County Golfer has for the past couple of years been trying to review Matlock Golf Course, but kept getting told “No, we are not ready for you yet!” In the words of Christian, the Club Pro, “We are on a two year project to return the course back to having a moorland feel about it.”
They have done this by lowering the cut of the whole course from the rough to the greens, and encouraging the moorland heather and the gorse bushes to return. So when we got the call to say that they were ready for us and that the course is the best it’s been for years, the golf bags were in the boot quicker than the boss could say “is it not your day to cover the office?” Matlock Golf Course is positioned on the east side edge of the Peak District; high on the hills looking across the historical Derwent Valley with the Bentley Brook meandering through the course.
Newby and Stav were down to review the course but after Newby retired with his dodgy hips yours truly Lefty was parachuted in to take over. Newby had very kindly got a par for me on the 2nd par 3before he retired, so it would only be fair if I carried on in the same vein. I got to warm up on the 3rd479 yard par 5, I watched a couple of members tee off and both of them went up the right of the fairway, and I could see why as the fairway slopes right to left. If you don’t push it up the right far enough your ball will roll down into the rough, both Stav and I followed their lead. Now, if you are a big hitter you could go for the green in two, but as I’m not, I got myself within a wedge of the green which was the right option as I got a par. Well Newby did set the standard.
Standing on the 4th par 3,165yard, both Stav and I were having a right moan, because looking down to the green off the tee you could see that it sloped left to right giving no chance of the ball sticking on the green. “Why make a green like this we said?” Surely you have to give golfers a chance if they play a good shot andnot make it so that if you hit the green your ball rolls off! Both Stav and I hit the green, and as you can guess, the balls both rolled off. I was having a right chunter on the way to the green, and then I realised the green is actually flat; it was an optical illusion caused by sloping hills making it look like the green sloped. So actually it was just my bad tee shot; no excuses!
It does take you about 3 holes to get your eye in and get used to the terrain. This is evident especially on the 5th. Christians own words are, “A tough hole that has been the ruin of many a promising score card.” What makes this hole a potential card wrecker is first, you must clear about 150 yards of rough that drops into a deep gully. Clearing this still leaves a long uphill approach. Reaching the green can very easily lead to the ‘3 putt walk of shame’ both Stav and I walked off with a 7! Don’t worry though, that’s only the stroke index 3! Hole 6 is the stroke index 1. You do find that on most of the holes you need a good tee shot to avoid the rough. So if you are starting out in this game, I would suggest you visit their new driving range before you hit the course. The 6th is a good example of what I’m talking about; only a good tee shot will do here. There is a lot of heavy rough off the front of the tee. Then you must navigate from an undulating fairway to a narrow elevated green. If you walk away with a bogey you have played it well.
Now you might at this point be thinking “blinking heck! This course sounds tough.” It’s not if you stay on the fairway; this is a thinkers course. Sometimes the driver is not the right option. This course makes you think hard about how you’re going to play each hole before you tee off. Stav and I had many an in depth conversation , standing on the tee discussing the best way to play and which club to use; it makes you focus on the golf. Don’t get me wrong, you do have some holes you should be parring. The14th is one of these. It’s a short par 4 only 255 yards; it’s a blind tee shot to the green but you can drive it. If you have never had an eagle before then this hole will give you your best chance.
Matlock makes good use of the hills. A good example of this is a cracking par 3, hole 10; you could say it’s their signature hole, certainly a strong contender. You stand on a high, elevated tee with a shot across a ravine of ferns, heather and gorse to a green that’s cut into the hillside with bunkers front right and side left. It’s a cracking hole and if played right will become one of your favourites. I must mention that Stav went off the back of the green but chipped in for a birdie; funnily enough it’s Stavs favourite hole on the course! The back 9 uses the hills well, giving you some cracking views off the tee, especially when the cloud came down leaving whisps of it in the valley.
Overall Matlock Golf Course is somewhere special. The work carried out has vastly improved the playing conditions and it is well on its way to becoming a moorland course that will have you using your full arsenal of clubs. If you have not played Matlcok GC before then I would advise you to get a four ball together, hire a buggy and enjoy this corner of Derbyshire. It will give your golf a fair challenge and leave you wanting to come back to see if you could better your score. Card Wrecker the 5th at 403yards (Sally Gunnell will not help you here). Signature hole 10th par 3 (clouds kissing the hill behind the green, elevated tee looking down on the green, picture perfect). Cracking driving hole 17th par 4 (it’s all down hill from this tee to the green).
The Moorland course at Breadsall Priory was designed by architect Donald Steele back in 1991 and is viewed by many as the Priory’s little brother course. However, to the members this has always been the course of choice.
Why so? Well, there’s no doubt that visually the Priory is an outstanding golf course and a photographers dream, with its big green rolling fairways, huge undulations, beautiful water features and mature trees, it really does look spectacular. However, in the words of the Moorland creator, Donald Steele;
“Making courses impossible is easy. Spectacular holes undoubtedly lift any course but enjoyment is the watchword and golfers find little enjoyment in losing balls attempting long carries over water or in knee high rough. Too much modern architecture is the slave to colour, irrigation, power and the lob wedge” In short then, how spectacular a golf course looks comes second to how it actually plays.And that is where the Moorland course wins with its members.
We had chosen the best day of the year so far, blazing sunshine and blue skies met us on our arrival.As this was our first round of the year, we were keen to see if we had lost any of our sharpness from the previous year.
Test number one; we arrived at 10:30 and our tee time was 10:50, could we squeeze in a bacon cob, a Starbucks coffee, get our golf clubs together, our shoes on and be on the tee in time for our tee slot?Absolutely! Last year we had virtually turned this into an art form, so it was nice to know that we hadn’t lost any of our sharpness.
Test number two; actually playing golf!
As I mentioned, we had chosen the most beautifully sunny day, it was perfect for golf.We’d had quite a bit of rain in the previous few days, but as the Moorland course is based on sandstone, the drainage is excellent and keeps it from getting boggy. This is one of the reasons this course gets played a lot more than the Priory, especially during the winter months. With this in mind, I was expecting the course to look a little bit tired and well played. But this simply wasn’t the case.The course looked fresh and well manicured throughout, with the greens in especially good condition.
You start with a short par-3 which in fairness was not all that inspiring, however, when you cross the road to the second hole the course really opens up in front of you and you start to see why it’s held in such high esteem. After a dodgy start by myself and Lefty on the first, the ground staff did us a real favour. As they’re currently finishing work on the second tee, this hole had been shortened to about 300 yards. A great opportunity for some pars and a birdie, but at its full 452 yards, it’s a real challenge so early on in the round.
Onto the third fairway; firstly it drops away in front of you, then rises up over a brow, then drops away again, and then rises back up to the green! This makes it look great, however, none of it should really come into play.A good drive on a dry day will leave you on the fringe of the green. I landed just a couple of yards short and the Badger landed just to the right.A simple chip onto the two tiered green should leave you with a steady par.
