take in where I am. On the 10th it is vital to get the first shot right, making the second over the plateau below and small stream, and up to the green a massive chance of getting a par. This should be the signature hole I feel.

During the winter some of the self planted trees have been cleared, opening up views to the clubhouse and allowing the wind and sun to dry out the course naturally. The 14th is the only par 5 shot on the course and being stroke index 7 is quite a challenge, in contrast the 5th is stroke index one. But then again that’s an uphill haul and presents a real challenge not just in hitting the ball but getting your breath!

Playing the 18th through the tunnel of trees provided the final challenge of getting across the ravine onto the plateau beyond after which it’s a good run to the green. Lefty and I both failed and so Simon said “try that again”. I told you he was fun at the start of this article didn’t I? We did as we were told and hit our shots high and long landing on the fairway, perfectly positioned for  our second shot. (If you believe that twaddle you’ve had far too many pints of Thwaites bitter). My balls are still down there. I’ll be pleased if you find them because it means you’re down there too. Two can play this sadistic game.

Simon has been the `professional at Buxton for eighteen years and despite other job offers from this country and Europe, has stayed put, and I can see why. Lets face it, he’s quite unique being  one in seventy two worldwide as there are only seventy two MacKenzie clubs left and Buxton is an original. As he went off happily to give a lesson to someone he said “anytime you fancy teeing off early this summer lads, give me a call and I’d love to play another round with you”. That’s an offer we will definitely take up as long as he plays off yellows this time!

Trent Lock Golf Club

Teeing off at Trent Lock Golf Club was quite an experience. I made sure my stance was correct, I had the right club, there was a ball at my feet and for once never took my eyes off it. Everything was right for the perfect tee off. Imagine my horror as the ball bounced off a cannon, straight into Captain Jack Sparrow and landed back at my feet.  Aha the curse of the Black Pearl.

When I had arrived at Trent Lock Golf Club the music from Pirates of the Carribean drifted across towards me. It’s a pity the film wasn’t called “Bandits of the Carribean” I thought as we unloaded our clubs. It would have been more fitting. The preceding few frosty days had turned into an absolute beauty for us with the temperature hitting a dizzy 8 degrees and the sun shining brightly.  I nearly had to remove a layer of clothing! I’m not sure how you folk go on playing golf during winter but I hate being cluttered with clothing. So, I’m relieved when at this time of year we get a better climate.

The entrance to the clubhouse at Trent Lock is most impressive, in fact the whole setup is pretty swish. It’s open, light and airy with loads of space. The price for food is very competitive too. We decided to await food until after our round. How controversial is that after complaining last year that I couldn’t get a bacon bap before I teed off.  We golfer’s are a fickle bunch.

We were to be accompanied on our round by greenkeeper Luke Johnson, who was being paid to play with us. It’s a hard life isn’t it? We were grateful for his company though as without him we would have got ourselves pretty lost.  A course planner would have helped but then again Lefty, after requesting one from Secretary Ian Cooper, promptly left it in his boot whilst changing into his golf shoes.

Chatting to Secretary Ian Cooper he explained that they were on temporary greens that day, but we were privileged to go on the proper ones as we were writing about the course. (Visitors keeping the members off the greens Grrrrrr!) Being situated near the River Trent, the name of the club gives it away. A few courses near here suffer when the winters are wet, and this winter has been a pretty wet one. However, we were happy to find that throughout our round the ground was nice and firm with the greens speeding up as the day progressed and the sun shone. We could see that the water levels in the ponds and ditches was reasonably high especially at the 18th but nothing to worry us. It’s nice when people drain the course before we arrive!

