Huntercombe, along with Willie Park Junior's other groundbreaking masterpiece, Sunningdale, opened in 1901 and sparked a revolution in inland golf design. Walter Travis commented “I consider that Huntercombe is easily the best laid course that I have ever played over anywhere”. Harold Hilton agreed, “in links architecture his two great creations have been Sunningdale and Huntercombe and of the two I am distinctly inclined to look upon Huntercombe as the greater effort of the two”.
Bernard Darwin was greatly impressed with the course and wrote: “Although Huntercombe is still a comparatively young course, there is an agreeable quality about the golf that, for want of better word, may be called, very respectfully, old-fashioned. Exactly how this impression is produced upon the mind is hard to say. Perhaps it is that some of the approach shots have to played over cross-hazards, although those are not constructed after the old rampart pattern; perhaps it is that there are no deep and desperate pot-bunkers dug very close to the holes, or it may be the abundance of the whins, which somehow remind one of the unsophisticated golf upon the common. At any rate, the golf of Huntercombe has a very engaging character of its own; it is good without being too strenuous for the reasonably light-hearted player. Yet this cheerful person must not imagine the disaster cannot overtake him.”
Like most heathland courses, trees have invaded what would originally have been open land, though Park would certainly recognize much of his handiwork if he were to walk the course today. As one would expect from an older course, which has had few revisions, Huntercombe is on the short side at approximately 6,300 yards. The course stands nearly 700 feet above sea level, one of the highest points in the Chilterns and it is easy to imagine how wind would have played a significant role in stiffening the challenge. The few bunkers employed have in the main been placed to offer the golfer a choice of playing heroically or safely. As an alternative to bunkering, Park dug many hollows throughout the course which greatly effect the decision making of golfers. Not unusually, a road, The Ridgeway, one of the oldest roadways in Europe, divides the course. Unfortunately, the increase in traffic these recent years has precipitated the club to recently alter the 6th by planting trees down the right and filling in one of the hollows on the left side of the fairway.
Despite the great success of the course, due to financial difficulties caused by the failure of the planned real estate development, Park lost a substantial amount of money. However, high profile work continued to come Park’s way. His talents were further utilized for many more marquee designs; amongst which were Notts, Formby and Worplesdon. Ironically, the early financial difficulties Huntercombe suffered may be the very reason that the course is for the most part preserved. Unlike Sunningdale, Huntercombe is just far enough removed from London to have been largely overlooked. Even Tom Doak didn’t visit while researching architecture for the launch of his career and subsequently, Huntercombe does not earn a mention in the first edition of the Confidential Guide. More is the pity because Huntercombe exemplifies concepts which were previously the domain of links golf. Variety, use of natural landforms and strategic merit are features which made the course justly famous over 100 years ago and continue to satisfy members and visitors alike today.
Above article by Sean Arble
Tim Lobb has been the consulting architect at the club for a number of years, adding ‘Park-like’ pits to the 16th hole and revealing original Park work on other holes through scrub clearance.
Upon arrival it is obvious that Huntercombe is and wants to remain a proper old skool golf club. Steeped in history, it is unnassuming, and has an abundance of character in both the clubhouse and out on the course.
Starting with a stunning little par 3, Huntercombe moves on to a stunning par 4 that carves through the Chiltern hills. Absolutely incredible.
The course was in fantastic condition, but I give a standing applause to the greens. They are not only manicured perfectly, but have been mastered to be exciting, a challenge and rewarding for accuracy. The undulations are something else, and we thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, even if we got beat up a little on some.
Huntercombe goes under the radar compared to more recognised and glitzy courses in Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey, but once you've been here, you'll not forget it.
What a day out!
I thoroughly enjoyed my twilight round at this quintessentially British hilltop gem, located in the deepest depths of the Oxfordshire countryside.
Huntercombe was designed by Willie Park Jr, of Sunningdale fame and as golf course architecture geeks will know, this layout received similar plaudits at the time of its construction at the turn of the 20th Century.
So why is it that Huntercombe remains largely under the radar in terms of headline making in the modern day Top 100 lists? In my opinion, it’s location is one reason, tucked away in a secluded part of Oxfordshire just outside of the usual ring of Surrey heathland clubs, Huntercombe is a little more covert than some of its illustrious peers. The club also doesn’t aspire to be something that it isn’t. It’s happy in its own skin as a well run members club with its rich history. Thirdly, the course has potentially lost some of its original design traits due to the encroachment of trees that have grown and filled what was essentially an open hill top site when the course was created. The course played like an inland links originally with wind always a huge factor. The tree growth has softened that difficulty somewhat but that being said, the course plays beautifully as it is, just with lesser views than it once might have enjoyed. I think plans are afoot to clear some of the foliage where possible to allow more expansive views across the course.