The 4th tee gives you a great view across this city of Derby. As we stood in our short sleeve shirts and shorts looking at the city we took a minute to appreciate that there are far worse places we could have been on a Monday morning. Maybe this is how all Mondays should start! Myself and the Badger were pretty much trading blows for the first nine holes going out in 6 and 7 over respectively. The wide dry fairways really lending themselves to good drives, it’s amazing the extra carry you get on a dry well cut fairway, and the difference it makes to your approach shot.
The sixth hole is a beautiful little par 3, at just 118 yards it’s only a wedge, but with bunkers either side and rough behind you have to be accurate.The tall trees wrap around the green and frame it beautifully. 3 shots on to the green, three pars, golf can be such a simple game sometimes! One of the big changes we noticed since our last visit was the reduction of the rough, if you miss the fairway you will still find your ball, but your next shot will be a challenge.Again this goes back to the philosophy of Donald Steele, golf is all about enjoyment, not about loosing 10 balls a round. This course punishes you for a slightly wayward drive, but it doesn’t completely destroy you. It’s a great balance .
The back nine follow the flowing, lightly undulating nature of the first nine. It’s a very open course, which means you can see many of the holes from the elevated tees, and on a busy day many golfers too. But lines of trees, bushes and stonewalls keep you on your toes. Venture too far off the fairway and you will be struggling to get to the green with a chance of a respectable score.
The Moorland course isn’t the greatest challenge of golf, it’s nowhere near as challenging as the Priory, but it’s incredibly enjoyable to play, it’s in great condition, you will most likely (but you can’t hold me to this!) make one of your better scores here. I don’t know about you, but I play golf as a hobby, to help me relax, to enjoy myself, and you can’t help but enjoy yourself on the Moorland. In the end I shot my best score for a long time but it wasn’t quite enough to beat the Badger, who beat me by just the single shot….but it was a great tussle throughout. And as for Lefty…… well let’s just say he took some great photos!
Back in May 2014 yours truly Lefty, Newby and Spence were invited to the relaunch of The Belfry and when I say relaunch I mean 22 million pounds of investment to turn this once tired hotel and course back to the prestigious place it used to be, in fact the paint on the walls was still drying and the smell of fresh carpets filled the air.
Did this investment pay off? Have the businessmen returned to impress their clients? Have the golfers returned to once again do battle with the Brabazon? Well we decided it was time to return to see for ourselves, if these questions had been answered.
As you would expect from this huge investment the hotel interior looks stunning, in fact they have gone for a ‘Great Gatsby’ feel in the lobby; sweeping into the breakfast lounge, which was full of business peopleon sofas with laptops on tables, creating a buzz in the air. The pro shop has also benefited from the investment. The changing rooms feel that you have arrived somewhere special. It beats the time we came here7 years ago when myself, Newby and two putt Plant were literally the only 3 people staying in the 200 plus room hotel!
We though were here today for the golf.The Belfry has three courses, the PGA, The Derby and the one we all want to play – The Brabazon. This too has benefited from the revamp, a course that was, back in 2010, looking tired and to be honest scruffy, has been brought back to its former glory befitting a course that held the Ryder Cup more than any other venue in the world.
The welcome we got on the first tee from the starter put us all at ease. The first is a relatively easy hole with an open fairway to forgive a wayward shot. Both Spence and I got away clean, Newby on the other hand decide he would take the pictures as he had pulled his back the night before at his Zumba class! The one thing you cannot stop thinking about is the golfing legends who have walked these fairways. You start to think about Seve’s drive onto the 10th green, Sam Torrance’s famous putt that won the 1985 Ryder cup match or Christy O’Connor Jnr with the most brilliant shot on the 18th hole using his trusty 2 iron.
This does heighten your playing experience, the course itself despite the very damp winter we have had, played well and the greens were playing true. I played steady golf on the first 5 holes and even got a couple of pars but then came the 6th and 7th – on these holes you will find the large expanse of water comes into play. Basically you are teeing over it. I must have lost 6 balls andat one point I had taken a drop then managed to hit it straight back in the water only 3 feet away!
But my moment of glory followed shortly after these two holes, strangely enough on a stroke index 1.
The 8th is 409 yards par 4 with the water running down the left side of the fairway. What makes this hole tough is that the fairway is narrow and the front of the green is protected by a water filled ditch. I managed to avoid all of these hazards and got on the green for 3, but I was still 26 feet from the hole and NOW my moment had arrived as I sank the putt!! Where are all the cameras when you need them? It would have made great television.
One hole on the course that people love is the 10th as you can attack with your driver or lay up short for the shot over the water. Walking onto this green can send shivers down your spine, so take your time and enjoy it. Even though the course is primarily flat you really appreciate the different undulations you get on the greens. It was an enjoyable change not to do the 3 putt walk of shame! We must mention the par 3’s on the course. There are three of them,one on the front nine the other two on the back. These are a real challenge and my favourite was the 12th.
The green keepers were working on the yellow and white tees so we had to play off the blues. Now we were playing Ryder Cup style which took the hole from a respectable 179 yards to a “which club do I use?” 226 yards. Just to make it extra hard the whole front of the green is protected by a large pond. I shouted over to the green staff “You really don’t like us do you” to which they replied “You will be fine, Seve always hit the green from there!” Thanks for that!
Newby risking his dodgy back went first with a wood, and came up short straight into the water, Spence did the same, I don’t have a wood in my bag so I opted for my driver which turned out to be the right choice as it sailed over the water and landed about 6 foot from the hole! A clap from the green staff, a bow from me, and some mumbled words from Spence and Newby which we can’t print here. I got a solid par.
Spence was still waiting for his ‘moment’. He waited, I would say, until one of the greatest finishing holes you can play – the 418 yard par 4 18th. ‘A daunting drive followed by a daunting approach,’ is how this hole has been described and I would agree with that. As you stand on the tee you are looking at a dogleg left over water. Once you have negotiated this you have another long shot over more water to an elevated green that slopes towards you. If you don’t get a tee shot with just the right amount of draw and distance, your second shot will have to be the shot of your life as you will still be miles away from the green withthe water coming very much in play. In fact you will have to re-enactthe brilliant shot from Christy O’Connor Jnr,on the 18th hole.
Spence played this like a pro – a great tee shot with just the right amount of draw and a second that landed on the green, he missed the birdie but got a respectable par on this potential card wrecker. That hole really made his day. That’s the beauty of the Brabazon, when you sink a par or even a birdie you almost find yourself waving at an invisible crowd pretending that you are playing in the Ryder Cup. The investment that has been made to the hotel and course has brought back the glamour and prestige it once held.The Belfry isonce again living up to its name and the expectation you would associate with a place that calls itself the ‘spiritual home of the Ryder Cup’.
Every time people asked me “where are you playing next and I say Longcliffe Golf Course” the reply was always the same “that’s a beautiful course, you’ll enjoy that”, so as you can expect I got quite excited about playing it.
Longcliffe is a well-established members course, what you would call a traditional golf club in the fullest sense. To get to Longcliffe is just a short journey south bound on the M1 to junction 23, it took no time at all to get there from Alfreton in Derbyshire, just about 25 min.
