The Donnington Grove estate dates back to the late 18th century, with the house and grounds acquired by Shi-tenoji International in 1991. The Japanese owners then brought in Dave Thomas to design an 18-hole layout which opened for play on 12 June 1993. The property changed hands again in 2005 but the golf course still remains a core attraction for the business.
Holes 2 to 8 are located on higher ground to the north of the A14 highway, with the remaining holes laid out in classic parkland style around the River Lambourn chalk stream which runs through the back nine – though the peaceful waters of this watercourse never actually play a strategic part in proceedings on the course.
The layout can be extended to 7,108 yards from the back markers, playing to a par of 72. Feature holes include the first of the par threes at the 198-yard 5th, the short par four 9th, the tough par four 11th (with a bunkerless green but still rated stroke index 1), and the 368-yard 14th, where a pond to the front right of the green puts pressure on the approach shot.
A key barometer to me in deciding whether to play a new course is whether it is included in the ‘top 100 COUNTY golf course rankings and Donnington Grove sitting a lowly 14th in the Berkshire list did not disappoint.
The course covers a large area on the Donnington Grove Estate north of Newbury, although its feature Castle is visible but not intrinsic in the design. It is parkland with mostly wide fairways and mild elevations. The holes provide a reassuring feeling although their challenge is more their length, at 6576 yards off the yellow tees, than intricacies around the green. Having said that, towards the end of a dry summer, there was a lot of run on the ball which flattered this modest mid-handicapper.
After a distinctly average first hole, and then a lengthy trip over a bridge across the busy A34 motorway things got better, with a long interesting gently uphill par 5. We were however pleased to have hired a buggy as there was a lot of distance between some holes, particularly at the beginning and end of each ‘nine’. Our only criticism would be generally poor signage and a collection of pleasant if unremarkable golf challenges, perhaps typical of a 1990s designed parkland course on a large canvas. However the lovely countryside made for some pretty views and happy times in the big outdoors.
I particularly liked the par 5s where you could really let rip, the scenic downhill 8th hole, and two challenging par 4s on the back nine at 11 and 16.
The clubhouse was a rambling collection of buildings in the middle of the course, probably providing an excellent wedding venue, whilst the golf course was more a decent place to play golf, rather than typical golf ‘Club’.
However we enjoyed a refreshing and friendly golfing experience, and felt afterwards that it had been excellent value for money and well worth the effort.
I played this today in good Summer conditions with my son and have to say it was much better than I expected. He played off the white tees which stretch out to 7,000 yards while I played off the more forgiving yellows. Some long stretches between holes definitely better with a buggy or at least a power caddy rather than carrying but even so, it's only about 4 times that you have a 2-3 minute(ish) brisk walk so it's not the end of the world especially with a trolley. I agree also that some of the bunkers looked a bit lacking in quality with a few fairway bunkers short on sand but the greenside ones played nicely with a nice coating of fine sand.
The large undulating greens were good, true and quick and there was plenty of interest with various run off areas around them also. The shaping of the holes up and down mostly gentle slopes (although the 8th is steeply downhill) was good and some really long challenging par 5's for the long hitters when playing off the tips. Fairways were also in pretty good condition. For good golfers who are long hitters, playing from the back tees is definitely a pretty good test with lots of bunkers in the landing areas presenting some challenge, albeit unless up near the lip the fairway bunkers are not too hard to get out of. My son who hits it reasonably long said he even preferred it to lovely Blackmoor which we played a few weeks ago as he prefers playing a longer more modern course to a very pretty but shorter heathland style design, although it's very hard to compare them as they are such different styles of golf course.
I think this course gets busy at weekends sometimes but mid week the pace of play was reasonably brisk, we weren't held up at all (and we usually play our 6,400 yard home course in 2.5 hours when in a two ball so we play at a reasonable pace), partly I think as the group in front had a buggy in the group and the third member walked quickly with their powerkaddy.
Overall, a modern design that in Summer conditions provides a good test for the good golfer especially when playing off the back tees. I'd give it somewhere between a 3.5 balls and 4 balls and I think it's well deserving of a decent placing in the Berkshire rankings and if I lived locally I would be very happy to be a member here.
I have to concur with most of the previous review especially with regard the long walks between tees and sometimes over the bridges of the noisy A34. I played in early October 2017 and it was fairly wet underfoot which combined with some seemingly long uphill holes made it seem like a long course .. maybe not a course for winter ?. My favourite holes would be the par 4's at 14 and 11; the 11th was a good hole, stroke index 1 at 423 yards with a slight dog-leg and pond short and left of green. Overall though I found the course fairly mundane, a typical modern course lacking in any character. Not anywhere near as good as Bowood (Wilts) which is I guess is a comparable Dave Thomas design, I would place lower in the Berkshire rankings (certainly below Maidenhead and Goring).
The pros for the course are length, good greens, some interesting holes 4, 6, 8 and 10 spring to mind and great value for money as a visitor in June on a Saturday morning.
The cons are massive walks between 1 and 2, 8 and 9, 9 and 10 and 18 to club house. The course is a buggy course. Also the bunkers need a lot of work at the time of playing as some are bare, some with grass growing out of them, most have a lot of stones in and there seems to be different sand in different bunkers finally then a random bunker with so much sand in that a ball just plugged. These need looking at.
Value for money though is key here it is a nice layout and you can’t complain at the price.