You get a feel for what the views may have been like right across the course as you leave the tee on the 2nd. Expansive views to the North West greet you and it is the first time you realise you are actually on a hilltop site at the summit of the Chiltern Hills.
The routing was changed in the middle of the century to accommodate the relocation of the clubhouse to a new site at the western edge of the property. That now means the course starts controversially with a short par 3, something I actually really enjoyed. The absolute standout features of the course are the green sites which are, in a word, interesting! No two greens are the same and there really are some jaw dropping green sites to behold. The most famous of which is probably the severely tiered 4th, which has been copied at a number of courses around the world.
The other standout design feature is the lack of bunkers (there are just 12 on the course). Instead, the punishment for straying off piste is often finishing in one of the many well positioned grass pots, particularly in and around the green. They may not look as intimidating as a normal bunker to the average golfer, but coupled with treacherous green conditions, I actually think they are more punishing than a regular bunker.
There are many quality golf holes, and without taking you on an extended tour, the highlights for me were the run 12-14, three tough par 4’s of over 400 yards and the run to the finish, where opportunity for triumph and disaster lie await in equal measure. The driveable 17th is a classic risk reward hole where anything between a 2 and 10 is on the cards depending on whether you decide to roll the dice.
A wonderful example of early course design, Huntercombe deserves more attention than it gets. This is a course I would love to be a member of, it has a little bit of everything I like in a golf club. Rich history, quality course architecture, high level playing conditions and a welcoming relaxed atmosphere. One to add to your list if you’ve yet to play this English gem.
This is a premature theory, but I can't help but feel that perhaps — at least on my side of the Atlantic — the relative obscurity of Huntercombe can be blamed at least partially on C.B. MacDonald. It's my theory that NGLA's "Bottle" template was actually more heavily influenced by Huntercombe's No. 2 than Sunningdale's No. 12 (which looked nothing like its current status when MacDonald played).
Being a Willie Park truther, I called Huntercombe and confirmed that CBM did indeed play there during his fateful trip (May 9, 1906)! Why did he leave it out in the cold when attributing influences for his templates? I don't know for sure.....but I have a suspicion that CBM and Harry Colt's mutual membership in the Illuminati has something to do with it. Here's my full treatise should anyone have interest:
My opinion of Huntercombe is skewed. I feel like I can say this as I have not played here for nearly 4 years. The distance and years have allowed me to stand back and appreciate the course, its history and position in the English golfing landscape.
My opinion is, or was, skewed due to me playing poorly here. Don’t get me wrong it is a difficult and quirky course. As with The Berkshire, Huntercombe has a elongated relationship with Radley College. Huntercombe is an incredibly old-school course.
The course is held in high regard amongst golf architecture aficionados. The course opened in 1901 and sparked a revolution in inland golf design. In addition to Sunningdale, Willie Park Jr really created something magnificent here.
The greens are mad. Convoluted but entertaining. The layout of the course means driver is not always necessary. The course is short too at 6,300 yards. The course only has 13 bunkers and therefore relies on immense grass craters that are just as penal.
The club’s logo, the Red Kite, is (are) always in sight above you. Spectating. Judging. I hope not.
My Sunningdale best friend is also a member here, so I hope for many more rounds in the years to come.
Isn't it funny, that when you play well you feel compelled to give a top mark review! Sadly, as demonstrated time and time again on here, some golfers feel the need to give poor reviews purely because they have played badly!
Well there was no danger of that happening here, for when I walked off 18 I had my lowest round EVER. Yes, this course is a clear 6 out of 6!
Ok, back down to earth! Huntercombe is a beauty, there is no doubt about it and when we rocked up onto the first tee with zero warm up or practice I feared the worst. A 140 yard par 3 awaited and I am not a fan of opening or closing par 3's but I must admit the prospect of swinging an easy 8 iron off the first tee filled me with relief and a slight apprehension.
I need not have worried as my soft 8 iron landed a mere 3 foot from the flag, an opening birdie and some sporadic applause from the onlooking members.
A notable birdie on the 4th hole, a short par 4 was another highlight and I couldn't help but notice the two tiered green was one of the most interesting I have played on in a while. The long par 3 7th hole provided a stern test and a 4 is not a bad score at all. Speaking of tiered greens, the 8th is a beauty, be warned!