The Course itself is situated within Charnwood Forest in Loughborough it’s a par 72 6625 yards off the whites and 6455 off the yellows, and for the ladies it’s a par 71, 5461 yards. My playing partner for the day was Newby who agreed with me that Longcliffe have one of the most visually scenic 1st teeing areas and an almost ‘Augusta’ feel about it with rhododendron’s to the right of the teeing area, this twinned with the sunniest day of the year so far gave us the feel that we were about to play somewhere special.
The shorts were on and Newby was wearing shades to protect him from the suns ray bouncing off my legs as I stepped up to tee off, but no need for a driver as the first is a 164 yard par 3 up hill shot, now to my knowledge there are not many courses that start with a par 3 in our area so this was new to me. Will my 6 irons be as wayward as my driver usually is for the first shot of the day? No it was not, I struck it true and just a bit right of the green, a chip on and one put would see a par.
Just one problem with summer greens as most of you know, all winter we golfers have been squelching around, well I have every time I’ve played but now the greens have dried out and at Longcliffe they were like billiard tables, so after the 3 putt walk of shame what should have been a par turned into a 5!!
The general layout of the course winds its way up Charwood Forest Hill then loops back down to the clubhouse, I had been told before I played that the par 4s are not the longest. For example, the 6th is only 265 yards long but what you find is that most of them are dog legs right or left, also the tree placements have been well thought out making some of the fairways narrow so accuracy off the tee is vital. Unfortunately teeing off with my drive is not my strong point as every now and again I develop a wicked slice which on this course will punish you with a lost ball.
A good drive will get you a shot at the green but be careful as a ditch cuts across the fairway just before the green. Despite my wayward tee shot I managed a bogie, although what you do find about Longcliffe is that the hazards are fair, for example I had to play my second out of the rough which is long fine grass, allowing me to find my ball but still giving me a penalty for going into it. This was not like some courses I have played where your ball just trickles off the fairway into thick grass never to be seen again!
Newby and I were really enjoying ourselves; the layout of the course was throwing all sorts of challenges for us, and the condition of the course was the best I have played this year. Newby was having a great time playing very well; I was getting punished for my bad tee shots. Someone did tell me that on this course sometimes it’s better to tee off with an iron, I should have heeded this council, but you know me by now, I’m not one to give up so easily and I don’t listen to good counsel from other golfers.
Let me bring you to a little beauty of a hole the 5 a 135 yard par 3, it’s a medium par 3 with a tee shot to an elevated green guarded by bunkers at the front and a steep bank at the back. It was quite a joy to tee off, we both hit the green but were above the hole, which is not such a good position as it slopes away from you and on greens like these you only need a gentle tap. I again had to do the 3 putt walk of shame but at least it didn’t roll off back down the hill.
You now find you’re making your way up to the top of the hill and by the time you stand on the 8th you have a great tee shot back down with views over Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. It’s one of the holes you could tee off time and again just for the enjoyment of it. It’s the longest hole on the course at 559yards. Big hitters can reach the green in 2 but, and there is always a but, you have to navigate a green guarded by a magnificent oak tree, across ditch and mound to the left and right. We both hit big drives so the green was reachable. I don’t have a fairway wood in my bag and this is exactly what you need, so I hit a 3 iron as sweet as a nut but could not carry the ditch, Newby on the other hand does have a fairway wood and landed his ball on the green. Swine!!
You think that now you have got to the bottom of the hill you would wind your way back to the club house on the flat, not a chance, it’s time for the 9th stroke index 1 a 411 yard par 4 all up hill! Again a good drive is needed and you must get a good shot away for any chance of a par, even then you have a large mound across the fairway waiting to catch your second shot. Basically you need to pull out two of your best shots to even consider reaching the green, which by the way has two bunkers to the front so not even a’ bump and roll’ will do. I must admit this hole chewed me up and spat me out sending me away with a spanked bottom, well that’s how I felt after finally walking off the green with a 5…6…7 Ouch!
I was told before I came to Longcliffe how much I would enjoy it, in fact most golfers I have talked to hold Longcliffe in high esteem, and I can see why, it’s a well established course that offers a fair challenge, it can be a real beast sometimes and punish you for a bad tee shot but on the other hand reward you when you play a good one. I must have gone through the entire arsenal in my bag.
This is a proper golf course that will keep you coming back for more, it’s a beautiful beast, a little slice of Augusta right on our doorstep.
Your first impressions is that it’s a long established well run golf club, from the Local Professional to the Secretary to The Green Staff, everyone is polite, professional and clearly knows what they’re doing.
Sometimes people ‘bigging’ up a course do it no favours. You arrive with high expectations and when it achieves them you go away just agreeing, if you were to arrive here with no expectation you’d definitely walk away very impressed.
It’s a proper members Midlands course, rolling hills, beautiful greenery with a hint of Augusta about it. For me the greens were as the best I’ve played on for years, fast enough to keep them interesting, but absolutely immaculate giving a beautiful roll. It’s not often you knock your first 2 10 foot putts on the practice green right in the middle of the cup.
The rough was perfect too, if you landed in it, it inhibited your swing and made you pay for your wayward shot, but you did find your ball (unless you missed by miles obviously). There’s nothing more annoying as an amateur, than playing a shot that’s only slightly off line and loosing your ball. The rough should make life tough, not impossible, and that’s exactly what this course does.
There’s not many courses that seem to tick all the boxes for a top course, but this one certainly does that. If you get chance, play it, you’ll love the challenge.
On Thursday the 2nd June, Fame Tate travelled to Sinfin/Derby Golf Course to carry out a course report. Here is her thoughts.
I had never played the course before so I was really keen to see what it was like, particularly as it is no longer council run and has been managed by Seven Hills Leisure Trust since July 2015.
I was informed that since that time, many improvements have been made to the course by the grounds maintenance team. They have worked relentlessly in order to improve the playability of the course with new maintenance equipment, a revised cutting regime and enhanced fine turf.The playing season has been lengthened with improved winter tee mats, in order to make the course playable for longer periods throughout the winter months.A “no close policy” has also been introduced, keeping the course open whatever the weather.
Our day didn’t get off to a perfect start due to an accident and closure of the A38 so we were running extremely late for our booked tee time.
However, on entering the professionals shop, we were made to feel very welcome and at ease by Andy Foulds, the head professional and Mike Johnson, the shop assistant, who were very helpful. The clubhouse had a very nice to feel to it and seems very popular for lunch.It was lovely to see a group of seniors enjoying the home cooked roast dinners and curries.Steve, the steward was friendlyand made us two lovely sandwiches to take out onto the course as we were late.
Needless to say we didn’t get off to the best start however, after three holes we had both started to settle down.The third hole is a 366 yard par 5 which is a slight dog leg to the left, followed by a 165 yard par 3, where we were greeted by a very friendly member of the greens staff.The front nine was very nice with some lovely yet testing holes.One of my favourites on the front nine was the 368 yard, par 4 eighth hole.The ninth hole was a testing dog legged par 5, stroke index 1 off the red tees, which brought you back to the clubhouse.
Chatting to some of the members in the clubhouse before our round, they were keen to tell me that the front nine is one of the toughest in Derbyshire.
Off the red tees, the back nine starts with a fairly straight forward 366 yard par 4 followed by two nice consecutive par 3’s, which is quite unusual, but a refreshing change.
