One of only a few English clubs to boast three full length 18-hole courses, the Old course occupies a separate site on Minchinhampton Common to the west of the town, while the other two layouts are located between the villages of Avening and Cherington to southeast of Minchinhampton town.
Both the Avening and Cherington courses are an amalgam of a mid-1970s 18-hole F.W. Hawtree layout to which Martin Hawtree (F.W’s son), added a further 18 holes in 1995. The Old course is of an entirely different vintage, dating back to 1889. It’s one of the West Country’s earliest clubs, laid out by kindly Nature with a little help from a St Andrews clubmaker called Robert Black "Buff" Wilson.
Sean Arble commented as follows: “The bunker free Old Course has very little fairway shaping; iron age fortifications, quarries, Kingtonesque earthworks around some of the greens and the ever present wind are all Minch Old needs to defend itself. Despite the lack of fairway shaping, there is no question the designers knew what they were doing as the angles presented bear the hallmarks of strategic golf. It should be noted that Horace Hutchinson thought enough of Minch Old to include it in his British Golf Links, a highly recommend book.
Despite the clever subtleties of the design, my favourite aspect of Minchinhampton is its true common nature. Minch Old circles in a wide arc around the 580-acre common and through the remains of an Iron Age fort. There is a long tradition of golf on common land in England, but Minchinhampton feels unique to me. The course crosses several roads while sharing the land with walkers, horse riders, children at play, cows and horses. Minch Old was the first time I have had the pleasure to experience a true common golf scene as one might have found 120 years ago.
There are open views in every direction, but many of the holes have a strangely semi-blind nature from the tee. Usually this is due to a slight rise in the fairway, but there is also a lack of elements such as shaping, bunkers or trees to act as a guide or help with estimating distance.”
Tom Doak made a point of playing Minchinhampton (Old) in 2017 and awarded the course a rating of six out of ten. He commented as follows in his Christmas 2017 Confidential Guide update:
“A cousin in spirit to Cleeve Cloud, Minchinhampton is also laid out across an open commons on a high hilltop, though not as dramatically: the hilltop is flatter, and here you don’t have to play your way up to it and back down. There are no bunkers at all, and in months when cows and sheep graze the roughs, you can get away with murder off the tee. However on many holes, starting with the long opener, rugged hollows from old quarry works guard the greens tightly, so that missing wide will often get you in deep trouble. The short holes are especially memorable – three of them play across ancient quarry works full of little grassy moguls that come up quite close to the greens.
The stretch from the 8th to the 11th is the best on the course, but my most memorable shot of the day was my second to the 12th, which I had to hit over the top of a half-dozen cows laying in the rough. I found the setting as charming as St. Andrews or North Berwick; I wish I lived in a little hamlet like this where you could just go out and play whenever you felt like it.”
Undoubtedly the Avening and Cherington courses are what most modern golfers would expect a normal golf course to look like – solid tests, well defined and nicely maintained. Golfers share the Old course with walkers, horses and cattle, so conditioning is questionable. However, if you want to experience something different, the Old course will deliver in spades. Even Henry Cotton thought so. He considered the drop-shot 8th to be one of the best par threes in England.
I have recently played Minchinampton Old on a lovely evening, it was thoroughly enjoyable and a good experience. I did struggle with the lack of definition, mainly on the basis of finding my ball in the rough.
A couple of really strong holes, but if in the area for only a short time I would recommend playing Painswick over Minchinampton Old.
Obvious similarities with Painswick and Cleeve Hill as mentioned in the previous review, including the issues of walkers wandering around. For me it's openness makes it more like Cleeve Hill. Cattle come out onto the common during summer months and not all greens are fenced so it is not uncommon to approach a green with cows wandering around or even scratching themselves against the flagstick. Understandably greens not always great, especially during the summer as there is no sprinkler system. Course is traversed by several roads and during summer months it looks a picture with long brown grasses giving the fairways definition.
A fairly bland start but the course picks up from the 4th and although I wouldn't say there are any real stand-out holes I think the best stretch is from 6 to 11. All hazards are natural (no bunkers here) and with all the natural humps and hollows it can be both tricky hitting the small greens and chipping when you miss them; this particularly applies to three of the par 3's at 8, 10 and 16 none of which are long but all of which need careful negotiating. The humps and hollows around the greens remind me a bit of Kington, although Kington's greens are far superior.
I have always found the club very friendly towards visitors but you do need to enjoy natural old fashioned golf courses to play here; overall some interesting holes in a gorgeous spot (on a nice day) but because of green condition it is difficult to give more than a 3 ball
Those familiar with other Gloucestershire oddities; Cleeve Cloud and Painswick, will have a sense of familiarity when they arrive at the charming and bunkerless Minchinhampton Old golf course.
It’s fair to say I probably didn’t see the best of the course at the end of a very wet March and in all honesty the terribly muddy ground conditions, after some torrential morning rain, should perhaps have closed the course.
Selected as a stop-off on the way to the linksland of Devon I had high hopes that we would discover a well-draining, fast running, sandy parcel of land where the ground game would dominate but sadly that was not the case. That said, most other courses in the area would undoubtedly have been submerged under water with no chance of play at all.
Anyway, we took our chances, headed out and enjoyed the roaming layout immensely. We stayed dry but inevitably our trousers didn’t see the evening out.
From my visit I suspect the golfing proposition is much different come the summer months and is when this pleasingly simple course will excel. And it should be noted that the putting greens remained firm and ran nicely considering the time of year.
The openness of this rustic property is wonderful and I really love golf courses where this is the case. There is little chance of losing a ball here and most of the fun comes when approaching the greens. Several mounds, humps, bumps and hollows protect the greens in a similar manner to other bunker-free courses and this can ensure some awkward chips and recovery shots.
From many of the tees there is a feeling of disorientation; it is hard to see where the hole goes with very little definition, especially in the early season before the grass really starts to grow. It is that wide and flat it is sometimes difficult to pick and commit to a line.
The set of short holes are particularly good at Minchinhampton. The 16th is arguably the best hole on the entire expansive property; played over a hollow to a green tilted against you it sits into the land so sympathetically. The eighth is also a strong one-shotter whilst the delicate tenth has a superb three-tiered green and is angled slightly from the direction of play.
Indeed many of the putting surfaces are offset to the fairway and in dryer conditions I’m sure there would have been much more strategy in approaching from the correct angle.
Despite the mud I enjoyed the course and I'm sure I would be even more positive about it if the course had played hard and fast. There is certainly a special character to Minchinhampton Old and it’s a place I would be keen to return to in the summer.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.