Jump forward to the 17th and the scene of one of the finest golf shots ever played on this planet. A short 265 yard par 4 with a raised two tier green surrounded by danger. The safe option is to aim right with a mid or long iron towards the big bush, yet I felt a driver straight at the pin was the best way. To cut a long story short I hit a decent strike, into the grass slope between two bunkers, the ball hopped into the air and landed on the green, not close enough for a gimme eagle but the resulting two putt had me dancing with joy. The 18th up the hill needs careful planning and execution, too far right and you will be bunkered or blocked out for your approach shot. More club needed for your second shot, trust me.
£100 to play, will I be back? HELL YES!
A must play for architecture geeks. Extremely quirky with crazy greens and a great history. Its a small club on a small property so everything is very intimate which I like. Ignore the fact it's short, and the fact you'll probably shoot a few shots lower than normal. It's hard not to enjoy this place.
We played this yesterday, mid February in between Storm Ciara & Storm Dennis hitting the UK. In fact we played Huntercombe on a whim, having discovered our home course was closed due to the torrential overnight rain. It's a course we've wanted to play for a while and so we called ahead to make sure they were open and then made the 90 minute journey down the M40.
This course really is in the middle of nowhere and initially we drove straight past the entrance!
We checked in to the pro shop and had 20 or so minutes warm up on the range. Despite the car park being almost full, the course didn't appear to be busy at, so we could tee off at our own leisure. Please note, Huntercombe only allows play in 2balls or Foursomes so the pace of play is quite quick.
The opening hole is a gentle 136yd Par 3 and we both hit the green fairly easily. Walking to our balls we were looking forward to making a Par at worse and moving on to the stiffer test of the next 17 holes, and then we reached the green!! I'm not sure there was a flat spot anywhere on this green and as both of our birdie attempts sailed past the hole we appreciated that to score well our putters would need to be red hot! We both made bogey.
The 2nd is a picturesque downhill Par 4 with OB all down the left and the 3rd has probably one of the trickiest greens I've ever encountered. The 1st 5 holes loop back to the clubhouse and whilst none of these holes are overly long you must think and plot your way round.
We arrived at the 6th tee slightly concerned, as there appeared to be a round running the length of the hole about 2 metres to the right of the tee box! Overly cautious we decided to play down the left of the hole in fear of hitting one of the passing cars! The 7th is a long Par 3 that again runs alongside the road, so accuracy is a must.
The Index 1 8th hole played straight in to the wind and the pin tucked away on the top of a mountainous tier resulted in the 1st double bogey of the day.
With very few bunkers on the course the main defense is the grassy hollows on the fairways that catch any errant tee shots and make it virtually impossible to reach the green if you find yourself in one.
Driving accuracy is paramount at Huntercombe and as my playing partner found out over the next few holes, if you miss the fairway you're likely to have one or two trees blocking your path to the green!
Out of the closing holes the 17th is probably the one most people will remember and whilst it's short the 3 bunkers across the front of the green offer great protection from those having a go at driving it.
The 18th green sits in front of the clubhouse and I'd imagine on a sunny day the patio would be packed with members watching you come in.
Considering the rain we'd had up and down the country Huntercombe was in fantastic condition and we had great fun playing it. I felt it has similarities to Beau Desert and Little Aston, but I preferred Huntercombe to both of these.
The only downside was there was no food available when we finished (3pm), but that won't stop me coming back again.
Huntercombe golf club is a very traditional old golf club located in the countryside of Oxfordshire. When I say it’s in the middle of nowhere, I really mean it and the sat nag managed to take us on a road which could barely fit a bike down it. When we got there we knew we would be in for a treat as the place was lovely.
We had a tee time at 4pm so the course was very quiet and this was much needed as the greens required a lot of time to read. The greens at Huntercombe have got to be the wackiest and most undulating greens I have ever played on, but it was a lot of fun as you were able to get super inventive. Sometimes you would be aiming your putt a good 10 cups outside the left and it would still finish low. However this made the round a lot more enjoyable and it made us all really concentrate. The course is also very tree lined as well, however it plays even shorter than the scorecard suggests as the fairways were very firm, making it not so much of a driver course.
Some of my favourite holes would be the par 4 2nd, a lovely downhill hole with the fairway sloping down to the left and a great view for your second shot. The 7th is a great par 3 playing about 210 yards with bunkers on your right and a lot of mounds and bumps on your left, making a chip shot there much harder. We also enjoyed the par 4 8th and spent a lot of time on this green hitting some putts, the pin was tucked back left on this hole which made it near impossible to make birdie as it’s a huge two tiered green with barely any room on the top tier where the pin was placed.
All the holes at Huntercombe were great and had something to them that made the course stand out and it is certainly a unique golf course that you will not come across anywhere else! I hope to come back there and play it again.