Mum found the par 5, 497 yard, 13th hole one of the hardest as she found the right hand rough off the tee and then continued to play down the right hand side.It did seem quite a long slog for the average lady golfer.
I found the 17th hole particularly pleasant, despite losing my ball off the tee in the right hand rough.
The short 18th hole was a nice way to finish despite it being quite difficult to negotiate our tee shots through the small gap of over hanging trees down either side of the fairway.
For me it was a nice change to play off the red tees however, we both certainly found some of the holes quite tough.
There has clearly been the removal of some trees, which was quite noticeable on some of the holes as the marked stumps were visible.This has without a doubt increased the playability of the course and helped the overall aesthetics.
There are still plans for 2016.
Green Renovation: A powerful aeration process and 90 tons of kiln dried sand will enhance root growth and drainage, allowing the course to remain drier for longer.
Course Maintenance: Once recovered, the greens will be cut shorter and scarified regularly to improve speed and promote a smoother roll.As well as improving the greens, their chemical and fertiliser programmes will also increase the durability of the tees and approaches.
Increased Participation: The Seven Hills Leisure Trust aim to work jointly with Derby Golf Club to develop new initiatives encouraging participation from the local community, sharing their passion for golf with local schools and organisations.
There are a number of fantastic membership packages available, catering for everyone’s needs, which include Golfit, Junior, Under 25’s, ‘Play Later’ and a 20 round ‘week day’ pass.
All of the packages give you additional access to Beauchief, Birley Wood and Tinsley Park which are located in Sheffield and Tapton Park which is located in Chesterfield.
For more information visit www.sivltd.com/golf or call 01332 766462
All in all, we both had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and the course was an absolute pleasure to play.It is a fair and good test of golf for any golfer of any ability, with beautiful and mature tree lined fairways.It was also a lovely change to play somewhere flat but testing.I would most definitely look forward to playing it again and recommend it to anyone.
Due to popular demand County Golfer Magazine has extended its coverage into East Stafford so what better way to kick things off than to play The Manor Golf Club in Kingstone, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire.
Yours truly, Lefty and Newby, were dispatched from the office to see what this popular golf course had to offer. First, though let me tell you a little of the clubs heritage.
In 1989, the Bathew family decided that they’d had enough of farming but in order to still get use out of the land, they decided to build a golf course. In 1991 the club was established as a business venture and the family approached Mr Ted Anderson, a local architect and family friend, and asked if he would design the layout of a 9 hole course on the 70 acres of land. This, along with the building of the clubhouse that would eventually overlook the whole course, was the best start the Manor could have. The 9 hole course proved to be great fun to play and as Ted’s first attempt at course design, a great base from which to expand to 18. Four years later some neighbouring land became available and it was decided that as membership was growing, then maybe this warranted a course extension.
In 1994 the club purchased another 33 acres of land and duly brought in a golf course constructor to change the existing 9 holes into an 18 hole golf course. This would involve a complete reshaping of the 9 hole layout, indeed, only the first and second remain from the original Ted Anderson design.
Today you will find a challenging 6,215 yard par 71-course set within a valley, which has some scenic tee shots and some hilly fairways.
You reach the clubhouse by driving through the farm and we laughed as the farm dog, which was lying in the middle of the drive enjoying a nap, was not too impressed when he had to move out of the way for us. The clubhouse itself has a spacious locker room and up the stairs you will find the dining room which is very relaxed and serves food all day, we would recommend having your breakfast here as the Full English looked a real winner.
The first hole, par 4,336 yards is what I call a good starting hole, an elevated tee looking down on a wide sweeping fairway, a good time to really open up. A few golfers had come to the balcony to watch us tee off, no pressure then! The last time I teed off with people watching was in a golf competition at the Nottinghamshire and I proceeded to hit my tee shot about 20 yards into a bush which made interesting viewing on the launch monitor later that day with a little red line going nowhere! This time thank goodness I hit a beauty which just left me a 6 iron onto the green, you do have to make sure you don’t over hit your second shot and go over the back of the green as there is a small ravine which would lead to a lost ball. I don’t think there’s anything worse than playing a great tee shot then completely messing up your second…oh wait a minute there is, a scuffed tee shot!
This is followed by a cracking par 3, only 153 yards long, but your shot is over the ravine to an elevated green with OOB down the left. For me it was a 6 iron that got me nicely onto the green, just a warning though on the greens, I think the Bathew family like to challenge us golfers, let me put it this way, you might get to the green but then you could still do an ‘Ernie Els’ – don’t mention Augusta!
The next hole is aptly called ‘Summit’. Off the whites it’s a monster par 5 at 628 yards long and it’s still a good distance off the yellows at 570 yards, a daunting hole but what I like about it is that you tee off literally on top of a summit as the fairway sweeps away from you below your feet. On this hole you have to produce a good tee shot otherwise forget it. Also, just to make it more challenging the green is two tiered, so no wonder the ‘summit’ is stroke index 1.
Ivor’s island was next up and this is a member’s hole because they know exactly how to play this properly. It’s a relatively short par 4, at 371yards this hole is all about club choice. If you do not hit a big drive you can’t reach the green in two. My drive was good but not long enough and I was in that horrible place where it would feel wrong to lay up to Ivor’s Island, so I decided to try and get over this large expanse of water but came well short, to carry over it you would need to execute a very good fairway wood shot. Sometimes you have to know your limits and play for a bogie instead of wrecking your card thinking you are Bubba Watson!
I must point out at this point that my playing partner Newby had got out of the wrong side of bed and was in a foul mood and even more so as he was having a bad day on the golf course and therefore moaning about everything. I on the other hand was quite enjoying myself on the course especially when I teed off on the 7th 409 yard par 4. What makes this hole scratch your head is that while standing on the tee you see a row of majestic trees about 80 feet high cutting across the fairway. Now you have two options, go over them or, aim to the left and play your next shot out off the rough. On this hole there is no room for a poor tee shot. I decided, “I’m not messing about, I’m going over the trees”. I hit the drive of my life with a bit of draw it was 270 yards plus, to be honest I don’t know what happened, if I could harness what I did differently on this hole rather than on the other 6, I would be a pro! Well maybe not, but I’d at least shave a few shots off my handicap.
Now if you ever wanted to show someone what a true dogleg on a golf course looks like then the 8th ticks the box, it has to be almost a 90-degree dogleg left. Here you have two choices, either go over the trees and take the corner on, or hit an iron into the knuckle. So for the purpose of journalism we decided one of us would take the corner on while the other played it safe. Since my confidence was high after the last hole I decided I would take on the corner, over the trees and over a stream behind them.
I hit another big tee shot over the trees but then lost sight of it, did it carry on over the stream as well? It did and left me with an 8 iron onto the green, but …and there is always ‘a but’! They had obviously thought about people trying this line and have left a great big oak tree which blocks the view to the green so I would have to get distance and height to hit the green, another difficult shot. I did however manage to do this and hit my shot over the tree and on to the green for a birdie chance, but landed a solid par. So taking on the corner will gain you the advantage but you need two good shots. Newby who took the iron option had a clean view of the green but still had a long way to go.
