The 1st hole at Dartmouth provides a gentle introduction and little clue to the challenge to come. Those starting from the 10th should be warmed up first and avoid a right side miss at all costs.
I found Dartmouth to be very similar to the Manor House at Castle Combe. Both are quality modern layouts with pleasant rural backdrops set over undulating terrain. Castle Combe rightly has a good reputation, but to my mind it also has throwaway holes such as the almost comic, placeholder 13th. Dartmouth though has arguably the better (and tougher) holes. Ones played down into the valley, ones played along the valley floor, as well as ones that bravely cling to the side of the hills. You will not find an entirely flat hole. Due to the undulating nature of the land, finding the firm, well-mown fairways is preferable, but the light rough will stop a reasonably good shot from running off into severe trouble. The design and conditioning work well together to make the course playable for a variety of skill levels, although novices would be better off playing the still challenging 9 hole course. One mild criticism would be the amount of greens which had a collar of rough at their entrance, making the run up shot either a lottery or irrelevant. This is a shame given that so many holes can be played in a variety of ways, with a bailout option for a miss on the ‘correct’ side. One exception is the par 5 4th which demands accuracy for its entire length. For me it is the standout hole where the designer comfortably earned his fee. OOB and thick vegetation enforce the entire right side, all but guaranteeing a lost ball. The stream flanking the left side is the lesser of two evils and its gently babbling soundtrack soothes frayed nerves on this beauty and beast of a hole.
The back nine is much longer than the front although it plays to the same par. Playing into the wind really does require powerful striking or suppressing the ego when playing par 4s such as the 14th or the 15th. While on the 15th I thought that many will consider it unfair with its slopes all leading to the lake at two thirds distance. The marker post, tight to the right edge of the fairway shows the necessity of keeping on that side. Upon reflection, and irrespective of conditions, the 15th is best viewed as a classic par and a half hole, playing the second shot from the plateau at half way with a long iron and relying on the short game if you don’t manage to hit a career shot.
The par 3s are of uniformly high quality. If the designer were to create a par 3 course I’d queue up to play it. The 3rd and 18th are the most photographed short holes but are matched or exceeded in design and beauty by the charming 5th. At 130-160 yards it proves length is not essential for a great short hole. There is water tight to the left and a steep bank to the right, with bunkers short and long that act as score savers rather than card-wreckers, preventing a dreaded ‘splosh’ breaking the rural tranquillity.
The 18th provides a marvellous finale (and a chance for a wager) although the fact it is the only par 3 on the back nine is a shame and is perhaps why I preferred the front nine along with its apparent greater maturity and more ‘natural’ look. Having played Dartmouth twice in a weekend, once carrying and once by buggy, I would recommend a buggy for keeping energy levels high on the back nine.
Date: June 09, 2012