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.”
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.
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.