“Frilford is only seven miles from Oxford,” said Bernard Darwin in his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, “but it might be a hundred miles from anywhere. It lies on a little unfrequented by-road, and is utterly rural and peaceful a spot as could be found anywhere. Here is sand enough and to spare – a wonderful oasis in the desert of mud.”
There’s a bit more traffic on the roads these days, but Frilford Golf Club is still tranquil and the club now boasts three courses, the Red, Green and Blue, 54 holes in total. The original course, the Red, was designed by J.H. Taylor in 1908 and was modified in the early 1920s by the Frilford club professional, J.H. Turner. The Red is still the best of the trio, even though the original opening holes were altered in the early 1990s to cater for the development of the new Blue course.
The Red course is a demanding par 72 layout, measuring more than 6,900 yards from the back tees. The front nine is more challenging and balanced than the back nine, with two par threes and two par fives. But it’s the par fours, especially the 5th, 7th and 8th that stand out, all measuring well over 400 yards from the medal tees. The 9th hole is the signature hole, a pretty par three, measuring over 180 yards, where the tee shot must carry a pond and avoid the out-of-bounds behind the elevated green. The back nine opens up with the longest hole on the course and finishes with seven consecutive par fours.
Given the quality and quantity of courses at Frilford Heath, it is surprising that the club’s reputation is not more widely known and recognised. The land is delightfully undulating, perfect for golf, and the club is rightfully proud of the fact that the sandy soil allows all-year-round play. The greens at Frilford are amongst the very best in the land and they are also trying hard to encourage the regeneration of heathland indigenous flora. That has to be good news because Frilford Heath is a natural and traditional place.
“Taking it altogether the golf is both good and difficult,” wrote Darwin, “and besides that, Frilford is essentially one of those places where it is good to be alive with a golf club in one’s hand – even if one uses it indifferently – and whither one looks forward to returning with a very keen enjoyment.”
The more I play the Red, the less I like it. The holes are very up and down, making it quite repetitive. This is especially true on the front nine. The course does finish strong though, with 13-18 all good par 4s.
The condition is always good, and it gets firm in summer which I really like.
Frilford Heath is set in the heart of Oxfordshire and with 54 holes on offer gives plenty of variety to both members and visitors. Of the three courses I prefer the Red which like Blue and Green has a heathland feel to it with firm fast fairways lined intermittently with gorse. The Red has a nice mixture of holes with long and short par 4’s, doglegs and good bunker placement. Holes 7,9 and 15 are the best of the bunch. The conditioning has always been good at Frilford and I can see why this course is on the cusp of the Top 100 in England.
I really can’t decide whether I think the red course is good track or merely above average. I played it in late July 2019 on warm blustery afternoon, perfect conditions for a heathland course which needs the wind to offer a defence. Perhaps my views were influenced partly by the poor condition of numerous fairways and tees, lots of bare grassless patches and rabbit damage everywhere, I really expect better at £95 a round! The course is routed through a flat heathland site, similar to Walton Heath but without the elevation change unfortunately. There are however plenty of good elements to enjoy, excellent greens, clever bunkering and a strong mix of short and long par 4’s, the 7th, 8th and 13th being the stand outs for me and the front 9 finishing with a great par 3 that demands an iron shot of high quality to find the putting surface. The back 9 isn’t so good with it feeling like something of a grind after the last par 3, the round finishes with a rather odd short par 4, a large bunker sits in the middle of the fairway forcing to you to hit an iron but none defending the green. I did like the fact they only allow 2 balls on the red so pace of play was great, barely saw anyone else on the course! The clubhouse is in the traditional style (with decent food), its terrace is a nice place to sit and contemplate the round you’ve played. Overall it’s a 3.5 ball course for me.
The Red course, generally regarded as the best of the trio, is of a similar mould to the Green, however, it’s a much sterner test.
The par for the course is 72 whilst SSS is 74 from the championship tees. Stretched to almost 7,000 yards you not only have to be straight off the tee to stay out of the many gorse-lined fairways but at times length is also essential. However, due to the fast running nature of the fairways, the course doesn’t play as long as other inland layouts of similar length and there are a handful of relatively short par fours thrown into the mix too.
Once again you have 18 solid and mostly very good holes but without any approaching the truly outstanding mark. After a slow start I particularly liked the stretch of holes from five to eight whilst the 10th and 15th are also superb holes. There is certainly more variety in the shots you will need to play on the Red course versus the Green.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.