Harry Colt laid out the 9-hole Old course at the Leckford Estate (part of the Waitrose Farm) on chalky downland in 1929 and it’s considered to be one of the master architect’s most authentic designs.
Initially opened as a private course, the Old became accessible to John Lewis Partnership employees and their families in 1931, but this golfing playground was soon turned over to agriculture during the Second World War. Thankfully, the greensites were spared, and it’s these devilish putting surfaces that set the layout apart from almost all other downland contemporaries.
Rather like the “Sacred Nine” at Royal Worlington & Newmarket, Leckford’s green complexes are intricate and will likely confound the first-timer. None are flat and some are wickedly contoured with steep run offs that feed hungry collection areas.
Two fairly innocuous short par fives provide a friendly handshake to proceedings before arrival at the 3rd, a lovely Colt one-shotter played from a high tee across a valley to green benched into the hillside. The deep, fronting bunker (centre-right) is not the place to be and a bunker to the left and a severe falloff on the right ensure maximum attention.
The stroke index one par four 4th doglegs left and it’s a strong driving hole where a cluster of six bunkers at the dogleg’s corner focuses the mind. The next two par fours play across the top of the downland plateau. Apart from the greensites, these are both solid if unremarkable holes, but the closing trio concludes the round in a memorable fashion.
A straightaway drive at #7 leads to a green that’s set in a pretty glade against the backdrop of rolling hills. The tee shot at the par four 8th may be the most exciting of all, plunging down a left-to-right canted valley before reaching a thrilling, undulating green complex clinging to the hillside.
The high tee at the one-shot drop closer concludes the round all too soon. After putting out on the 9th green, many will skip across to the modest clubhouse and grab refreshment before heading to the first in hope of mastering the greens the second time round.
Trying to unravel true architectural provenance for golf courses laid out almost one hundred years ago is extremely difficult. But, let’s be honest, most golfers couldn’t care less about designers. However, some (like me) appreciate little nuggets of information, even if they can’t tell the difference between designs by John, Mick or Harry.
According to the club history, in 1929 Harry Colt laid out the Old course at Leckford and Longstock Golf Club (as it was originally called), but according to Fred W Hawtree, author of Colt & Co, the Old course is a 1929 John Morrison original. In The Architects of Golf by Geoff Cornish & Ron Whitten, the authors reckon it’s a Colt & Morrison creation that was later revised by Michael G. Fenn, who was the club’s first Secretary and Greenkeeper. Who’d be a historian eh, and what does it matter?
I played the Old course a couple of weeks before the UK covid-19 lockdown, directly after the wettest winter on record and biblical rain the day before, which incidentally closed virtually every course in southeast England. Leckford was bone dry and looking gorgeous in the late afternoon sunshine. Rain, what rain?
Providing a fair rating after just one play is never ideal, but most belt notchers don’t get the chance to play every course multiple times. My feeling from a single play is that I’d love to be a member at Leckford if I lived nearby. The club is unpretentious, has an unassuming clubhouse and a rudimentary car park on high ground overlooking the 9th green. It’s right up my alley.
Rather like Mildenhall, the fun at Leckford is around the greens. Each and every one has interest with lovely contours and vexing run offs. But the visuals from some tees are uninspiring. Don’t get me wrong, this is a pleasant place to play golf and the ground game is 100% alive and well here, but some of the fairways are a bit too minimalist for my taste.
The course might benefit from the repositioning of some fairway bunkers. A few are not in play these days, but if they were in play (as Colt & Co originally intended) the visuals from the tee would be heightened. One thing is for sure; Leckford Old is not trying to be something that it isn’t. It’s largely a lie of the land course with stellar green complexes and it’s around these dance floors where golfers will spend most of their time. And for that reason alone I’d be happy to invest many hours trying to master these wonderful putting surfaces.
There’s a parallel between Leckford and RW&N… nine holes, Colt provenance and wonderful greens, but there’s not quite enough going on between tee and green for waxing too lyrically. There are a good number of highlights though, the two par threes, the drive on #4, the approach to #7 and the 8th tee to green (especially to the green). Undoubtedly this little 9-holer deserves to be sought out, and when golf is this much fun, it really doesn’t matter whether it was designed by John, Mick or Harry.
Designed by an experienced Harry Colt the Old Course at Leckford opened for play in 1929 and the layout has largely been preserved since then. This is a good thing, for the nine-holes at this under-the-radar venue deliver a beguiling round of golf.
The entire course uses the land given to it perfectly, where nothing is forced or contrived, to create a blend of delicious holes with the green complexes and putting surfaces standing out as truly exceptional.
A sharp turn off a tree-tunnelled Hampshire country road brings you straight into a charming little car-park with the ninth green in close proximity and a quaint L-shaped clubhouse on the far side adjacent to the first tee. It’s a cosy and compact area which feels very homely and works perfectly. What’s more, the ninth green looks an absolute treat with a narrow entrance, some lovely contours and sunken bunkers. The golfing appetite has been well and truly whetted.
The lay of the land is used beautifully on the first two holes to create a brace of short par fives that are not dissimilar in style to one another. Both play gently uphill and follow a natural valley as they curve left to interesting green sites housing gentle dips, swales and hollows which can either help or hinder your approach. For those governed by par I’d argue the 446-yard second would contrast better as a tough two-shotter after a genteel opener.
Whilst the opening two holes quietly impress the third hits you smack in the face with its quality. It’s a short par-three played across the valley to an elevated green complex sliding off the hillside in waves. The green is once again large; a pleasing constant throughout the round at Leckford, and missing neither left nor right is going to leave an easy recovery.
The best tee-shot of the round quickly arrives at the next. It’s a real sucker driving hole, which tries to drag to you to the left, with the visible fairway sweeping around a cluster of staggered bunkers on the inner-elbow of this excellent dog-legging par four.
The course is not as strong off the tee for the next few holes - all par fours which are played on a high plateau - but the green complexes deliver in spades and more than make up for any weakness on the drives. The domed nature of the fifth presents numerous options on how to play the approach whilst the sixth and seventh also fit into their natural surrounds elegantly and pose a real challenge due to the shape and contouring of the greens. The movement on the greens, particularly around their edges, is as refreshing as they are outstanding.
I simply loved the eighth hole - which returns to the valley from a high tee - and in particular the green complex which is arguably the best on the property. My only criticism is that the narrow fairway may slope a little too severely and, certainly in the dry conditions we experienced, most golfers will approach from the right-hand side semi-rough, but this again gives you so many options on how to play your shot into this benched and tilted green with a front-right bunker to be negotiated as well as a sneaky back-left trap too. The shape of the green allows a ball to be fed in from the left but the flight, weight and direction of your shot must all be executed well to accomplish this.
The chalky downland that the course plays over is more than accepting of the ground game but the large greens also means it is possible to play more aerial shots too. The beauty is that on most holes you are given the option. Indeed it is gleefully rare that you have to work the ball so much as you do at Leckford.
Using the same set of tees for both loops is also nice and reduces clutter than you often find on nine-hole courses. The par is 36 and the yardage is 3,129. Located on the Leckford Estate the course is owned by the John Lewis Partnership and is only open for members/partners and their guests although limited society play and a small number of charity days are permitted.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.