As we turned the corner on to the back 9 Newby’s demeanor improved, why this sudden change of attitude you might ask? Well I think it had something to do with the fact that from this point he parred the next 6 holes, and started to declare how much he loved this course! We are a fickle bunch us golfers. It amazes me how much our mood is affected by how we are playing.
I, like Newby, really enjoyed the back 9 where you will find most of the holes you will remember, and for me that’s the sign of a well-designed golf course. One of the holes though is a real killer; it’s the 15th 369 yard par 4 and it’s called ‘Saddle’. I don’t know why they named it ‘Saddle’ I think a more apt name for it would be ‘Sherpa Hill’ as it’s all uphill which then peaks onto a green which has steep banks protecting its front. It’s one of those holes, that when you put the flag back in the hole you feel like having your picture taken as though you’ve just climbed Everest! Having said that, we both parred it. It now becomes clear why they made you make the climb…the 16th!
This little beauty for us is their signature hole, it’s a cracking par 3, as you stand on the tee you look down onto a green below your feet, if you go to our Facebook page or our website you can see me and Newby tee off and see how we did.
The 18th is a tough finishing hole, it’s a dog leg right and all up hill to a green that slopes back the way you came, in fact while in the club house before we teed off we watched as a golfer ended above the hole, over hit his putt and watched it trickle off the green and back onto the fairway. I also ended above the hole but this knowledge helped me out, I tapped it in with a much more gentle touch, and that’s the point. This is a course you need to play twice, the first time should just be a practice round because you will play so much better the second time around.
This was backed up by what Jane said back in the clubhouse, their members especially the ladies, when they play in a competition at another course mostly win, why? Because this course makes you use every club in your golf bag, each hole throwing up a different challenge.
So how good a golfer do you think you are? Go and find out and measure yourself against the Manor Golf Course. Visitors are made very welcome at The Manor. They are renowned for being one of the most friendlygolf clubs.
When I meet people who live a long way from the Midlands and I say “I’m from Derbyshire” they all respond in mostly the same way,“Ah, what a lovely part of England”, and they are right as awhole, although that all depends on what part of Derbyshire they are thinking about.
They’re clearly not thinking of Derby city centre or Alfreton Industrial estate! (with the greatest respect to them both). When you say ‘Derbyshire’ people instantly think of rolling green hills, beautiful lush greenery, meandering streams and fantastic views. What they imagine is the view you get on the 13th tee at Chevin; green trees, fantastic scenery with rolling hills, it’s just stunning! Having only played there once many, many moons ago, my memory was a little hazy to say the least. I remember enjoying it, but other than that, it was pretty much like I was playing for the first time.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Like many courses, it was originally a 9 hole course when it was first opened back in 1894, designed by William Lowe a professional from Buxton. Clearly a man who was used to hills then! The clubs existing course of 18 holes covers both parkland and moorland terrain with magnificent views over 5 counties from the Chevin Ridge. The history surrounding the site includes, Paleolithic to Bronze and Iron Age people and later Roman Legionnaires. The course was first conceived at the ‘Court House Farm’ where the Old Court (now a private residence) houses a lock-up where prisoners were kept until their demise, this is close to the 13 hole which is aptly named The Gibbet.
A COURSE THAT PRODUCES TALENT
Back in 1951 Chevin could pride themselves on producing the best talent in the country. Joan Gee member of and production of Chevin Golf Course became the champion of England. In 2007, another member Melisa Reid turned professional, later playing for Team Europe in the 2011 Solheim Cup and at the point of going to press is ranked no.3 in England.
Pride and attention to detail is what clearly drives those involved with the club.
The pro shop and clubhouse sit either side of the putting green, and along with the first tee and the 18th green, create a grassy quadrangle of golf.
When you see 4 people attending to the flowers around the putting green and the perfect condition of the area, you know the course is going to be well manicured.
We couldn’t have picked a better day to play, blue skies and blazing sunshine, the kind of day that was designed for golf.
The first 2 holes are pretty flat par 4’s, not without their challenges but they give you the opportunity go get swinging before the real challenge begins. Then comes the 3rd! Par 4, 407 yards, up hill, stroke index 1. No mater how good your tee shot is the second is always still tough. The dogleg isn’t ‘cut-able’ because of trees to the left.
Then the climb starts and doesn’t stop until the 11th. It makes for some really challenging golf.
The back to back par 3s at the 6th and the 7th holes are a beautiful little area, the blind tee shot on the 6th is a little hit and hope, especially if you haven’t played the hole in the past. At 288 yards it’s a big par 3, and being uphill requires a wood, accuracy and a slice of luck. I thought I’d hit it pretty well, but found myself in the green moat around the hole.
The 7th is only 124 yards, comparatively short compared to the 6th, but this time over a wall, a big bunker and dangers all behind the green. Two par 3s that are as different as chalk and cheese!
Most golfers have heard this name, regarded as one of the hardest hole I’s in the County. A big uphill par 4 that needs some decent striking to reach the green in 2. The size is one thing, the gradient another, but add both of these to a fairway which is arched so that it runs off both sides into dangerous rough unless you hit right down the middle. Not the sort of hole Lefty and I were really looking forward to, as our accuracy so far in the round left a little to be desired! We both needless to say ended up in the rough.
The views all the way back down the hill from the 12th to the 17th are nothing short of spectacular. The green keepers have a real challenge on their hands as a course with such a spectacular setting and layout require a condition that matches. They don’t disappoint. The greens ran true and the fairways were in spectacular condition. The heavy rain we’d had leading up to the round hadn’t had any effect on the course, partly down to the green keepers hard work and partly down to natural drainage.
The 17th is a mixed bag of a hole, personally I liked it and judging from visitors reviews of the course they seem to as well, although the members seem to be divided. The fact that it’s a spectacular tee is not in any doubt. You play down a huge hill to a brook, then uphill to the green. It’s the newest hole on the course and you can tell. Not that that’s a bad thing. Personally I liked it…. maybe the birdie helped.
THE 19TH HOLE!
The clubhouse’s large conservatory has recently been refurbished and is a beautiful place to sit and enjoy a post round pint and food. Looking out over the 18th green and beautifully manicured putting green, you can watch those walking off the course. If they’ve had a good round it’s nothing but smiles. If you’ve had a bit of an off day though the course has the ability to destroy you. Those golfers are easy to spot, they’ll be the ones looking like they’d had a beating!
I can highly recommend the new chefs food, in particular the rhubarb and custard which finished the day of really well.
As a golfer there is one course that must be played, a course where golf has been played for over 600 years, a place where golf was invented and refined to the game we all love and know today, a place where legends have one won and lost in spectacular style. This is a destination which golfers from around the world travel to like some sacred pilgrimage and yet this prestigious course is built on common land – a course for the people… The Old Course at St Andrews.
Back in 1123 King David 1st of Scotland granted the Links land to the people of St Andrews and, from that time to this the people of St Andrews have had the right to use the Links for Recreation, with Golf becoming their favoured pastime.
