North Wilts Golf Club – review

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When arranging a day’s golfing in and around Wiltshire, many will turn to Bowood and Burford, among others, as stand out destinations. With such classic courses on offer, other gems in the county are often overlooked. North Wilts Golf Club, the location for All Things Golf’s latest review, fits perfectly into this category.

The member’s club, founded in 1890, is a mature parkland course, which takes full advantage of the contours of the land it was built on; offering some incredibly picturesque and challenging holes. At a modest 6,041 yards off of the yellow tees, it would be easy to assume the course will be straightforward. However, as is often the case, North Wilts forces you to extract all of your golfing finesse and accurate shot-making skills. And if you don’t, it could get ugly.

North Wilts is a challenge of finesse. Long driving is certainly not required, rather driving to pinpoint accuracy is essential. Knowledge is power at this course, with members well placed to offer advice on where the ball will bounce. First time visitors will, at times, be mystified at their ‘perfect’ shots taking unexpected bounces into the well placed greenside bunkers. It is, therefore, a course with some links like properties.

After an opening par five, which alludes to the kind of elevation changes you will encounter along the way, the first top class hole follows. The second hole is framed by a large, undulating green, featuring two tiers, with a huge slope to get to the pin, invariably set on the back tier. Take enough club to reach the correct tier, or four putts are more than possible.

There are few weak holes at North Wilts, but the par four 5th has all of the worst golf hole characterstics; uphill and into a blind green, seemingly impossible to hit. A bit of a gimmicky hole, but fortunately one of the few.

Any frustrations over the 5th are quickly quelled by the second par three of the day. At 103 yards,it is the shortest hole on the course, but by no means straightforward. It is a ‘find the green or else’ hole, with shots left careering into thick rough (and downhill) and stray slices likely to find a 20 foot deep pit, used in the past for cockfighting.

Elevation changes are an entertaining twist, with many elevated tees, offering not only stunning views of the Wiltshire countryside, but the powerful feeling of being able to carry your shots further (how macho). An example of this is the 9th, although here, splendid vistas are replaced by ‘Pig Central,’ a huge livestock farm; interesting, in its own unique way.

The back nine is host to two of the signature holes on the course. Opinions will no doubt vary as to the star hole, however, the par three 13th must surely rank highly. From a high, elevated tee, the tiered green is captured by a bank at the back, sloping round to the right hand side, where greedy bunkers are placed. Short shots may be gobbled up by the ditch, running 40 yards from the centre of the green,  and meandering left. A par here is certainly a healthy score.

The 14th, and the pick for some members, is a challenging par four. Place your tee shot either side of the trio of trees down the middle of the fairway, aiming the second to an elevated green, which sits on top of a steep plateau; be short to take one or two more clubs to get the ball onto the short stuff. This green also frustrates, with two tiers.

The course is separated by a busy main road (balls often find it!), and tee times can be from either the 1st or 11th tee, depending on the group size and time of the day. This can be a bad thing, as groups starting on a different tee to you can jump the queue and play ahead. There may be a system in place wherby the club recommend playing groups through, this was not the case in the two rounds we played.

Off course facilities live up to the high expectations. Food is tasty, and good value, whilst you can sit back in the clubhouse with a drink, watching golfers teeing off, and finishing their rounds on the 18th. A well stocked pro shop offers both new and second hands clubs, and extends a friendly welcome to all visitors.

North Wilts is certainly a club to visit if touring Wiltshire. If you prefer long, championship style golf, then nearby Bowood may be more your cup of tea. However, if finesse is your thing, plump for a day at North Wilts.

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Girton Golf Club – Review

Located a few miles outside Cambridge city centre, Girton Golf Club offers a challenging round of golf; deceptively so.

At just 5837 yards, Girton is a relatively short course with a par of just 69. On paper, there are many holes that seem likely birdies or pars (depending on you level of ability). In practice, however, especially on a blustery day, the Cambridgeshire course actually offers a very stiff test of golf.

At a paltry 281 yards, you would expect the opening par four 1st to be a straightforward start to the round. But as I stood on the first tee, with an extremely strong wind blowing left to right, the hole instantly became a nightmare. It was soon to become my first taste of the course’s main defence. Trees.

It will not be the rough (it is quite short), huge water hazards (water does not play a part) or absurd length (as established, it’s a short course) that gets you. Rather, it’s the imposing trees which line the fairways, that will ruin your scorecard. The rough appeared to be cut short in order for stray balls to bounce farther and farther into trouble, happy to make your scorecard a misery.

If you are planning a trip to Girton, make sure to take your straight driving game; and be prepared to play in strong winds. Situated in an open, flat location, Girton will often use the wind as another defence. Generally, most holes will play into a crosswind, with strong gusts eager to push your ball into Girton’s leafy defenders. Fairways are fair, but by no means wide, with several tee shots requiring a precise aim between narrow gaps between the lines of trees. Think the 18th at Augusta, on a slightly less grand scale.

