If you like tradition, then steer clear of the Oxfordshire Golf Club. If you are seeking excitement, this might be the course for you.
The prolific golf course architect Rees Jones designed the Oxfordshire and the course opened for play in 1993 after significant earth works. Jones is big in the States, and has designed many courses, including the redesign of the South course at Torrey Pines and Bethpage’s Black course, host of the 2002 US Open.
The Oxfordshire is laid out on fairly flat and uninspiring land, built in an American style to extremely high specifications with sand-based greens and tees. Ostensibly, it’s a tournament course with good vantage points for spectators. The B&H International Open was held here on four consecutive occasions (1996-99). Ames, Langer, Clarke and Montgomerie were the respective winners. In 1996, Laura Davies won the Ladies’ English Open here too.
We wouldn’t recommend the back tees (7,200 yards) for the average golfer. The yellow tees (6,300 yards) probably present a more enjoyable challenge. With well over 100 bunkers (some of which are huge), and four man-made lakes, this is a serious test. If you are striking the ball well, you’ll be OK. Otherwise you may find it a bit of a slog, especially if the wind is up.
The 8th is a hazardous par four measuring 390 yards that doglegs around a lake. The green is sited on an island peninsula where a sentry oak stands guard. The 17th is the Oxfordshire’s nerve-racking signature hole, a downhill par 5 with a right to left dogleg. A huge lake runs all the way down the left of the fairway. The green is opposite the lake. The safe but longer route is to play around the water, but if you’re feeling lucky, you could go for it across the lake with your second shot.
At one stage the course was open only to members and their guests. Now visitors can get on by simply paying a green fee. We think that the Oxfordshire (in a similar vein to the Belfry) is a great competition course and well worth playing, but only if you go for it on the 17th.
The Oxfordshire is owned by Leaderboard Golf Limited, which also holds the property of Dale Hill Golf Club in East Sussex.
I first played The Oxfordshire course in 1996 which was three years after it opened. It had already hosted a couple of European Tour events. I did not quite know what to make of it. Was it a links-like course with the tall grass and open landscape over some rising and falling terrain? Was it an overly manufactured course due to the surrounding terrain looking flatter than the course? Or was it an American/Florida/Myrtle Beach-style course given all the bunkers, the length of the bunkers, and the presence of so much water with four pieces of water (sorry, not all of these are lakes). I walked away confused about the course and what the aim of Rees Jones, the designer, might be.
I was able to return a few years ago and found The Oxfordshire had changed in ownership, the addition of a hotel, and public access. Yet the golf course was essentially the same except the taller rough had been moved farther away from most of the fairways making it easier to find one’s ball and advance it towards the green.
After playing it a second time, I was a bit more impressed which is why one should always try to play a course a second time. My overall opinion of the three options above is that it is closer to a course in Florida with the amount of water and sand. It is very manufactured. It is not links-like. However, I do think Mr. Jones did a nice job with the routing given what he had available. But while the course moves in all directions, there is an issue with what was built (see later). They obviously moved a lot of land. Despite the taller grass, sometimes narrower fairways, the presence of sand seemingly everywhere and those four lakes/ponds, I found the course overall to be playable and not a slog for the average golfer. The second round did reaffirm in my mind that this is a golf course for better golfers or for golfers who are at peace with their game and play for fun as opposed to worrying about a score. The greens are large and contoured very well.
Despite many generously wide fairways and safe lines to the greens, one could roll up a very high score here particularly if they do not choose the correct tees. This course can play very difficult if there is any wind or if one has a bad day with the longer clubs.
When it comes to ranking this course by the criteria given, do you rank it in terms of locals or for people coming a far distance from other countries? The Oxfordshire is not a golf course most Americans, Australians, Asians, or even golfers traveling from the Continent would go out of their way to play because it is not different to many courses in those countries. Even people from the UK might turn away from it given the 200-300 golf courses in the UK and Ireland that are worthy of a visit. But for residents of the UK and Ireland, the addition of the hotel on-site (added after my second time) and the quality of the course is worth a stop if one is trying to fill in a day.
From the back tees one should truly be no worse than a 2 index who can hit a tee shot 285 yards.
My biggest criticism of the course is that many of the holes look and feel the same even if the bunkers are on opposite sides or the fairway goes a different way than the hole before. One and nine feel the same, five and thirteen feel the same. Hitting at least six shots to carry over or avoid water feels the same. Hitting shots to stay out of the large bunkers feels the same. If there is a dogleg, the fairway bunkers are on the side of the turn. The greens are of a similar large size even if they have varying undulations and some run-offs in different sections of the green. Other than the twelfth hole, there is always a fair amount of sand near the greens. The short par 4’s appear to have the most defense. The water holes have parts of the greens right against the water instead of perhaps a bunker between the green and water. Eight and seventeen have greens at the end of horseshoes although in different directions. It looks and feels very vanilla/obvious. For the average golfer, there are not that many decisions one faces as they are obvious. This is a course that better players have more strategic decisions.
The first is an okay starting hole, a downhill par 4 of longer length.
I liked were the second, a par 3 of 192/165/145 as the green has a nice angle left to right and is well defended front right and on the left.
I also liked the third, a long dogleg right par 4 of 489/476/457 as I liked the placement of the large bunker on he right side of the fairway with trees on the left.
I did not like the fourth, a long par 5 of 573/558/535 with a version of Pine Valley”s seventh hole as I do not like copying. I also thought the pond on the right side of the green was unnecessary given the difficulty of the hole. I also did not like the fifth, a par 3 over water of 210/204/177 because it is too obvious; I have seen this hole too many times.