When golf as first played on the Links course is unknown although by 1457 it was well established leading the then King, James II to ban it as it was distracting his men from archery practice. After that both James III and James IV continued the ban until 1502 when James IV got the bug and asked his bow makers to make him a set of clubs and, since that day golf has always been played here. Following the long illustrious history it was now time for yours truly Lefty III, Newby II and John Spencer IV to play this hallowed turf. (King Twoputt was left behind to rule his subjects!).
St Andrews has a modern clubhouse that sits in the middle of the links courses. With comfortable changing rooms featuring a wind gauge display on the wall (a warning of things to come), the clubhouse has a fine restaurant with bar to top up your hip flask and, as you would expect, a store full of St Andrews merchandise.
We received a friendly welcome from the front desk clerk who checked us in and arranged for the stretched buggy to take us to the first Tee. At the starter hut where we received a cordial welcome, our cards and course planner. Realisation now hits you and you stand in awe on the first on the Old Course with the Royal and Ancient clubhouse behind you, where Old Tom Morris, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Arnold Palmer have all stood, as well as royalty. Enough sentiment from me, let’s get onto the course which is going to be hard as most of you already know every nook and cranny of it from television coverage. The first (Burn) is a par 4,355yards it has one of the widest fairways I have seen but there is OOB left and right The line is a small gorse bush at the edge of the Swilcan Burn that winds its way across the fairway in front of the green.
You have a fair chance with your second shot of hitting the green considering it is 45yrds from front to back. You realise very quickly that with a selection of modern clubs in your bag you can hit further than our predecessors 400 years ago and that on the Old Course the game is not won on the fairway but on the greens. So, unless you are two feet from the hole you had better hope that your putting is up to scratch. I can give testament to this fact as I landed on the edge of the green and carded a 6!! I then had to take the 3 putt walk of shame to the next hole.
The 2nd is 395yrd par 4 where you have gorse bushes to the right of the tee. You are best staying left but you must be careful because about 246yrd up the fairway is the Cheape’s bunker. You don’t want to end up here because you would find yourself chipping back on the fairway the same way you came in, forward is not an option.
Avoiding this hazard will leave you a shot onto the green of about 150yrds. Take into account the pronounced diagonal ridge which forms the chief obstacle to the green. On the day we played the pin was on the top half of the ridge. We all managed to stay topside of the flag, but still I 3 putted, this time John had to join me on the walk of shame. The 3 (Cartgate) is 337 par 4, not the longest par 4 in the world but as I’ve said it’s when you get to the green that you need your ‘A’ game. You need to drive over 180 yards otherwise you’re in the wilds I’m afraid. If you tend to scuff your drives you will be punished, the line is over the ‘Principal’s Nose’ not up it. The major hazard on this hole is the Cartgate bunker which eats into the left of the green. The further left the drive the more it comes into play on the approach, avoid this at all cost it’s a real monster of a bunker if you are unfortunate and end up in it. I can only advise that you watch the youtube video posted by European Ryder Cup Captain, Paul McGinley on how to get out of the “formidable Cartgate Bunker”.
The green on the 3rd is massive, at one point it’s 50yrd from front to back. It’s a double green being shared with the 12th on the way back in. This time I got closer to the flag and managed to two putt. Now I was starting to get a feel for the greens. Hole 4 (Ginger Beer) should be called ‘over bunkers’. This par 4, 411yards is all about placement and a bit of luck. The fairway is scattered with pot bunkers, some you can see and others are sneakily hiding from you. I found the best solution was to hit a straight drive and hope for the best, I’m not sure that’s the advice you would receive from one of the Caddies but it worked for me. It’s a risky shot just going straight as the fairway narrows to a valley, but it does give you the safest approach shot to the green. If you go the other way to the left, yes there is more fairway to aim at but it leaves you a pig of an approach shot over a large mound covered with gorse bushes dotted with pot bunkers.
I came short of the green but managed to rescue a bogie. John and Newby got solid pars in fact I’m sure Newby would like me to tell you that he was only one over par at this point and that he birdied the 1st . Now I have written that he’s given me my ‘Old Course Sporran’ back. We hit the first par 5 on the course (Hole O’ Cross) it’s 514yrds long. Aim just left of the far-off bunkers (The Spectacles). I think it’s called this because you will need a pair to see them. Beyond is a deep swale before the green, but be aware of the approach as the distance can vary as the green is 100yrds deep!! I landed on the green about 30ft away from the flag for 4, this had ‘Card wrecker’ written all over it, but much to my surprise John, Newby and me got it in two, A bogie, I will take that any day on this hole.
Let’s move onto the 7th High (out) most of you will know this hole because of the famous ‘Shell’ which proudly protects the front of the green. Over the years it has wrecked many cards and dashed the dreams of professional golfers from all around the world –not to mention yours truly Lefty. What makes this difficult is that it cuts into the green which is narrow at this point so you have to get up and down quickly. You are greeted by the face of the bunker which towers in front of you like the great wall of China. How did I do? Well let’s put it this way, I was in the bunker for one and got it in the hole for 6!!
You may have noticed by now that the holes are not the longest in the world, so why do Tiger Woods, Rory and Co struggle when they play in the Open? You soon find out why when you stand on the 8th as now you are hitting into the wind. John who plays off 6 played this par3, 154yrds with a 5 wood and still came short. It’s the same with the 9th a short par 4 at only 289yrds, but my word, when the wind blows it might as well be 50000yrds. You do get a little reprise from the wind on the 10th and 11th as you play with the wind behind you. The 10th is named after the Open Champion of 1927 and Amateur Champion of 1930, Bobby Jones whose relationship with St Andrews has passed into folklore. So, in honour of the great golfer we decided to par it, well John did, Newby and I honoured him with bogies then a wee dram on the green.
11th hole High (In) is a par 3, 164 yards. With the wind behind me I seized my chance to get a par and made it. Just be careful as the green slopes from back to front with Hill and Strath archetypal greenside bunkers waiting for you. The course planner gives a warning if the wind is against you; it says “this demanding par three has been described as the shortest par five in golf in any kind of wind it’s a challenge to find the green”. Just a tip, when you’re on the green take a look around you and take in the view. Moving on to the 13th (Hole O’Cross) par 4, 388yrds we now found ourselves again playing into the wind. According to the locals we were playing in a ‘gentle breeze’ which brings an altogether different hazard. Your drive should avoid the rather ominously named Coffins, a group of bunkers 200 yards from the tee, ‘avoid these at all cost’ as they are called Coffins for a reason. Go in them and you might just keel over and lie down. Fortunately we all missed the ‘Coffins’ which then left a great approach shot onto an immense green. You might hit your second shot and think “I’ve gone short” Or “I’ve over hit it” you have not, trust me your second shot will be on whether you think it is or not!
At this point the clouds has cleared and we had beautiful blue skies overhead, with the low winter sun casting shadows across the course we truly could appreciate the contours of the land, with its bumps and lumps, dips and mounds – and that’s just the greens! Now it’s time to face the 14th (Long) par 5, 523yrds, stroke index 1. It is probably the second most famous bunker on the Old Course ‘ Hell’ it is aptly named and one of the largest on the links. In 1995, Jack Nicklaus landed in it, and it took him three swings to get out. Most people will lay up before the bunker, but I’m not most people so I went for it and, you will be pleased to hear, that I missed ‘Hell’ but ended up in the Kitchen. No, not the one where you put the kettle on for a brew, the lesser known bunker just before ‘hell’. I think it’s called ‘kitchen’ because I threw everything at it including the kitchen sink and still could not get out.
