There's plenty of golf to be played at the leafy Portal Golf and Country Club in the North West of England and the club has established a glowing reputation for high standards of course condition and service. Donald Steel has fashioned several courses in Cheshire but he saved his very best for the Portal Championship course, which opened for play in 1990.
We're not buggy lovers, but the Championship course is sufficiently undulating and definitely long enough at 7,037 yards from the back tees to make a cart very tempting. The land was once a battlefield and the named holes include "Agincourt" and "Waterloo". There's certainly a military suggestion in the names, but today, there's a great deal of charm, beauty and tranquillity to be had at Portal.
There are also some great golf holes. The 3rd is a monster 602-yard par five and it's a ball-striker's delight from the elevated tee. Only the game's longest hitters will try to reach this green in two and undoubtedly some big hitters will have tried and failed, only to find their ball in the lake which guards the front of the green. The par three 14th, called "The Horn", is a delightful short hole, with its green also surrounded by water. At "Waterloo" the par four 17th, you may meet your very own Waterloo by going into Adam's Well, where an inscription once read: "Tho' if of this ale, you drink a pail, you'll never ail."
Portal certainly oozes quality, both from the Championship golf course to the striking modern clubhouse. Factor in the outstanding Tudor-styled hotel and restaurant and you've got one of the best golf facilities in Northern England.
I last played Portal some 15 years ago so this week I wanted to return. I always remembered it as a quiet course with little traffic, kept in the greatest condition with the greatest views across Cheshire...
Well it's now been taken on by the hotel chain of MacDonald Hotels. The scenery is still there but the rest has gone! I was surrounded by golfers who'd never been on a golf course before... I even had to tell the male behind to rake a bunker after he walked his adidas trainers straight out the front of it.
The golf course could truly be a great. It has the land and the set up but I sadly suspect they have few staff to now keep it in the condition it so requires.
I played the Championship Course about a month ago and was disappointed to see how far downhill this course has gone: course maintenance seems to have disappeared completely! The greens were particularly poor, and despite the hot weather other clubs are keeping their greens in good condition. I played the Premier Course a fortnight later and this was a far better course. Top 100 Course - I think not!