Archive for September, 2009

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.

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.