Kingsdown Golf Club is one of the oldest clubs in England, with only Westward Ho! predating it in the West of England. The course last underwent a significant upgrade in 1967 so it has served the members for more than half a century now. Blessed with the free-draining qualities of its downland location, the layout remains in play all year round.
The club’s original course was laid out by John Allan, the professional at Royal North Devon, and club competitions were played on it during the week on a Thursday and Saturday. The first prize meeting was held on 12th and 13th May 1880, with a Silver Cup to be won on the first day and the Club Challenge Tankard on the second day.
A year after it was founded, the club opened another course at the Warren in Bath, where the current 18-hole Bath Golf Club course is located. A name change to Bath & Kingsdown Golf Club followed shortly after but Kingsdown Club was re-established in 1890, a decade after it had first been formed.
Holes were prepared with tin linings and tee boxes were marked by thirty-six tin squares. Flags were used on competition days but members were asked to pay 6d if they were required on the other five days of the week. Notices were posted to warn equestrians off the greens and sheep, cattle and a few ponies maintained the fairways.
The course was extended to a 12-hole affair in the early 1920s then to a full 18-hole layout in 1931/2, when the club managed to lease additional land from the Neston Park Estate. During World War II, the six new holes reverted to agricultural land and it took until the late 1960s until eighteen holes were once again in play.
C.K. Cotton’s design company was called in to set out the new 18-hole course and this resulted in the retention of four original holes and the addition of fourteen new ones. Simon Gidman has subsequently extended and upgraded the 18th hole and new greens have been constructed on holes 13 and 16 under the guidance of architects Mackenzie & Ebert.
There’s only one par three on the outward half, the 144-yard 4th, playing to a multi-tiered offset green that’s guarded by out of bounds to the left and old quarry workings to the right of the putting surface. The 412-yard 6th is rated stroke index 1 on the scorecard, with a lengthy carry off the tee before the hole doglegs left to the green.
The 364-yard 13th is another tough hole, requiring an accurate tee shot through a chute of trees before the sloping fairway bends left towards a green which is protected by a tree on the left and two bunkers on the right. The par three signature hole 17th is also very tight off the tee, played from elevated tees to a target flanked by bunkers on either side of the green.
Kingsdown is one of the older downland style Wiltshire courses that I grew up playing on the county card system. I returned early in 2017 for my first visit in a while and nothing much had changed except for the new driving range. A pleasant enough course on a nice day, with few trees and open to the elements. The first six holes are on the clubhouse side of the road, and there is not much exciting golf here, with the multi-tiered green on the par 3 4th the biggest thing of note. Crossing the road holes 7 and 8 are a couple of nice dog-leg par 4's, and similarly 12 and 13 are good dog-legs where drive positioning is important. Hole 17 (a picturesque downhill par 3) is undoubtedly the signature hole; however there is an alternative/winter green which was in play on my last visit which makes the best hole into the worst so I would check this out before visiting.