We played early September after the hottest Summer on record, when most other courses in the Greater London area were parched with the oppressive heat. Not Hankley which looked pristine from the raised members bar in the clubhouse. First impressions were of hand cut approaches (4th green was under our nose from the bar) and hand cut tees. The attention to detail was evident early doors.
White tees (6474yds) were the order of the day and the first hole was indicative of the Hankley challenge. Keep it in the fairway, and away from the penal heather the course is more than playable.
Not overly long at 422yds, the first plays to a blind second shot which added a wee early round bit of variety. I racked my brain for another blind approach to a 1st hole and could only come up with Headingley GC - answers on a postcard please…
The short 2nd hole (145yds) is perfectly framed amongst the scotch pines and oak trees, slightly uphill asked for an extra half a club BUT do not go long!
The third and fourth holes ask for position off the tee and pars more than acceptable on both these par fours. The fifth hole has a wee spruce tree in the first cut up the right wing that was perfect for my five yard ‘pro draw’, and on leaving the tee had an early round feeling of each hole moving in different directions, which continued for pretty much the entire round.
The short seventh hole played 165yds on the day, with its false front and two tier green its worthy of its signature label. Take a moment on the green to grasp the heathland vista, truly breath-taking. The golf course is played over 160 acres but is surrounded by another 700 acres!
The back (purple) tee on the par 5 eighth hole offers more views across the heath and on reaching the fairway the feel of a links course came into mind with a firm rolling fairway. Birdie chance here, as is the short ninth before a run of tough holes after the turn. Tee shot on ten is quite an intimidating one where must be played up the left half of the dog-leg, I found the heather right then the bunker front right. The bunkers are Colt esk – hazards to be avoided at all cost!
Eleven is a flat, long, testing par 3. I took my par & ran to the dog-leg twelfth where the tee ball asks for a tickle of draw then a straight forward approach to one of the larger and flatter greens. ALL the greens were true and well presented on the day.
Another switch in direction to play the par 5 thirteen, and best to avoid the bunkers, gorse, bridal paths and heather to give yourself a reasonable chance for birdie - I made seven.
Fourteen tee the penny finally dropped for me, it is not about how far at Hankley, its ALL about position (!) made the fairway with 3W and got into the game. Especially enjoyed this approach to a slightly raised well protected green. The view from 15 tee looking back on the fourteen is worth taking in.
Sixteen was the last of the one shot holes before another dog-leg on seventeen – I found the heather (again!) with 1W – but somehow managed to make the green which was a first. Not a first GIR (honestly) but a first from the heather and I spent a LOT of time in it….
On 18th tee it dawned on us that we hadn’t so much as seen a house or heard any form of transport, nothing by way of noise pollution & they saved the best hole for last! Generous enough off the tee before a daunting approach over a deep grass gully. Proper two shot finishing hole to a course that had so much variety to it. Aesthetically it is impressive with colour contrasts aplenty, and on reflection Hankley more than merits its reputation as a Surrey institution of golf in many ways.
It has all the history with Ben Hogan using the links like heathland for practice before his sole Open Championship appearance & victory in 1953 (Carnoustie). Bobby Locke & Andy Newmarch raved about it and legendary ladies amateur championship Elizabeth Price was a long standing member here.
2019 it plays hosts to the English Amateur, shared with nearby Northants for qualifying with Match-play stages all to be played at Hankley.
It has the Colt design stamp after he remodelled this original Braid layout and what a classically routed course it is. If I haven’t said so already on playing Hankley think about positional play from each tee rather than length, as that heather is to be avoided at all costs. The showering facilities are equally of the highest standards as was the food, and with Hogs Back TEA on draught we weren’t left wanting for much….
M. J. Smyth
Date: September 24, 2018