Having not heard much about this course, I walked away hugely impressed with the Willie Park Jr creation in the Oxfordshire countryside. It was a delight to see how a talented 7-man green-keeping team can preserve a hidden gem that offers very firm bouncy playing conditions, incredible land formations, enormous grass craters and just 13 bunkers.
A 130-yard par 3 opening hole leads you towards the spectacular downhill second hole that requires you to play down the right hand side and carefully judge the downhill approach, allowing for a big bounce and release to the green that sits below the fairway.
The adventure continues with the hugely contoured third and fourth greens. I honestly put the 4th green among the top 10 most impressive green structures I’ve seen around the world. Four different distinct putting platforms blended together. The green is much bigger than you’ll realise. On first glance, you initially see the upper platforms, but as you get closer you discover a much larger dance floor. The 8th green also deserves a shout out with its distinct two tier structure with a wide narrow shelf providing a wealth of brutal pin positions.
The hospitality and overall experience is just as superior as the hugely underrated golf course. I often found myself making positive comparisons with Sunningdale (Old). I strongly encourage golfers to make the effort and add on an extra day to a London golf trip.
When the alarm went off at 3.30am yesterday morning I did question my sanity as I dragged myself out of bed, staggered into the shower and then jumped into the car for the 200-mile drive to Nuffield for a 7.30am tee time. Maybe I should have stayed locally the night before? Nah. I like a challenge.
Huntercombe has been on my to-play list for decades since Darwin first wrote about it, “once the home of Willie Park, and the pet child among all his golf courses”. I reread the mixed bag of reviews posted below and wondered why the reviews for such an icon are so few and far between.
Modern day architecture pundits wax lyrically about Huntercombe and I was intrigued by Tom Doak’s assessment in his latest edition of The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses: “Modern designers would benefit from seeing how to create interest with sparse bunkering and a quirky, cunning set of green complexes… It reminds us more of Garden City Golf Club than any other course we’ve seen, and deserves to be better known than it is. Hopefully, one day they will gain permission to cut down the trees… opening up the long views of the countryside from the hilltop setting...”
When I pulled into the near empty club car park at 7am, the Red Kites were soaring overhead and the sun was shining. There is no indication whatsoever that the club is set on a hilltop. Glimpses down the avenues of trees suggested a flat parkland setting.
Grant Stewart the Course Manager greeted Fergal and I on the first tee. Poignantly Grant recently moved here from Sunningdale, so his connection with Willie Park continues. After the chat we were off. A short par three to start with a green of enormous proportions set the scene for the morning.
There’s nothing to get too excited about at Huntercombe. There’s no signature hole, there are no thrilling elevation changes to add drama, there’s no water and there are only thirteen bunkers (and three of these front the raised green on the quirky short par four 17th). Instead you encounter one solid but unassuming hole after another.
The excitement and interest centres on the greensites. Each and every green has complexity, either on the putting surface itself or at the surrounds. We were both wrong-sided on the outrageous two-tiered 4th where, if you end up on the punchbowl-like right hand side, it’s nigh on impossible to avoid a three putt. There are not many courses that I can recall which have such an amalgam of fascinating greens.
Grant caught up with us midway through the back nine and we talked about the greens and he also told us that he’s already removed 400 trees and pointed proudly to the reawakening of a long view. Many hundred more trees could easily be removed without compromise and this course would then comfortably be a very strong contender for the GB&I Top 100.
As it stands, Huntercombe is unpretentious, engaging and a genuine throwback to the Golden Age. It’s a club I’d love to join if I lived around the corner. It’s a course I’d like to get to know more intimately. It’s an understated charmer and in my opinion currently too low in our English Top 100 rankings.
Couldn’t agree more. I also played Huntercombe for the first time yesterday - at the other end of the day, on a lovely spring evening - and loved it. Definitely among the most interesting set of greens I’ve ever seen, certainly outside a links course. Why, when Willie Park was showing how to do it over 100 years ago, have so many courses with flat and uninteresting greens been built since? Huntercombe shows how an otherwise unexceptional hole can be transformed into something wonderful with a bit of imagination at the green.
I had the pleasure of playing Huntercombe on a temperate, sunny day in mid-April 2018. Fortunately for me, this perfect day was described by many locals as "the first day of Spring", since it was preceded by weeks of wet and chilly weather. Course conditions were surprisingly good, considering the lack of recent sunshine. There were a few soft spots in the otherwise lush fairways, and the greens lived up to their excellent-but-tricky reputation. I would describe the course as more parkland than heathland, as trees lining the fairways were much more of a shot-making and scoring factor than the modest patches of yellow gorse (which might be more prominent later in the summer). The level of challenge was perfect for my low double-digit handicap. A highly recommended course, and a convenient ~90 minute drive from LHR airport.