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 effectively become an historical footnote in golf architecture. Huntercombe fails to make any modern best of lists. 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.
June 03, 2008