After several holes (I’d brought my unreliable wayward driving game), I had became strangely familiar with hacking it out of trees and searching for my ball in bushes. Frighteningly, however, I was enjoying it, relishing the challenge of playing Tiger Woods style punch shots under the low branches (although, admittedly, largely unsuccessfully).

The Girton greens, once you’ve arrived on them, will be a pleasant experience. With a mixture of large and small, flat and undulating, the greens will always offer a different challenge. Visually, they look like they will roll slow, but as Girton has already surprised me, I was not that shocked to find them running quite quick. Many greens have large undulations and plateaus, which add to the challenge. Holing a huge, swinging, downhill putt for bogey on the 1st will be a feeling hard to better.

It is tough to pick a star hole, as many holes offer such different challenges. The award would perhaps go to one of the par 3s. The 17th, at 120 yards, is the shortest, but one of the most delightful par 3s on the course. Guarded by two cavernous bunkers at the front, and a line of trees and bushes at the back, the hole is nicely framed and offers a good ‘all or nothing’ challenge. Another pick would be the par 5 18th, due to the subtle dogleg and rolling fairway; a stiff finishing hole. The 13th, too, is a 90 degree dogleg that requires a precisely placed shot to a narrow green, or a ‘Tiger line’ to hit the green in one (over more trees).

After fourteen holes, the trees had finally become friends of mine. Needing some nourishment after being windswept for several hours, apple trees bore a tasty, if a little sour, treat. A nice discovery.

Practice facilities at Girton include a putting green, complete with undulations, and a practice field (in place of a driving range). Although not an ideal way to warm up for a round, the practice field seems ample for the members and fine for a few warm up shots. The clubhouse also offers good value food and drink, with a donation box for fees for visiting the captain’s bunker (officially the most magnetic bunker on the course).

The one problem with Girton is an external one. Visitors to the website will not gain much information about the course. Instead, information is limited to member specific material. This is one area that Girton could improve in order to attract and inform potential visitors.

Overall, Girton was an enjoyable test of golf. With friendly members and quiet surroundings, considering the bank holiday weekend was approaching, it was a pleasant place to enjoy an afternoon; even though the wind spoiled the scoring.

Titleist NXT Tour Review

With a brand name that oozes quality, a three piece construction and a name containing the word ‘tour,’ you would expect great things from the Titleist NXT Tour ball.

In reality, however, I was left a little disappointed with the overall performance of the so called ‘tour’ ball. Considering the ball is branded in a similar market to the Srixon AD333, I was expecting a good distance off the tee, coupled with a slightly softer feeling ball than the two piece AD333.

On one of these counts, the NXT Tour certainly delivered. With a satisfyingly firm feel off the face of the driver, the ball performed admirably in the distance stakes, launching on a high, but not ballooning flight.

In the short game, the ball left a lot to be desired. The cover of the ball feels much firmer and less responsive than its competitors. This is perhaps due to its ‘fusablend’ cover; hardly the urethane cover many premium balls rely on for soft feel.

As a trade off, though, the ball was satifyingly durable, but not enough of a trade off to warrant ousting the AD333 ball, which is a much better all round golf ball.

Update: In the last post, I wrote of my frustration of the premium price of the Bridgestone B330-RX. A reader has since notified me that this ball can be obtained online at some retailers for around £23.99 a dozen; a much more affordable price. I’m off to buy a dozen, and I’d recommend you giving them a go.


Ball test 2: Callaway HX Hot Bite

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After the last ball test, I was left a little frustrated. Having found a ball that ticked all of the boxes, I’d found the ball in question (Bridstone b330-rx) out of my price range.

So, my attention turned to an old friend; the Callaway HX Hot Bite. I have used this ball a long time ago, when it was first released, and played with it for a couple of months, before switching to the AD333. I took a sleeve of the latest edition balls out to the course; could the friendship be rekindled?

Another factor, in addition to the ones noted in the previous test that may influence ball choice, is marketing. A family member noted his choice of ball (the Hot Bite) was due to the attractive green packaging. If this is a factor for you, the bright, eye-catching packet will appeal.

Being a spin off of the HX Hot, the ball’s marketing suggested that it should fly off of the clubface. It did not disappoint, with the Hot Bite giving a satisfyingly firm feel off the driver and a long carry. Although comparable to the AD333, the Hot Bite perhaps edged it on the distance stakes, however this could not be 100% proved without the aid of a launch monitor.

The Hot Bite was also designed to be a lot softer around the green, which was a compromise of the previous HX Hot model. Again, the ball did not disappoint. You may struggle to get this ball bouncing and spinning back, a la the tour professionals, it is rather ‘a couple of hops and stop” kind of ball. It checks nicely on chips and pitches, giving me the control that is more than adequate for my level of skill. Feel off the putter is soft and responsive, comparable to the srixon soft feel.