The 15th (Cartgate) is 391 yard par 4. You need to be hitting over 200 yards to reach the fairway so again like most of the holes, no Sally gunnels. The line off the tee is straight at Miss Grainger’s Bosoms, if she is not there then aim at the church steeple…wayhay!! But seriously the line is at Miss Grainger’s Bosoms. This hole has a deceptively deep green and we found it one of the trickiest on the course. I thought I had finished making the 3 putt walk of shame but I had to do it again.
Now I bring you to probably the most iconic holes in the world the 16th, 17th, 18th playing back into the town of St Andrews. The 16th (Corner of the Dyke) par 4, 345yrd is a treacherous tee shot with OOB to the right and the ‘Principal’s nose’ cluster of bunkers protecting the left of the fairway. Hit a straight drive of about 250 yrds and this will take out the cluster and leave you a good approach shot to the green. John rattled the hole for a birdie and Newby and I got our pars, so my advice is let rip on the drive. Walking onto the17th (Road) standing on the tee I realised that I already knew this hole and how to play it as I’ve watched it played that many times while watching the Open waiting to see if anyone would hit the St Andrews hotel spa building that juts out leaving you a blind tee shot over the building and onto the fairway. Which one of us would hit the building? You can go on County Golfers Facebook page to find out. Get over the building and you will get a shot at the green. Caution must be used here as: 1. you have the most famous bunker on the course ‘Road Bunker’ and 2. The green is very narrow with a road behind it that is in play. Just a note about the ‘Road bunker’ or as it’s also known “the Sands of Nakajima,” after Japanese golfer Tommy Nakajima. Nakajima was in contention at the 1978 British Open until he hit into the Road bunker and needed four swings to get out of it, ouch! That’s got to hurt.
I hit a sweet 7 iron onto the green , John was further down than me and shouted “great shot lefty you’re on the green“. With joy and glee in my heart I approached the green only to find John and Newby laughing.“ Where is my ball I asked?” “You need a stop sign” they sniggered. I walked across the green and saw my ball proudly sitting in the middle of the road, which by the way is still in play. There is only one thing you can do in this situation, reach for the hip flask, after a good swig on that I got out my seven Iron and tapped it onto the green and sunk it for a par, Ha!!
The 18th (Tom Morris) a par 4, 361 yards, this hole is iconic. Before you even play this you have seen pictures in the club house of legends of the game shaking hands on the green. It does send a little tickle down your spine, not only that, you get to walk over the Swilcan Bridge, everyone who crosses it stops to have his or her photo taken, even the pros. Who can forget the emotional picture of Jack Nicklaus saying farewell to the crowds while standing on the Swilcan, and Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer to mention a few. After crossing this you get to aim at the famous 18th green, protected by ‘the valley of sin’ where pictures of Ballesteros filled my head. We could argue that the single most memorable moment of his career was his joyous reaction after holing a birdie putt on the 18th green to win the 1984 Open Championship – an image that was to become emblematic of his company. These images keep going through your head until you find yourself on the green. I will warn you that on a sunny day there can be up to 100 people stood watching you sink your putt so make sure you do this hole justice and par or even better birdie it. To sum up, film stars, sport celebrities presidents and prime ministers, people from all walks of life come to play St Andrews Old Course. Playing the Old Course is a privilege, but not just for a select few but open to all lovers of golf. The Old Course remains public land, thus giving all of us a chance to follow in the footsteps of our golfing heroes.
A special thank you to all at St Andrews for letting us play, and a big thank you has to go to Laurie for arranging the trip and for treating me to a pint of heather beer brewed especially for St Andrews Links, “what is it Laurie, Ale or Larger? I still cannot decide!!”
Being invited to play the Belfry was one of those defining moments in golf when you think ‘at last following in the footsteps of the greats’! What is it about nostalgia that won’t let us let go of the past? All golfers want to play on courses where the greats of golf have graced the fairways, Faldo, Trevino, Ballesteros, to see if they can better their superiors. I know Lefty has a keen interest in the coming Ryder Cup as he watches to see if the modern day heroes can match his score on the 9th at Celtic manor, and, we know at the office it is going to be a most miserable time for us all if they don’t. Goodness only knows what will happen if they don’t get a birdie.
On arrival at the Belfry after a relatively easy 45-minute journey from Derby, we were greeted in the foyer by two gentlemen who offered help with our luggage, a great start to our celebrity status. Whilst checking in Lefty and Newby were given a twin room and the very nice lady gave me a suite. I wonder who she thought I was?
Once settled in we made our way to the bar to meet Gary Silcock the PGA Director of Golf. He filled us in on our itinerary for the next two days. Day 1 The Brabazon, and day 2 the PGA course. We would be playing the Brabazon with Gary and the PGA with Matt one of their professionals. It has to be said at the outset that both of these guys are exceptional golfers and, to be honest, had us a little worried. Our relief came quickly as they both told us that they had ‘not played for a couple of months’. However they both shot under par rounds. I am thinking of having a two-month lay off too! It may have the same effect.
The Belfry complex has everything a golfer could need from the obvious three golf courses, restaurants, and hotel facilities and of course it’s the home of the PGA National Golf Academy complete with its training schools and equipment shops. The practice chipping areas even have bunkers to try your hand at escaping from. Specialised fitting centres ensure that from starter to Pro you get the right advice on purchasing golf clubs that suit your style, height etc. I particularly enjoyed this area as one of the Pro’s Matt took me in for a brief lesson. This came about after playing alongside him on the PGA course and he said ‘After the round I will give you a few tips to help you knock about 8 shots off your round’. What was this secret way? He changed my grip and after a few practice shots the ball started going straight. I must say may hands and arms felt a little ‘deformed’ but the ball was going straighter and further than before. It’s amazing how a relatively simple thing like club grip can become sloppy and you forget how you should hold the club and start to form bad habits. I suppose I was comfortable with the grip and stuck with it. It also emphasises how important golf lessons are and that we are never too old to learn. Walking along the corridors past the respective Ryder cup changing rooms emphasised how much we love our golfing history. Sometimes you can just smell the sweat of those golfing legends as they came off from a victorious round. Everything is correct at The Belfry from first entering the 550 acre complex to standing on the first tee. Buggy instructions came first then the starter told us the rules for the day, the pin positions and that some work was taking place on the Brabazon Course. The Brabazon overview. If you have played this course you will no doubt be aware of its obvious quality – manicured fairways, undulating greens, extremely hard to escape from and superbly shaped bunkers and of course the mature and some recently planted trees. Whatever your handicap this is a good place to test where you are as a golfer.
At 7196 yards The Brabazon is a grueller with a Par 72. You need a handicap of 24 and under to be able to play on this. Newby was OK at 18 and Lefty and myself just crept in with 23. The course was designed by Dave Thomas and Peter Allis. Sticking avidly to the fairways is the only way for a safe round, but who as a 23 handicapper does this? Not many I expect and so wayward shots cost dearly here.
