One of the toughest and most intimidating opening holes in golf (especially from the Black tee tips) sets the scene at JCB Golf & Country Club. A 200-yard water carry will leave a long iron approach to a well-bunkered, offset green that’s also flanked on the left by the same lake encountered from the tee and cavernous bunkers. A par at the first will feel like an eagle for most golfers.
But even the bigger hitting mid-handicapper may have an eagle putt at the very next hole if the needle can be threaded through a plethora of bunkers. If the pin is back left at #2, likelihood is you’ll end up on the lower tier of a green that’s shaped in the image and likeness of a giant’s boot print.
A 610-yard boomerang left par five follows at #3 and it’s not the longest hole on the card. The approach on this genuine three-shotter must avoid a canal-like water hazard on the right to a skinny 43-yard long greensite that’s wedged between canal, bunker and trees.
It’s an absolute stellar start, which is then cleverly letdown at #4 by a rather innocuous (from the tee) and bunkerless par four where the fun starts at the cape-shaped green with its treacherous run offs – a Huntercombe template. Just when you thought you’d caught breath, you then land at a drop-dead gorgeous 200-yard downhill one-shotter.
Rarely do I describe five holes in any review, but at JCB virtually every hole is worthy of narration.
Why do par three island greens regularly appear on penultimate holes? Only Pete Dye knows the answer and even he would smile at JCB’s #17. Play it from the tips if you’re feeling lucky – 255 yards was long enough for me to lose a ball. 204 yards from the middle tees was no walk in the park, but stick with it, as it would be shame not to putt out on one of the most enchanting green complexes I’ve ever seen. Three distinct depressions on the dance floor and three bunkers, two guarding the back and one front right, are set directly into the lake itself where the water gently laps the sand. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
After putting out for a double on #17, step aboard the final tee that’s set on the same island and face a brutal uphill tee shot on this sweeping 462-yard par four.
JCB starts tough and finishes tough. In between there are holes that will give you a chance and holes that will simply make you laugh (and maybe cry). The Double Plateau green at #14 is pure theatre. The greens are occasionally (#4) a mix of Willie Park Jr. and Robin Hiseman. Frankly, I have not seen a better set of green complexes on any English course built after the Second World War. Period.
The ground is not ideal for golf, but even after torrential rain the course played reasonably firmly due to literally miles of drainage. However, my main criticism (apart from a longish walk between #13 and #14) is purely down to asphalt. The cart paths have been hidden from view wherever possible but they are a repugnant blot on what would otherwise be a near perfect landscape design.
Asphalt aside, JCB is a fabulous golf course that’s primed for the Top 100. Which Top 100? We’ll simply have to wait and see.
Date: October 15, 2019