One issue with the Hot Bite is durability. In my previous encounters with the ball, I did not have a problem, however, with a couple of three-quarter wedge shots, the ball did seem to cut up a little more than the competitors. It should be noted, the offending wedge was a vintage Callaway X-Tour model (renowned as a sharply grooved wedge), however, this is not a problem I generally encounter with balls. The ball shredded to the extent that the edging around the dimples was ‘peeling’ away.

More testing will be required to confirm the reliability of the ball, which will be worthwhile, considering the benefits of it. It is a true rival to the AD333, just a little less durable. Whether or not this is a worthwhile concession is a personal preference.

Never doubt a Tiger

Tiger Woods overhauled a three shot deficit to win the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone yesterday.

Trailing Irishman, Padraig Harrington, the surprise round three leader, Tiger took advantage of a 16th hole triple bogey from his rival to win the revered event.

Controversy surrounded the chief referee’s decision to warn the final pairing for slow play, where they were put on a shot clock, having to take theirs  shots within a time limit. Failing to do so would have brought financial and stroke penalities. Enforced on the 16th hole, it is perhaps one of the factors that prompted Harrington’s shot selection on the nightmare hole, which ended in an approach shot going into the water.

Critics of both players were writing them off after disappointing Open performances, with the severest of critics doubting Tiger’s major winning ability, following knee surgery last year. Winning the WGC event will go some way to silencing such doubters.

Similarly, Harrington, suffering a complete loss of form after multiple swing changes this season, was an unexpected leader. Runner up spot will, however, put him back into the world’s top ten rankings.

All eyes will be on the pair going into the final major of the year, the USPGA at Hazeltine, which starts this week.

What’s the wildlife like?

Many courses are home to many species of wildlife. Here at Broome Manor Swindon, a ‘big cat’ is caught. It’s a leopard…oh wait, just a cat. What’s the best you’ve seen on the course?

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The Ball Test: Part One

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Whether you’re using at Titleist ProV1, a Callaway Big Bertha, or something you found in the rough, you will understand that the golf ball is one of the vital pieces of kit in the game.

Odds are, that instead of investing in a new £300 driver to cure ‘that slice,’ the same problem could be cured by choosing the correct ball to match your game.

The golf ball is something that I have constantly changed, trying to solve the eternal mid to high handicappers’ problem; finding a ball that feels great in the short game, whilst going miles off the tee.

This test tracks my progress in finding that perfect ball, and I’ve thrown in a premium ball for short game comparison.

Srixon AD333 – Current ball of choice

Hailed as one of the most popular two piece balls, the AD333 aims to solve the distance/feel issue. Straight and long off the tee, the AD333 has remained my ball of choice for a while now. It suits my moderate swing speed down to the ground, and short game feel is not bad either. The ball will not stop and spin back like the premium balls on the market, rather take a couple of hops and stop; perfectly adequate for my kind of game, which often sees me short of the pin anyway. The benchmark, and the one to beat.

Srixon Soft Feel

The soft feel is marketed as a ball for slower swing speeds, around the 70mph mark. My swing speed is around 85mph with the driver, so was not the perfect combination for me. It feels slightly softer than the AD333, but at the same time did not spin too much more around the green. Due to this, the ball also launched slightly higher and shorter, not a brilliant combination with my high launch Callaway FTI driver. Would work better for those with the recommended slower swing speed. The large arrow shaped alignment aid was also ridiculous, and did not work well due the size of it.

Srixon Trispeed

The Trispeed is a three piece ball, which compares well with the Titleist NXT Tour. It seems to be marketed as a more versatile ball for a range of swing speeds, so should fit well with my swing profile. It was comparable with the AD333 in terms of ball flight and distance, with perhaps feel characteristics in between the Soft Feel and the AD333. On the green, the Trispeed felt a little ‘dead’ and a little lighter feeling than other balls. This was something that was not suited to my taste. At a higher price than the AD333, it is hard to justify the extra cost, as there is little benefit over its cheaper cousin.

Bridgestone B330-RX

I went to the local golf shop in the hope of procuring either the Bridgestone E6+ or E7+, designed for a similar market to the AD333. I instead left with the B330-RX, which is allegedly the premium B330 ball, with a lower compression for slower swing speeds. Initial testing of the ball showed that the ball compares well to the AD333 for distance, perhaps a little longer when hit well. In addition to this, the short game feel sat nicely in between the top premium balls and the AD333. Finally, a ball that truly satisfies the issue. However, the one concern is cost. The premium feel translates into a £30 a dozen price, something I cannot justify. It would be my ball of choice tomorrow…if I could afford to lose them!

Srixon Z Star

Used as a short game comparison, this ball was buttery soft and span more than any other ball tested. A great option for the low handicapper.

For now, the AD333 remains the favourite. Watch out for further ball tests, with the NXT Tour and Callaway HX Hot Bite up for review…