I was very much looking forward to playing JCB given how hard it is to get on to, the positive comments from some of the initial reviews and its stated intention of trying to host a big tournament. I was lucky enough to play it on a beautiful April day in near perfect conditions (which my host informed me was a rarity!). We played in buggies, which is never my preferred option (except in very hot conditions), and was particularly challenging on the day we played as they were looking to protect the fairways so carts had to stay on the paths (the GPS tracker stopped the slightest transgression!) Hence a lot of walking across fairways with a few clubs in hand.
The course is very much what I would describe as a modern American-styled course. It was generally very open with big undulating greens and water coming in to play on about half of the holes. I am conscious that the course was not in peak condition in April, which is to be expected. The greens were very slow but my host informed me that they typically ran pretty fast in the summer, which given some of the slopes could undoubtedly lead to some terrifying putts. The rough was also not up which meant I got away with a few wayward drives that doubtless I wouldn’t have in the summer!
There are some outstanding holes. The 17th in particular is fantastic. We took a shot from the very back tees, which at 250 yards downhill into a breeze was a full driver for me. It’s an exhilarating shot to play, and great to see a well-hit shot heading towards the green. (For full disclosure we then went to the yellow tees for our proper shots and I managed to dump a 4-iron into the water!)
The 18th is a tremendous finishing hole - a long uphill dogleg left over water with the tee shot and to a well-protected green. Unfortunately for us they were in the final stages of improving drainage in the fairway so the tee was out of action and we had to play it as a 110 yard par 3. Other holes that stood out were the par 3 9th, a delightful shorter par 3 downhill with water short of the green and the par 4 11th which has some similarities to the famous 10th at the Belfry, albeit a bit longer so not driveable. The 1st was also a strong opener with a tee shot over water and a mid-iron uphill to a well-protected green.
The rest of the course is good and hard to fault. However my overall impression was of being underwhelmed, although it is hard for me to pin down why. I think it was the open nature, and lack of definition, of a number of the holes that I found unappealing. The topography of the course was similar to Hollinwell but the routing and tree-lined fairways at Hollinwell make it a superior experience in my view. I also probably have an inherent bias against “cart courses”, especially when there is no need to escape the oppressive Midlands summer heat!
It can be difficult for modern courses to match the character of older courses but there are a number that get close - for example Kingsbarns, Castle Stuart and Dumbarnie plus Renaissance and Archerfield to a lesser degree. I don’t think I have a bias against modern courses as I rate all of these very highly.
JCB may well host a big tournament, garnering the brand recognition for the company that the course was built for. The length off the back tees and how they can set the course up in the summer will almost certainly make it a good test for the pros. (I say this with some sadness as I’d prefer to see them using a ball that goes 20% shorter and taking on one of the classic British courses instead.) For a very low handicapper looking for a tournament test of golf then this may well rank very highly.
One final word on the rating - I look to rate courses relative to others in the country rather than the region as suggested. For example, Renaissance has at least 2 better courses within 5 miles whereas JCB might be the best within 50 miles. However, it would be inconsistent to rate JCB higher in my view
Date: May 05, 2021