On the first tee I felt quite intimidated with the Pro’s and starter watching and of course I fluffed my tee shot. 100 yards the best I could manage. Gary hit his about 2 miles, well it seemed like it to me. I had to hit three shots to catch him up. I narrowly missed the bunkers on the right of the fairway and hacked my way to the green. How embarrassing, but I was feeling the pressure like no other time on a golf course. I was a bag of nerves and yet I was partnering Gary (smart move eh!). Of course we won and, with my advice and the odd tip Gary had a good round!
Nasty trees to the right on the second were carefully avoided and to my relief I got away well only to hit a poor fairway shot and then a beauty onto the green where my normal two putt failed me and I three putted for a six with nerves still jangling. Gary was great and kept encouraging me along whilst telling me his history in golf, basically all over the world, and I was fascinated by the wealth of experience he has in the golf industry. I am sure his name will crop up many times in years to come. The shape of the bunker on the second is spread like a spider. Enter at your peril. The third hole features a lake to the left which none of us visited and Newby came of with a Bogey. He was settling in well but none of us were playing to our strengths.
Water everywhere on the 5th, right and left plus bunkers guarding the green make this a real feature hole and one to play with great care. That’s the beauty here, some holes you can have a go at and others need more thought than usual. After the 9th we enjoyed a bit of light rain, which freshened things up and in the halfway house, it was time for a coffee and reflection on how things had gone.
The tenth had a few workers on the fairway but no one seemed to worry as we teed up. Dilemma here. Do we go for the green or lay up before the water? Big hitters like Gary and Newby are sure to have a go and they did. Lefty and I were cautious and narrowly missing the workers I laid up before the water and chipped over it to the back of the green. Chip on, two putts and hey presto a 5. Miracles do happen for me at times. Gary now gave me some tips on my swing. Apparently my knees were wrong but, ‘Don’t change anything today’ he said ‘as it could spoil your round’! The 12th is a great Par 3 179 off Yellows but it is imperative to get over the water. We all did thankfully and Newby got his Par at last Sadly Lefty and I got 5’s. As we approached the 18th we realised how much this course takes out of you and can now appreciate how fit golfers are who have to play the course for three days in a row. It was 3 o’ clock and I was ready for bed! Lunch in the clubhouse was followed by a post-mortem with Gary and then off to change. Day 2 The PGA National Course This was my favourite because I played much better (it couldn’t be worse). We had Matt for company today who said Gary ‘was a better golfer than him’. Thanks Gary. This is more a links course and hundreds of trees have been removed and re planted onto the Brabazon course to give the PGA a very open feel. Again this is a long course at 7036 yards with a Par 72. I scored 110, however Matt said that this wasn’t bad for the first time. 38 over against a man who shot 2 under, a difference of 40 shots. Matt was my partner for the round against Lefty and Newby. I can choose partners better than clubs. Matt’s shots seemed to stay in the air for hours. The 7th hole was my favourite as I hit the green beautifully, avoiding water and bunkers leaving me with a downhill putt of about 15 feet and I should have walked off with a par but I missed by an inch and had to settle for a bogey. Never mind I was starting to play. At this point Matt said my grip was wrong and hence the promise I mentioned earlier. I won’t describe every hole here, as I am sure you would like to play it yourself but I will leave you with the 14th, a dogleg right. A wayward long tee shot and you will be caught by a vertical bunker then a drive to the green will ensure that the deep bunker to the left of it will swallow you up. I say this because if it happened to me I am sure it will happen to you.
Our two days golf was a treat to savour. Yes we followed in the footsteps of golfing greats and yes we played nothing like them but hey why do we play golf if not to try to emulate those Trojans of the past and seek a little glory in the making ourselves.
Four years ago we were invited down to play the 2010 course at Celtic Manor just two months prior to the Ryder Cup, and to be honest, it was one of the best all round golf experiences I’ve ever had, from arriving at the overwhelming grand hotel through to the distinguished but slightly daunting 2010 course, there was little to match it. Four years later it’s Gleneagles turn to host the prestigious event, and Lefty and myself were again invited down to see how they would handle the golf event of the year.
The Ryder Cup is not just a golf competition, it’s far far more, the travelling1,000 plus media representatives along with the 250,000+ spectators, the players and their far from small entouragerequire a small town with an infrastructure more akin to city than a golf resort. And don’t forget the small matter of a TV audience in excess of 500 million across 183 countries. Step in to Gleneagles.
With its awe-inspiring 5 star hotel, 5 courses and activities including Equestrian School, Gundog School, Falconry Centre, Off-road Driving Centre and much more, it certainly ticks all the boxes of the kind of resort the Ryder Cup needs. If you check out Gleneagles on Google Maps you’ll get an idea of the shear magnitude of the complex.
So on a brisk May morning (4.00am to be exact!) we set out on the mother of all 1 day golf trips, a 5 1/2 hour drive up to Scotland, 18 holes of golf on the PGA Centenary Course, followed by a 5 1/2 hour drive home! Golfing County Golfer style!
Upon arrival, you instantly realise why it has been chosen and why the G8 summit was held here a few years ago. From being greeted at the hotel, to the start on the first hole, it’s5 star service. We however had an hour to spare before we played, so naturally we sat down for a pint first in the main club house that services the 5 courses.
After a burger and a pint (we let Spence pick up the tab….. ouch!) we stocked up on balls and headed to the changing rooms where, as described by one of the shop assistants, “there is obviously the sauna”, obviously, like all courses!
After a quick swing on the driving range we stood on the 1st ready to sample the course soon to be graced by the games best players, well nearly. It was in May that we played, a full 4 months prior to the Ryder Cup so the course, although laid out ready, still needed a lot of work to get it competition ready. The first 5 holes in particular will look totally different by September, to what we saw.
The course, as with the 2010 course,is nothing short of a monster, for a 18 handicapper like myself it’s a real beast, even off the yellows. The layout and the setting however were nothing short of spectacular, with the rolling Scottish hills in the background and undulating fairways, it’sjust plain beautiful, very little I’ve played compares to it.
Overall the course did beat us though, by the time you stand looking up the 470 yard uphill 18th we felt like we’ d played 36 holes not just 18.
One of the out standing holes is the 8th, down hill and swinging left, with 4 huge bunkers on the corner waiting to catch you. How this hole is played will be hugely down to the player and the match they’re playing in. With a big drive they might be able to reach the green, but get it wrong and you’re in a lot of trouble! Certainly one to look out for. As is the 9th, a par 5 reachable in 2 if you’re brave! With water running down the right of the fairway,their first will have to be big and the second the same! Cutting over the water, it’ll be a brave man that has a go, and there‘s a lot of them in both camps.
I’m sure thatby September the course will have changed a lot, and with the addition of 50,000 spectators it’ll change again, but to play the course that will host the Ryder Cup, the first time in Scotland for 40 years and the first time ever in its current format, was a huge privilege and an experience I’ll never forget. Gleneagles clearly has what it takes to host the event, now we just sit and wait until September for one of sports greatest spectacles.