A number of people have recently extolled the virtues of Mill Ride Golf & Country Club. After being too long away we lately went back.
Although Mill Ride has a relatively short history, which dates back to 1990, we expect the golf club to have a very bright future. Designed by Donald Steel, Mill Ride is one of the best new courses in England’s prosperous southeast.
Measuring a healthy 6,800 yards from the back tees, Mill Ride is a test and it also has a fine collection of holes that are so varied that there is no chance whatsoever of becoming bored. The course is well maintained with fairways that weave their way past lakes, hillocks and hollows, giving Mill Ride a park-like flavour with a hint of inland links.
The 1st is a straightforward par five which takes you rapidly away from the comfortable clubhouse. But the 2nd grabs your attention as soon as you reach the tee. Water is in play on this excellent par four, in fact, a lake runs all the way down the left hand side of the fairway. So you’ll need to decide how much you dare cut off and, with out of bounds on the right, there’s absolutely no margin for error. The 10th is a cracking and thought provoking par five. A well-positioned tee shot to the centre of the fairway will help to make the tricky second shot, which must be played between a narrow chute of trees, that little bit easier. To make things even more challenging, you must carry a pond, which lurks ominously at some 135 yards short of the green.
A favourite hole is the 17th, a very tough par four, measuring 437 yards. A lake runs down the left side waiting for your wayward drive or your misplaced second shot – or perhaps both on a bad day! The challenge of Mill Ride continues to the last hole, which is another super par five. It’s a classic matchplay hole with so many choices to be made from the tee and for the approach shot to the green. The 18th is a truly memorable hole to conclude your round.
With the membership level set at only 350 members, Mill Ride is certainly not an overplayed course and amongst this membership there are plenty of familiar faces from the world of sport and showbiz. You never know whom you might bump into. Mill Ride is also a very popular corporate venue with many clients returning year after year and we can see the attraction.
We first teed it up at Mill Ride in the mid 1990s and more than ten years on, this is a much-improved venue.
Donald Steel has the reputation for doing some outstanding original designs as well as being the only architect to do some changes on every course that has hosted The Open Championship. I have played many courses that he did some alterations, but only a few that were his design. I hope to change that because there are three designs of his that I have played that I found either average or uninspiring. These are Lambourne GC, the Bracken course at Woodhall Spa, and Mill Ride.
To be fair, all three courses are on terrain with very little movement and no great views. I believe all three were likely built within a smaller budget which possibly did not allow for the opportunity to do a better routing or create more interesting golf holes. I am speculating when I write this, but this is my feeling when I walked off these golf courses.
I played Mill Ride several times soon after it opened when I lived in England. After going through a series of owners it seems to have found a better footing, although I wonder what might happen if there is another economic downturn similar to 2008-2009. As it went through ownership changes in its early life, the conditioning obviously went up and down. I recall playing the short eighth hole, a slightly downhill par 3 with a putter off the tee, so scarce was the grass at the time. I made the green but missed the 12 feet putt for birdie.
The course does not have a consistent character to it. Some holes are wide open and some go through trees. The trees are sometimes so dense or impinging on the fairway that they are suffocating. The bunkering is also inconsistent.
The holes I liked are:
1 – a par 5 that is well bunkered off the tee with four cross bunkers near the green. The green is connected with the seventeenth green. The negative to the hole is dense trees on the left side while small trees and manufactured mounds go down the right side.
2 – a dogleg left par 4 where a pond is on the left side so if you go too far right with the tee shot you are likely to end in the trees or a single bunker. The green is long and narrow and well defended with three bunkers.
15 – the best hole on the golf course as a 200 yard par 3 with four bunkers fronting the elevated green which also has a peanut shape to it. The hole is back-dropped by trees to frame the hole. If there were more holes like this on the course, Mill Ride would merit more conversation.
16 – a short dogleg left par 4 of less than 360 yards with good greenside bunkering on the left. My only quibble is a large tree on the left side of the fairway that is too punitive.
The holes I disliked or thought could have been easily improved are:
3 – a long par 3 over water but the water is not really in play. It does have a nice crowned green. The hole is visually boring.
4 – a long par 4 with the tee shot coming out of a tunnel of trees, a pond on the left and large bunkers at the green. The trees do thin out on the left side a bit leading to a green that is out in the open. It felt like too much is going on and too much of a transition.
5 – a mirror image of 4 but from the back tee it is a short par 5 of 482 yards and the member tees it is a par 4 of 439 yards. I would put both tees together and declare it either a par 4 or 5. It does have a nicely sloped green towards a pond set hard against the left side. If this were a par 4 only, I would likely favor the hole.
6 – a short par 4 that the tee shot goes into a narrow sliver between perhaps the densest trees bordering each side of the fairway. The trees do disappear as you near the green with the defense being two left side bunkers and a slope down the left from the green. The trees are simply suffocating.
7 - a short par 4 but with several trees coming into the fairway at the slight turn of this dogleg right with another single tree also coming into the fairway on the right. The hole has five bunkers so once again it seems to have overkill for defense. The hole unfortunately has both an unsightly fence and garden sheds behind it (no fault of the club).
8 – a short par 3 slightly downhill where again the trees come into play and are too close to the green.
10 – a longer par 5 that has a relatively wide open tee shot before the trees pinch in so much for the second shot that one wonders if they want the tree limbs to cover nearly all of the fairway. The second shot has to clear a pond at the point where the trees are the closest. It has likely the most boring green on the golf course.
11 – a mid-length par 3 over a pond with a tiny green and trees close to the back of the green. It is another visually unexciting golf hole.
9 – a longer par 4 again playing through a narrow chute of trees. It is a slight dogleg left but does have the best green complex on the golf course with two fronting bunkers on the raised and sloped green. I do think the green is a bit small for the length of the hole. You cannot go over the green as you will end up in trees.
12 – returns to the concept of one side of the fairway wide open and the other side with dense trees before the hole opens up to a green that is too small.
13 – a mid-length par 4 that once again has some trees pinching into the fairway making it look like a double dogleg. It does have the best green complex on the golf course with an elevated green and large bunkers.
14 – a mid-length par 4 that turns to the right and takes one back nearly to the clubhouse. It ends in a boring green. One can hit players on the thirteenth green if one hits a poor, low tee shot to the right.
17 – a longer par 4 dogleg to the left that shares the same pond as the second hole and connects the green to the first hole. It is an okay routing to the hole but the green is pretty bland.
18 – a longer par 5 that turns slightly to the right with small ponds to navigate for the second shot both on the right and left. The left pond stretches nearly to the front of the green. The green is unexciting.
In summary, as I mentioned I find Mill Ride to be inconsistent both with the density of trees, trees that impinge on the fairway, small greens, and flat greens. It has one very good hole, the fifteenth. This is a course that could be improved with a tree removal program. Some might believe this would take away the challenge of the golf course, but I believe it would add immeasurably to the enjoyment of the course by making it both more playable and more visually exciting. Many greens should be reshaped to add contours.