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.”
Some changes have been made to the original design to principally avoid the 4th and 5th fairways crossing (1912) and holes crossing the road through the course (1964), which involved Braid’s longest hole becoming two holes and the renumbering of some holes. As technology has improved tees have been moved back to gain extra yardage.
As the club approached its Centenary in 2007, the Main
Committee decided to return some of the features of the course to the ‘Braid
design’ and the Green Committee, including Simon Barrington, who carried out
the task of writing the report for the work, including computerised drawings of
bunkers, put forward a five-year plan, which was accepted by the members. The club’s
greenkeeping staff under the direction of the Green Committee completed the
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.
Another fairly average parkland course, nothing to really criticise but nothing to get the pulses racing either with a few too many bland holes. Four fairly average par 5's and six par 3's (the 2nd and 13th were my favourites) give a par of 70. A few sloping fairways and greens to negotiate, including the 5th green where the pin position seemed fiendish. Course condition was fine and I'm guessing that if greens were a little quicker the slopes would have been very tricky. Henley reminds me very much of Goring and Streatley both in quality and style and also in that the first few holes seem to take you up to a plateau which you then play around and then the last few holes take you back down to the clubhouse.
This is a course I knew nothing about, but what a pleasant surprise. Apart from 3 holes in the middle (10-12), which are rather a dull slog, it is tremendous fun. Loads of variety of design, plenty of changes of elevation, some ravishing views of quintessential English countryside, certainly a good test of your game, and in pristine condition. Good!