Gog Magog isn't the biblical final opponent of Israel, nor is it located in the heart of Wales, it's Cambridgeshire's favourite golf club, which is sited a couple of miles to the south of Cambridge, on the legendary Gog Magog Hills.
It’s unclear when golf was first played in Cambridge but there was a course on Coldham’s Common, which was described by Bernard Darwin in his 1910 book The Golf Courses of the British Isles as “the worst course I have ever seen”. Darwin went on to say: “There is another flourishing course on the Gog Magog hills, where there is at least a charming view.”
The idea to build a golf course was put forward by the Council of Gonville and Caius College, and in 1898, W Duncan – the resident pro at Coldham’s Common – laid out a rudimentary 9-hole course. The following year, the course was extended to 18 holes and in 1901 the Gog Magog Golf Club was officially founded. In 1902, Bernard Darwin was elected on to the Club committee, but he resigned a year later, "owing to his probable absence from Cambridge." However, Darwin may have played a role in arranging for Willie Park Junior to visit the club in 1902 to advise on the position and construction of bunkers.
"Successive Committees were content to make their
own changes to the course, and in 1922 the records reflect a certain pique when
members requested that a golf course architect should be consulted.” Writes
Mike Berners Price in The Centurions of Golf. “The minutes refer to the
alterations recommended by the well respected architect J Abercromby as being
‘trifling’ and the resentment seems to have continued through to 1926 when the
Secretary’s response to a similar request was that: ‘it might be advisable to
take the advice of a practical golfer like James Braid.’ Whatever the sentiments
at the time, the contributions of Park, Abercromby and Braid all helped to add
variety to today’s layout.”
East Anglia is one of the flattest areas in England, but the Old course at the “Gogs” is anything but flat. The opening par four starts the gradual journey uphill before we arrive at the memorable 2nd hole. This short par four has an intimidating uphill tee shot which must carry across the corner of an old quarry which, to make matters worse, is out of bounds. The plateau green is cut into the edge of the hill, missing the green to the left with your approach shot is not recommended. We can now relax after climbing the first two holes because we’re now on the top of a delightful chalk escarpment. Here, we have a distinct heathland feel, but instead of heather, the rough is liberally sprinkled with rare perennial flax – a glorious sea of blue during the summer. It’s not surprising that the Old course is set in an area designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
There are many memorable holes on the Old course and the par threes are especially strong, but one in particular is simply terrific...the 13th. Measuring 208 yards with a depression between tee and green and a spinney waiting to catch anything hit left of the target line. It’s a great hole, but make sure to drink in the view across historic Cambridge before moving on to the 14th tee.
At 6,398 yards from the back tees, the Old course is not about length it’s about accuracy and finding the right part of the tricky, sloping greens. Each year the Lagonda Trophy is contested on the Old course and this blue ribbon amateur event attracts some of the world’s best amateurs. The R&A named Gog Magog as a new addition to the list of clubs to host Open Championship Regional Qualifying (2007-2011). But it’s not the Old course that was selected, it’s the much younger Wandlebury course, which opened for play in 1999.
As you drive up the M11 looking at flat fields to left and right it’s a great surprise to arrive and look straight UP the first and second fairways. I love the challenge of clubbing for an elevation change and it was something that got thoroughly tested through the round. The ability to work the ball either way off the tee is a huge advantage as well. Whether to hold the side slopes or skirt bunkers the shape must be regularly changed. Greens start simple but with pronounced slopes and get more subtle as the course rolls on .
The Par3’s and 5’s are unusually all strong. Pick of a good variety of 4’s and probably the most memorable hole is the 16ht. With picturesque views from a high tee box, it requires two stout blows to cover 446 yards. The back 9 is quite a test. Always a bit of a risk when moving to an inland course in March but the fears were unfounded. The high lying land over a base of chalk meant conditions were idea for the running game and the putts ran true. I will go back in summer because the fairways look like they’ll be hard to hold and the greens “slippery”.
All that plus the course has a long history and fine views over Cambridge and surrounding countryside. A nomination for a hidden gem. Well worth a visit and deserves to be known more than locally.
(Nearly gave the elusive 5h ball rating and with a little polish it would be there).