Jack Morris, the Hoylake professional and nephew of Old Tom Morris, laid out the original course at Church Stretton along with club professional James Hepburn. The first nine debuted in 1898, with J.H. Taylor and Harry Vardon playing an exhibition match to mark the opening of the course.
The second nine followed six years later and Vardon returned shortly after to refine the layout. James Braid was then engaged to modify the course in 1934 and, as John F. Moreton and Iain Cumming write in James Braid and his Four Hundred Golf Courses, “Braid’s suggestions were implemented one by one over the next year.”
The authors continue: “Certain tees were re-turfed, the 11th and 12th tees were enlarged, five greens improved (1, 10, 13, 14 and 16), two greens levelled (3 and 5), and the bunkering given a critical look, moving, removing and creating new ones.
Church Stretton is an extraordinary course, high up above the town, on the Long Mynd. It climbs up for the early holes. The amazing thing is that it is only just over 5,000 yards from the back tees. There are no par fives, par for the course is 66. It is a natural course in a prime location.”
I absolutely adore hilltop golf. The views, stimulating golf and varying conditions keep me coming back for more. But while Church Stretton may have some of the best views I’ve seen playing hilltop golf, it really is a place that takes this style of golf to the absolute limit.
Don’t get me wrong, there are good golf holes and lots of enjoyment to be had, but I’m not sure this land (and the location of the clubhouse in respect to it) is ideally suited to an 18 hole golf course.
The first 3 par 3’s all played blind and uphill are to be honest, a little on the average side, particularly for a visiting golfer. They are certainly controversial at best and achieve more in ascending the mountain than providing much to a round of golf. There are elements I didn’t like with most of the first 8 holes truth being told. 4 is a great golf hole (if it was obvious where you are going from the tee) and 6 similarly is a voyage of discovery on both shots. 7 and 8 are connecting Par 3.5’s that get you to the what I believe is the best part of the course, holes 9-14.
This set of holes is incredibly positioned on a col enjoying vistas in both directions at varying points. I really liked the 9th, a tough examination of accuracy on both shots. In fact I liked all the par 4’s in this stretch. The par 3 13th is a strange one however; a short par 3 with a marker post 30 yards right of the green pointing at the 14th tee. If the 13th tee were a little further to the left, this would be a much better golf hole.
The last 4 holes are I’m sure loved by some and loathed by others. You begin the descent back to the clubhouse in vertical fashion at the 15th where the 315 yard par 4 probably plays about 200 yards. It’s another blind tee shot into a cramped intersection of the course as it is the meeting of holes 4/5 and 15/16. It’s at best a conversation piece and at worst, an accident waiting to happen. Hole 16 is a wonderfully attractive short par 4, 17 is a relatively straight forward affair and then 18 is a par 3 that undoes the ascent of the first 3 par 3’s in one shot.
I think your enjoyment levels would increase the more you play Church Stretton. I am not against blind shots on golf courses at all, but the regularity and severity of them here stretched my patience, particularly on the front few holes. Conditioning wise, I found the course in okay state for a hilltop course in the middle of summer, even if the greens were slightly baked out. For those loving this type of golf and in the area to play beauties such as Kington, Llandrindod Wells or further south to Cleeve Hill or Painswick, Church Stretton would be a nice compliment to this hilltop itinerary. Just be sure to bring a Sherpa, a compass and a large dollop of laissez faire attitude and the views and holes at the top of the course will leave you with fond memories.
I think the previous review of Church Stretton is pretty well spot on. To start with three par 3's is very very unusual and the first is in particular a very difficult par 3. The toughest hole is certainly the 4th, a dog-leg par 4 over 400 yards with the second having to carry loads of trouble on the right. After this there is a mixture of entertaining holes, some ridiculous ones and a few blander ones, downhill and uphill approaches, square shaped greens, probably too many infill par 3's and always views .. and at the end another par 3 to finish, a good looking downhill one. Quirky and fun, also fairly open and quite hilly. Not as good as Llanymynech and similar in some respects to Kington except not with the same quality.
Church Stretton Golf Club sits atop the stunning Shropshire Hills above the historic market town of the same name. Please believe me when I say the panoramic views from the summit of the course are as good as you’ll find anywhere in England.
Located in an area of outstanding natural beauty this par-66 golf course is very unique, memorable, fun and boasts a handful of exceptional holes to boot.
Golf has been played here for over 100 years with James Braid and Harry Vardon instrumental in the present layout which, if not rudimentary in design, is certainly of the old fashioned variety (including some square greens). That, however, doesn’t prevent it from producing good golf and with the pure delights of the second, fourth, eighth and tenth holes it is more than worth a visit.
At just a few paces over 5,000 yards from the very back tees Church Stretton packs in a huge amount of variety to its modest length and you are likely to play shots here that are not part of your usual golfing armoury.
The adventurous course climbs several hundred feet from its base at the quaint clubhouse, halfway up Bodbury Hill, and most of this is done in the first three holes; all of them par threes! And whilst the terrain is perhaps a little too steep to make them holes of real quality each of their challenges is varied. In fact I am a huge fan of the second, which has a green hiding within a crease in the hillside, because at just 111 uphill yards it asks you to hit the perfect shot in order to get close. The other two options are to risk having your ball come up agonisingly short and run nearly all the way back to you or alternatively play safe, by taking a little extra club, and accept that you will have to try and rescue par from through the back of the green. Meanwhile the third is the most picturesque of this opening trio with a lovely located green in a secluded spot between two large rocky hills.
As a side note the 18th, which has its tee adjacent to the third green, is also a short hole and plunges all the way back down towards the first tee! This sub 650-yard loop makes for a very interesting quartet of one-shotters… as well as being extremely good exercise!
Once you have made a further big climb to the fourth tee the walk across the summit of the hilltop, where the reminder of the holes are played, is actually reasonably walkable and further ascents are more gradual. This culminates in another huge drop at the bizarre 15th hole; a 320-yard par four that under the correct conditions can perhaps be ‘driven’ with a pitching wedge!
There are some real marmite holes at Church Stretton that you will either love or loathe; they are quirky for sure but may at times just step over the line and become a little too much. All of them will ask a question of your short game with lots of interest around the greens. I lost track of the number of times I failed to get up and down (in three!) from within 50 yards of the green. Wrong-side yourself here and your scorecard will feel the pain. It is one of those courses that if you miss your landing-zone by just a couple of feet with your chip or pitch the end result can be your ball ending up several yards away from the intended target.
In summary, Church Stretton is an inspiring golf course and one I would recommend anybody play. It won’t be to everyone’s liking but it’s right up my street. Drink in the views, savour the walk but above all else enjoy the golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.