When County Golfer was launched in 1999 we visited Rufford Park Golf and Country Club and played the course on a sunny summers day. Since then the course and facilities have just grown and improved tremendously. Sadly my golf hasn’t matched that progress. A nine on the first hole destroyed my confidence immediately. I shouldn’t have gone off the white tees. It could have been an 8. Stalwarts that we are I battled on and started to put my game together, eventually producing some good shots.
As is normal when I play with my good friend Brian, who I hadn’t seen for ages, we talk a lot and take in the views around us, catch up on health and family issues, put pen to paper on the immediate impressions of the course and then start concentrating on the game by about the third hole.
That is the problem when writing a report, the golf suffers. However I can’t blame my nine at the first on any of that, it was pure bad shots that took me way off, right into the trees and long rough. I would have got out better if the rough wasn’t so long but I would be a hypocrite if I moaned about it as I’m an advocate of leaving the rough, rough. What could be nicer than long wispy grass blowing in the breeze? So it’s over to me to accept blame.
Arriving at Rufford park always makes me think of hiring a log cabin by a lake somewhere in Scotland, such is the design of the clubhouse, blending gently into the surrounding countryside. Over the years extensions have been sympathetically added to keep up with the demands of the modern day golfer even including a meeting room that can be hired for business meetings. The smart new changing rooms nestled under the main function room provide all the mod cons that we expect.
Drinking coffee in the bar with Director of Golf James Thomson, he explained with great enthusiasm how the course, which he came to work at when it opened in 1994, “has a thriving full membership which has grown dramatically over the past three years”. The initiative to encourage the 27-37 yr old bracket to join has paid off dividends giving the club a ‘young’, feeling. Golf societies find Rufford an ideal place to book for a great day out too. Members like to see their club progress and that has constantly happened. We could see, as we played, that work on improvements was taking place without disrupting the flow of golfers. We had a cheery wave from one of the greenkeepers as he saw Brian sink a long put. Why didn’t he wait to see mine? It was far better!
The trees that were planted back in 1994, on a pretty bare landscape, are now mature and have, in some cases needed thinning out, thereby allowing the course to get light and air plus opening up vistas of the surrounding countryside. There are great views of Rufford Abbey from most parts of the course. I especially loved the view from the fourth tee. However we don’t go to a golf club to admire the views do we? Er, I do. It’s part and parcel of the day for me. James accompanied us to the tee giving us a brief overview and then said “I’ll leave you guys to tee off in peace” that’s nice because I hate being watched as I mess up on the first. Mind you he did shout and tell Brian where his ball had landed. So,he was watching after all. Part of the fun of golf isn’t it?
Teeing off at the first we saw plenty of wildlife milling around on the dipping fairway below. Why aren’t they over there by the lake I thought. After my first shot I bet they wished they had been. When James explained the first hole I got the impression that he thought we would make it to the bunkers with our first shot but that didn’t happen. I leave hitting it that far to him. You can’t show off too soon I feel so I contented myself in going off to the right into the trees. The last time I played I went left so next time it will be down the middle. Not wanting to show me up Brian carded a 6. He played his usual steady game no rushing, plenty of club choice and shot thought. We weren’t in a comp though just out to enjoy the course which was good because no one was following us.
The greens at Rufford were in superb condition showing that the new irrigation system is paying dividends, especially since we have had a dry spell. The “rain in the past week was much needed for the fairways” James said. Whatever the new Head Greenkeeper, Paul Hill, is doing we approve heartily as the greens are as true as you can get. The first green was pretty tricky as I went past the flag by 20 feet and had to putt back down the slight slope without going past the flag. Brian was onto the back of the green for 3 but over-hit his putt which rolled down the slope. It cost him dearly, hence the 7. Having had a disastrous start the “Two Putt Plant’ came into force narrowly avoiding double figures. Curse that wispy grass!
Emerging through the trees we came to the 2nd a lovely 491 yard Par 5 (off yellows) gives you another chance to open your shoulders getting to the dogleg right. Having been disappointed with my first tee shot I got the driver out – nothing to lose now. I’ve avoided using this club as I have felt out of control with it recently settling for steady irons. Obviously that didn’t work on the first so why not swap? I actually hit it well. Why is golf so fickle? I caught the ball well the third but swung to the left “head up” said Brian. I ignored that because annoyingly I knew it, My second shot just had the ball teetering on the edge of the bunker up the slope. Brian’s drive had crossed the road. Don’t you just hate that?! The green here was again tricky but true. My ball ran on too far but at least I could get a chip back and landed with three feet off the hole. No par again on this stroke index 18 but at least I was playing much better.
The 4th gives knock out views over to Rufford Abbey, we stood ages taking it all in, the peace and quiet and the fact we had no pressures. We both got bogeys here and I was so relieved to see my putt go in. The 5th looks a simple par 3 but we both made hard work of it making recovery shots necessary and carding a bogey. The problem was the trees on the right. Brian hit the nearest but then played a cracking shot through the trees onto the green. I hit the tree furthest away and had to play over the bunker onto the green. I slipped slightly over the edge but a chip to within three feet of the hole saw me safe and in. At 6 the views came in again. Can’t beat it. A straight drive is required and as usual Brian just kept plugging away at driving straight. My score card says 5 but I must admit I can’t quite see how I did it, but I must have, because Brian said “your honours here mate” as we approached the 7th tee.
Holes 7 and 8 have changed for the better improving the flow of golf. We can now walk to each tee without having to backtrack or wait for other golfers to tee off. The new elevated tee on the 8th is brilliant, however, I read the sign wrong and aimed my drive to the right of the bunker thinking the hole was over there. I’m still convinced the map on the tee shows a straight hole and not a dogleg left. I won’t be shifted on that one no matter what I’m told!! That’s my excuse for a 6 and I’m sticking to it.
I was now getting the feel of my 4 and 5 irons and hitting well off the smooth fairways. I wasn’t going massive distances but at least they were safe. A 7 iron out of the bunker here saw me with a safe approach to the green and a nice tidy 5. We had played so far in the dry but the clouds gathered again as we teed off on the 9th. Brian’s second shot saw him facing downhill into the valley below, needing to play down and then up onto the green I managed to get to the very left edge narrowly avoiding the bunker by a yard. I putted up to the hole and then sunk it for a 5. I was so happy with the last 4 holes after such a poor start and average middle bit.
We decided at this point to stop at the clubhouse for lunch a hearty portion of steak and ale pie with chunky chips. They’re famous for their food here and at two for a tenner you just can’t go wrong. It’s worth more. I know golfers will hate me for saying that but when was the last time you went to a restaurant and got such a plateful of good food for a fiver. It beats me why golfers complain. The staff make it a treat to be there too. Believe it or not there are some clubhouses where the staff are pretty miserable but not here it’s a really friendly place.
At this point the skies opened and it chucked it down and stayed that way for the rest of the day so sadly it was the end of our round as we didn’t want to get the camera wet!! We are invited back anytime to do holes 10-18 and will definitely take James up on that offer. Note: In this article I’ve intentionally avoided any reference to Robin Hood. Things like ‘my shot went like an arrow’, ‘the view made me quiver ‘ ‘or jokes like ‘is there a Friar in the Abbey’. No it’s in the kitchen.’ ‘We tucked into our lunch’. They would just be stupid. So I have contented myself knowing that I have avoided sinking so low. I couldn’t avoid using the word ‘green’ though!
Our thanks for all at Rufford for a great day. GP and BW