The record books for North Wilts Golf Club have been lost but certain facts have been gleaned by the club from the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews whose records reveal its date of institution as 1st September 1890, with the thirty inaugural members paying an entrance fee (and annual subscription) of five shillings.
The entry in the 1909-10 Golfing Annual refers to the club as being located at Chiseldon, with a founding date of 16th October 1907 so it appears that for a period of time there were actually two North Wilts Golf Clubs in operation. On 2nd March 1925, the “other” North Wilts club changed its name to Swindon Golf Club, ending the confusion.
In 1932, it was decided to engage an architect to survey the club’s 9-hole course and recommend improvements. Harry Colt was contacted and he spent a day on site, drawing up a report that was presented to the committee on 4th January 1933.
Colt’s survey ended: “I hope that with the plans enclosed and with this report, together with help from the accompanying photographs, you will be able to carry out the work satisfactorily. When it is done I feel confident that the golf will be more interesting and more exciting to the good player, without being impossible for the long handicap one.”
When additional land became available, Ken Cotton and Charles Lawrie attended the club’s AGM in 1969 to inform the members about the possibility of expanding the course to an 18-hole layout. Work began in earnest in the spring of 1970 and Cotton and/or Lawrie were regular visitors.
According to the book North Wilts Golf Club 1890-1990 by John Lumley, “Cotton was a sprightly octogenarian with very fixed opinions. However, the Committee decided some aspects of his layout could be improved but were uncertain as to how the great man might react.
Lunchtimes with Cotton and Lawrie always contained a lively liquid ingredient and this was specially so on his next visit when he accepted the club’s suggestions without demur! Work now continued apace as greens and tees were constructed, top-soil imported, bunkers and banks seeded.
The great day came in 1971 when the new holes were opened for limited play heralded by a gala day to mark the occasion in October 1972 when Wiltshire played the Western Counties. So many people had played their part in this huge step forward.”
North Wilts thrilled and surprised in equal measure and proved that Wiltshire with its high reliance on downland courses can provide golf offering plenty of enjoyment.
As mentioned elsewhere, North Wilts has two distinct halves, or more precisely an ‘older’ front 10 holes of pure downland over the main road from the clubhouse, and a ‘younger’ final 8 holes, back across the road. In this context ‘older’ means part of the early construction from 1890 to 1932 ending with Harry Colt, and ‘younger’ in 1970 with Cotton and Lawrie the architects.
The front 10 includes some crackers and I particularly liked the 2nd with its two tier green and big mounds at the back, the signature short 6th with its narrow green and an ancient cock pit swallowing up all golf balls either aimed or blown right by the prevailing wind and the long downhill 9th where a big booming drive makes its owner a very contented golfer.
The back 8 is tighter and includes two lovely par3s, a downhill beauty at 13 and a classic uphill test at 15. The right-to-left 12th is another good-looking driving hole at which my playing partner struck the shot of the round into the green from 180 yards, before easing home the birdie putt. There are 3 long holes to finish of which the best is the tough dogleg at 16, a worthy stroke index one.
We received a warm welcome from a member Paul who stands in regularly for the pro on his day off. Paul was very interested to ascertain what we thought of the course and to discuss its intricacies.
North Wilts is incredibly scenic all the way round and the tees and fairways are immaculately presented. The greens were well rolled but patchy as the grass had not attained its best early season growth when we played. Our visit was on a mainly dry May day (despite heavy rainfall on the way down) with gentle winds. We liked the width of the fairways and the number of grass rather than sand bunkers which helped make North Wilts a feel-good course where most of the challenges were clearly set out and not overly-threatening.
I have played North wilts many times and each time notice more and more slight unique characteristics that makes North Wilts quite unique.
The course has two very different 9’s. The front 10 holes are shaped into the hillside of one of wiltshire most famous landmarks, the white horse next to the ancient burial ground, Avebury. The front 9 is a classic down-land style layout. The second, for example, is a rising short par 4 with an aggressive double tiered green which could easily wreck your round from the start of a weak putt is played up the hill.
The 6th is one of the most dangerous par 3’s I’ve ever played. It’s 150 yards, wind howling from the left, a huge cock firing pit on the right and thick gorse directly left of the 10yd wide green. This is a classic score wrecker and possibly the only purposefully difficult hole on the course. Every hole is different, and that for me is key for a decent layout.
The back 9 is a very nice parkland style course with nice doglegs, tumbling fairways and a fantastic par 4, the 14th. The 18th is also a good finisher, designed by Gary Player himself.
However, there is one outstanding problem with North Wilts. The course could be fantastic and, according to the members, once was. The rough was thick and tall, the bunkers were deep and in the best locations to catch a miss-hit shot or to test a players shot shaping ability. However, this has all gone. There is now rough, the best bunkers have been taken out to allow members to hit it wherever they want. It is not a test anymore which is a great shame considering the the Harry Colt design was once a gem in Wiltshire to test every part of your game.
The older ten holes above the road that dissects the course are for me the better holes. These holes are typical Wiltshire downland holes with small greens and with several uphill and therefore several downhill holes. The 2nd is a goodlooking uphill short par 4 where you can see the flag all the way whilst hole 5 is even more uphill with concealed pin on a raised green. Then probably the best hole on the course, the 6th a very short par 3 on top of the hill with cock fighting pit right; only 118 yards but the crosswind makes clubbing difficult to a small green with severe drop off left. Great view from the 7th tee. Must confess I am always disappointed to cross back to the clubhouse side of the road where the newer holes from 11 to 18 just don't do it for me; hole 14 is worth mentioning though as it has three trees down the centre of the fairway and the green is perched on the side of a bank and can be tricky to access. In truth little to choose between North Wilts and the other older Wiltshire courses such as Kingsdown, High Post, Ogbourne Downs, West Wilts etc