I had mixed thoughts of the sixth because it is a true risk reward driveable par 4 yet there is so much sand (14 bunkers) that it takes decision-making out of one’s hands. The bunkers on the left side of the fairway are a bit too difficult. It is a raised green that is very much a “target.”
Seven is an okay par 5 but why have the trees pinch in so much, a mound fronting the green…..it is too manufactured to get to the platformed green although it is relatively flat.
Eight is a short par 4 where the green sits way off to the right requiring a carry over water. A short hitter will likely have their view of the green blocked by trees on a man-made island. I did not like the hole.
Nine is a nice end to a mixed front nine, a par 4 uphill of 438/432/415. I liked the dogleg left aspect with the bunkers on the left and the green is one of the better ones on the golf course, steeply sloped back to front and right to left with a narrow opening to it. A ball hit to the right of the green will likely come back on.
Ten is a downhill par 4 where the approach shot has to carry some piece of water to hit the green. It’s an okay hole.
Eleven is a par 5 with water down the right side for its entirety and a few bunkers on the left side of the fairway and green. I thought the hole was pretty yet boring other than the green which is nicely shaped.
I did not care for twelve. Despite liking the two previous par 4 doglegs to this point with the fairway bunkers on the side of the bend, this is the third hole where that is the case. Repetition is boring.
Thirteen is another par 3 over water although shorter than five. Repetition found its way onto the course yet again. However, it is a nicely undulating green and also a lovely view from the tee.
Fourteen is a mirror image of six in that it is a short par 4 where one is tempted to cut the corner but because there is so much sand on that side there is no real decision. It does have a nicely elevated green sloped back to front with a substantial fall off to the right.
Fifteen is a long par 3 with a narrow skinny green with a big bunker down the entire left side and a fall off right of the green. Boring.
Sixteen is a long par 4 bending slightly to the left and downhill. As a dogleg left, this means the fairway bunker is on the left. Repetition has occurred on the course again.
Seventeen is a par 5 shaped like a reverse question mark. There is water down the left side and a large bunker on the right. Big hitters can try to approach over the water but there are fifteen (or is it fifty) bunkers waiting for the slightly errant shot. For those lacking the game or courage and waiting to play it safe there are three bunkers on the right and the water on the left before one then attempts a shot that must go over the water. This is the supposed signature hole on the golf course. I did not like it as it is too contrived.
Much like the ninth, I did like the eighteenth playing uphill. Once again as it is a dogleg right, the fairway bunkers are on the right side. The green is almost three tiered with a rise in the middle. I must admit I do not know if I liked the hole because of the feelings about the seventeenth or because it actually is a good hole. Probably a little of both.
There are good greens on the golf course with subtle undulations. But does one play a golf course just because the greens are fun? The bunkers are very much in line with what one would find on many courses in Florida or Myrtle Beach. Many of the holes on their own are good yet overall the course looks and feels the same. It is worth playing if in the area, particularly if one is a very good player, otherwise, it makes more sense to go to a course that feels more natural instead of artificial.
As a single figure handicapper recent member of The Oxfordshire I believe this to be the best designed new golf course in the country. It is challenging with every hole unique and memorable. There are several local courses and most of which I play regularly and the Oxfordshire is in my opinion head and shoulders the best of the bunch.
It is a shame that the B&H isn’t played anymore as it is a brilliant spectator course as well. It is very similar to the well respected Paris National.
I wasn’t supposed to like The Oxfordshire. But I did. The traditionalist in me shouldn’t really warm to this big and modern, Rees Jones designed tournament-style course that is essentially a manufactured Americanised layout.
There are a handful of gigantic, man-made lakes and linear mounding to accommodate spectator viewing as well as the inevitable long walks from green-to-tee to make room for the five sets of tees and buggy paths. It’s a par 72, 36 each side, two loops of nine, with the obligatory four par-threes and four par-fives dah, di, dah, di dah…
However, I found enough engaging holes to come away quietly impressed with what The Oxfordshire offers. Sure, it isn’t to my personal taste but I can see why it is a popular venue, especially for professional golf competitions, and I have a lot of respect for the test it provides.
I think the main reason I enjoyed The Oxfordshire, unlike some other similar venues, is because the course does ask some fairly interesting questions. Admittedly there are no easy answers but you are presented with choices. Not always, but several times it gives you options as to how to play the hole and offers reward for those risking, and pulling off, the harder shots.
Water comes into play on almost half the holes. None-more-so dramatically than at the fifth, eighth, 10th, 11th, 13th and the 17th where you must cross (or at least flirt dangerously with) the hazards in order to get your ball onto the green. There are no shades of grey at The Oxfordshire; you’re either wet or dry.
I’ve played half-a-dozen courses in this county now and the challenge and style of course at The Oxfordshire is unique to the area. You know exactly what you are getting here and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else, which is all credit to the venue.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I have to say my visit to the Oxfordshire left me quite underwhelmed. A clubhouse that doubles as a hotel is a little "soul less". The course itself, well if you are a fan of longish open field "mounded and moulded into stadium type" courses then this might be for you, but not for me. It plays well and the course is well maintained with large fine greens but it feels like the clubhouse, soul less and personally I look at every lake and see it has been dug so they could place some mounding onto the otherwise flat farmland.
Superb track. I love tradition but this modern creation really blows away so many older tracks. Stunning views, challenging yet playable holes, huge bunkers, lots of water. Even went on a winter fourball for one of the best £25 I have ever spent !! Really looking toward to trying those greens out in the summer