Henley - Oxfordshire - England

Henley Golf Club,
Harpsden,
Henley-on-Thames,
Oxfordshire,
RG9 4HG,
England


  • +44 (0) 1491 575742

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 work.

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.
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Description: Founded in 1907 and set close to Henley-on-Thames, James Braid originally laid out the course at Henley Golf Club where safe negotiation of the six par threes is key to carding a score on this testing parkland track. Rating: 5 out of 10 Reviews: 4
TaylorMade
Robert Butlin

I do like a course with a bit of quirk. Not too much, but enough to make one think that the course designer has avoided the formulaic 4 par 5s, 4 par 3s and 12 par 4s option apparently required of modern golf courses. Henley certainly has quirk - just two holes, five and six, play to the same par - 4. The first and 18th share a fairway and the first and 17th almost share a green.

Beyond that it felt something of a mix, or perhaps a healthy does of variety. One is a long par four, uphill off the drive and to a green with a steep slope down to the right and slope from the left to the green itself. A tough hole, especially at the start. Two is a medium par three to a shelf green protected by bunkers - length is key. Three continues to head away from the clubhouse, while the SI is high it didn't really do too much for me off the yellow tees. Four is the longest of the par threes; gently downhill with a couple of bunkers front right and left. On both of these holes the trouble seemed to me to be mostly tree based, and trees can be very much about luck. Find yourself behind one - no shot; get a line, not much penalty. Contrast that to rough where the penalty for waywardness is much more even. I'm not suggesting the rough should be impossibly penal, but make it hard enough.

The course rises with the fifth and sixth holes. The former I don't really understand. I accept that one can decide to take a driver out of play by having some kind of hazard at a set distance. But why a series of clipped hawthorn bushes? As the course climbs the downs there's an opportunity for a wispy flower meadow to add spring and summer colour. The green is tough enough with a steep bank to the right which will trap any ill hit shot out of said wispy rough. Six is straight up the side of the hill to a green in a dip with a tree protecting the right.

Seven is a nice and very short par three - get over the bunkers and hope for a one put. Then there's the three level holes, 8-10 which are up and down the same corridor; Two long par 4s will require some heft, but I couldn't see the need for subtlety. The par five in the middle is easier, with left and right spraying being permitted.

I did rather like 12 as a downhill par three to a green which slopes right to left. 13 is another tree lined hole, this time dog leg right to left with out of bounds right. 14 is a short par three to a tree encircled green, 15 a shortish par 5 with a deliberately annoying tree to be avoided with the drive. As you'll have gathered I'm not a fan of trees as hazards, even less so trees as hazards in the middle of a fairway. Bunkers yes, even water, because then distance control is what matters - a tree, particularly a 30 foot tree in the fairway forces both direction control and distance control off the tee. Of course shots to green need both, but not tee shots on par fives. Then we have 15 which is a lovely hole - nice downhill drive, to be followed by a tough uphill approach of around 150 yards to a sloping green. Going safe and high forces a nasty chip, taking it on and going left forces and even nastier one.

The course heads back down on 16 - a lovely longish par three to a green way below and then 17 where a straight drive opens up an approach shot to a green where the land falls from right to left. Finally there's 18, plenty of room off the drive, gradually less as the green is approached. Rather pleasingly SI 16; to me too many courses seem to assume that the short hole must be the highest. Quite why when the approach to a par five can be 100 yards or less and the approach to a par three can be 120-180 yards.

The south east of England has had a dry spring; consequently fast running, hard fairways and greens has been the order of the day. Henley was not like that. It was set up relatively lush, with short run offs, ball high grass not far off the greens and claggy second cuts on the fairways. The greens were set up for target golf. So the premium was very much on being straight, the penalty for waywardness less a ball bounding off left or right, or even long than having to give one's irons a good clean after contact. I don't doubt that was deliberate, and indeed it may be that a hilly course cannot afford balls wandering off in all directions, but it felt a bit like going back to old times than the current fashion for long run-offs and pitch and run style chips back to the greens.

May 23, 2022
5 / 10
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Nice course with some really interesting holes. It lacks consistency however and has too many weak holes for my liking. It's hilly so be prepared for a proper walk.

April 16, 2020
5 / 10
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David Baxter

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.

September 14, 2019
4 / 10
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Tom

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!

June 26, 2019
6 / 10
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