Henley-on Thames is better known in a sporting
context for its world-famous rowing event, the Henley Royal Regatta, but the
golf course which lies to the south of the market town, less than a mile from
the River Thames, should not be overlooked.
Laid out on a narrow tract of land that runs between Harpsden Bottom and Mays Green, the course was established in 1907 by James Braid, though the club also paid the professional at Prince’s to prepare plans for its new golfing layout.
Unveiled as a 9-hole track initially, the course was very quickly extended to eighteen holes which were officially opened on 16th May 1908 when Braid played a 36-hole exhibition match against Rowland Jones, the Wimbledon Park Professional.
According to the book James Braid and his Four Hundred Golf Courses by John F. Moreton and Iain Cumming, “400 spectators turned out for the morning round and 700 for the afternoon… Braid won by 9 and 8, Jones never having seen the course before... Both rounds were completed in two hours.”
“Two areas of woodland and two roads determined the routing of the course, Harpsden Wood and Lucy’s Copse, and it is much the same today. Some changes have been made to avoid crossing fairways. Braid’s longest hole has been made into two holes and other holes changed to correspond.”
Club member Simon Barrington and Dennis Oliver, former Chairman of Greens committee, directed the greenkeeping staff with course modifications that were made in advance of the club’s centenary in 2007 and a few further in-house alterations, like bunker re-shaping, have since been carried out.
Today, the course measures 6,264 yards from the back markers, playing to a par of 70, which matches the standard scratch score. Routed in an out and back fashion, the tree-lined fairways at Henley are set out with a trio of par three holes on each nine, the short holes ranging in length from the 128-yard 7th to the 225-yard 4th.
The toughest hole on the outward half is the 468-yard par four 8th (“Vardon’s Loss”), where only the biggest of hitters can reach the green in two shots, even when the prevailing wind blows from behind. On the inward nine, the 439-yard 12th (Lady Rathcreeden”) is another difficult par four, doglegging right from the tee to a testing, sand-protected two-tiered green.Variety is certainly the spice of golfing life at Henley as consecutive holes with the same par value only occurs once, at the par four 5th and 6th holes. The course offers a fair test of golf on a pleasantly undulating property, without being too penal for golfers who might not be on top of their game.