You’ll find Heythrop Park in the charming Cotswolds, close to the market town of Chipping Norton and a mere fifteen miles to the north of bustling Oxford. At the centre of the 440-acre Heythrop Park Estate stands a grand Baroque-styled country house that was restored and converted into a luxury hotel and country club by businessman and former owner of Oxford United Football Club, Firoz Kassam.
Tom Mackenzie, of Mackenzie & Ebert Ltd, designed Heythrop Park, which opened for play in October 2009 and it’s routed through the leafy grounds of the stately Heythrop Estate.
With five sets of tees which stretch out to an impressive 7,156 yards from the tips, Heythrop Park is a course that will challenge the best while remaining enjoyably playable for the higher handicapper. USGA standard greens provide all-year-round consistency, and, with water coming into play on no fewer than eight holes, Heythrop Park will provide for an exciting and at times rather exacting day’s golf.
Heythrop Park Golf Club membership will be limited to 400 and the club are currently offering exclusive VIP tours of the golf course and the Health Club. If any one of the Top 100 team lived close by, we’d love to be part of one of the century’s most exciting English golf developments.
Finally, we’d like to mention “The Heythrop Challenge”. Archer Bridge is the name of Heythrop’s risk and reward 6th hole. Naturally, with “Bridge” in the name, water is the predominant feature. The Heythrop Challenge is to drive the green, 277 yards from the tee. You’ll have to carry the lake and stop the ball on the green. If you are successful, they will waive your joining fee for membership. Will you take it on?
A year after my first visit to Heythrop Park I returned to find a course that is slowly maturing into a quality venue. Due to the history of the Heythrop Estate certain restrictions were placed on designer Tom Mackenzie’s work. This meant that much replanting was required to reproduce the original parkland layout and some areas could not be changed in any way. Inevitably this created issues when it came to the routing of the course and there are a couple of brisk walks between greens and the next tee, but overall I think the design has character and variety.
Before taking on the first tee shot I would recommend spending a few minutes warming up on the excellent practice area. The main reason for this being the Jesuits graveyard on the left of the first fairway which combined with mature beech trees on the right puts you under pressure right from the off. The next memorable hole for me is the 4th, a good par 5 with three bunkers set at an angle across the fairway waiting to catch the misjudged second shot. An attractive stone wall runs along the right hand side for the full length of the hole. The fifth is a lovely hole, dog-legging right across a water filled valley, you must decide how much to bite off. A well struck shot on the tiger line may well challenge the green and set up a good birdie chance whereas the poorly struck ball could well be lost. The 6th is a real beauty and my favourite hole on the course. Hitting from on high again over water to a fairway running across you, you must choose your line carefully. The green nestles on the waters edge protected by an attractive stand of pine trees and with the grand old bridge situated behind this is one of the prettiest spots on the course. The 8th is a strong hole, dog-legging right and uphill; it requires two well struck shots to get home and the 9th is a pretty par three protected by water all the way up the right side of the hole.
The 11th is an unusual downhill par 5 which is unique in my experience. The safe option is to get as close as you can to the old skating lake in two before hitting your third over to the green which is tucked away to the left in woodland. Looking back up the fairway you get a wonderful view of the majestic old Hall. This is a tough but good looking hole and another of my favourites. The 13th is a picturesque par 3 running downhill to a green set beyond a small water feature and the 14th is a cracking par 5, initially uphill over a wall, it bends left all the way before leaving you a downhill shot to an attractively positioned green. The finishing hole is a poker straight par 5 heading straight for the main entrance of the Hall. There are no bunkers but the green is guarded by a series of grassy mounds and hollows.
The greens were in great condition for October and have enough contouring to keep you attentive throughout your round. If Heythrop continues to improve I can see it making a strong bid for an English Top 100 place sometime in the not too distant future. Brian W
I really enjoyed my 18 holes here don't get me wrong, holes 5 to 8 really use the land well, 11 is a great par 5 that after you've played it once and seen the shape you are desperate to go back and play again. 13 is a good par 3, but the Valderrama comparison made me chuckle. 14 and 15 are shaped well and the 16th is a tempting short par 4. i was disappointed with 17 and 18, which reminds me of the Mall in London and trust me if you walk this course it feels like a marathon. My main complaints are things that at this stage of course's life you are willing to accept like overall condition, slowness of greens, some holes lacking definition while the course grows. But these things are addressed by point B. I do worry if in trying to show off the estate the routing is excessive, but it does make for a varied challenge. I wish everyone there good luck, it’s a great opportunity for them and us golfers but I just hope they are prepared to put in the hard work and not waste it.
I Played Heythrop Park on Monday 25th October. What a day it turned out to be. After the heavy overnight frost had cleared, a glorious autumn Cotswold day followed with little wind, blue skies and vivid autumnal colours. A few practice balls were hit off pristine, tightly mown grass (yes no mats) and then it was across to the practice green to gauge the dance floor. Well, I had to retrieve my first putt from 15 feet past the hole and I’m so glad I spent a few minutes on this practice green, as I would have been in all sorts of trouble out on the course. These were the fastest and truest greens I’ve putted on all year. The last time I experienced greens this good was at the Grove.
The on-course experience is one of interest because the topography is good and the holes are so varied. The first hole takes you away from the manor down one of the impressive, long, tree-lined avenues. I imagined this avenue being used in bygone days by the galloping postman delivering mail to the manor on his trusty steed. The course is understated, despite the arboretum through which you play and the backdrop of the house. Tee boxes are tightly cut and defined by the thicker grassed, apron-like surrounds. There’s thankfully an absence of the paraphernalia that clutters many resort courses (ball washers and gaudy signage etc). The simplicity appears elegant but when you look carefully, buckets of money has been spent here restoring the estate and creating the golfing playground that navigates Cotswold stone walls, a carp lake, a Victorian skating pond and even a Jesuit cemetery.
Much settling in is still needed at Heythrop, the course was only seeded 18 months ago and there is a battle with thuggish grasses that spring up where they shouldn’t. The light bunkering is styled in a manner that may turn out to be excellent but left me wondering. The group in front let us through because they were searching for a lost ball in the thickest grass I’ve ever seen surrounding any greenside bunker. There is still plenty of work required to resolve a few drainage issues, especially on 5 and 6 which are routed over and around the fishing lake. But it’s the playing surfaces that impressed me the most.
The greens were good. There are a few odd patches of rogue grasses that are being removed, but overall these were fast greens that must have been running at a minimum of 8 on the stimp when we played here in late October. The tees are good too and the fairways look mature beyond their years. If the club can keep these playing surfaces at this quality, I have no doubt that Heythrop will be a course and a facility that can be compared alongside the Grove. If I had to choose between the Grove and Heythrop, I’d probably choose Heythrop because it’s more natural as a course e.g. it hasn’t been forced into the landscape, it has more memorable holes and finally it’s set in tranquil and beautiful surroundings. If I lived around the Oxford area I’d have it on my list of courses to play regularly.