We thoroughly enjoyed playing here, even though our standard of golf certainly showed up the poor amount of outings over the winter.  The beauty of it was, that we weren’t under any pressure to perform (thankfully) and could just enjoy the course for what it was and observe the changes that have, and are being made.  Ian pointed out the changes to  the 1st hole with the green being brought back10 yards, bringing 2 tiers into play. On the right, posh new fencing (“It cost a fortune” said proprietor Edward McCausland “but it’s of the highest quality”) has gone up to stop the driving range balls coming onto the course. Starting off with a Par 5 stroke index 10 is great I always feel, as there’s time to settle down.  At 533 yards it is straight and true with trees to the left and water to the right and should provide a steady par to get you off to a good start. However this course comes with a sting in the tail as the 18th is a 147 yard Par 3 purely over water, no excuses, your 1st shot has to be spot on, which mine wasn’t, with 3 off the tee to my shame. The 1st shot was a swan getter! I missed those too.

The 2nd hole was a dogleg right but, is now a dogleg left which didn’t cheer Lefty up as he observed all the OOB signs down the left of the fairway.  Luke just did what he did all the round and played a good tee shot and bent it left and safely onto the fairway. How annoying it must be to play like that! It’s a Par 4 but you can play it as Par 5! Well there are bunkers to hold you up. But this is a great addition to the course and makes it more of a thinking and challenging hole. I like the fact that changes are constant on golf courses. It makes each round more interesting.trent-easy-!-Golf-Spring-2016

The bunkers at Trent Lock are there to protect the green but they aren’t at the front they are either side. If you are a straight hitter you’re okay here. Be wayward and you’re in trouble big time. To say how much rain we’ve had and how high the water table is, the bunkers were extremely well to play out of and I should know I went in a few. The sand, specially imported from Cheshire, doesn’t compact as much as some, making it fine and not clingy, so that your club moves through it with ease. See, I told you I’d been in some, well most.

Moving onto holes 3 to 9 we were mindful that the mowers hadn’t been out for a day or so to do the rough, but even so this made playing careful golf essential. The rough actually wasn’t too long and getting out was a case of right club’ right swing. It took me a while to sort that out as I got snagged a few times. More of a chop than a swing was needed. That’s a new golf term for me by the way ‘chop shot’. Looking at the scorecard after 9 holes the course record was very much intact!

Hole 3, I got a Par. In fact I did well on all the par 3’s except 18th, underlying the fact that I must improve my long game. I was resisting using my driver but decided to give it a try on a couple of holes which caused mirth and merriment for  Luke and Lefty.

Hole 9 a very short Par 3 (100 yards) over water, was a hole too short for Lefty as he went into the water twice.

I went one better as the water came into play on the 10th. I made all the right approach shots and ended up needing a chip across the water onto the green. Lining my shot up, I was horrified to see it hit the water 10 yards from where I stood. I spun round in disgust to look at Lefty who was taking photographs only to hear cries from Luke who was near the green. Lefty was laughing too.  Apparently it’s the best shot Luke has seen! My ball did hit the water, but bounced off and hit the bank, shot onto the green and hit the lip of the hole and stopped six inches away from it. Definite gimme that one, and that’s why I play golf, for the sheer surprise. As the water meanders through the course, the trains trundle along the bridge, the swans waddle  around and cyclist go along the footpath to the right of the course, it makes for a very picturesque and interesting days golf. The two par 4 14th  on the back 9 take you on a collision course with disaster. Get over the water, off the tee and you are away. Miss and it’s trouble. On the 17th, which again was a hole I was playing well, until I hit the only bunker that had been left in after they had moved the green to make it a dogleg left! Brilliant. You either want to play with me or you don’t as there’s two aspects to my game, entertainment and frustration. I was going to say it’s a bit like watching Forest but that may make coming back into Nottinghamshire tricky. Just look at the trouble Robin Hood had.

Bidding farewell to Luke who had endured the longest round of his life as we played, talked, took photographs and generally had a relaxing day with no one following us we headed for the clubhouse and food. As I mentioned, the food is well priced which would suit most golfers.  We managed a brief chat to proprietor Eddie who is very keen to keep up the progress and changes at Trent Lock. Trent Lock has definitely matured as a course and our impression of the greens, fairways and clubhouse make it a course we would love to play again come the summer months. I get the feeling that it becomes such a different course when, as most courses do, you can get more run on the fairways, giving you the chance of a lower score.

Our thanks to Eddie, Ian and Luke for a great days golf.