Although The Ross-on-Wye Golf Club was founded in 1903, the club moved several times before a densely forested tract of land became available at Jays Green in the early 1960s.
C.K. Cotton, the chosen architect, was quick to pronounce that the site was too hilly and the forest would be supremely challenging to develop into a golf course. However, after much cajoling from committee members he relented and prepared several possible layouts.
In the summer of 1961 the lumberjacks came in and started carving their way through the forest. “My first memory was the sight of the head woodsman,” wrote Donald Steel, “then in his eighties, fuelling a woodland fire with fresh scrub and branches and cooking a lunch of bacon and eggs on the back of a carefully cleaned shovel.” A few months later, the bulldozers rolled in, clearing a path through the roots and tree stumps. After a Herculean effort, the first nine holes opened for play in 1964 and Frank Pennink officially opened the full 18-hole 6,451-yard layout in 1967 when he was the President of the English Golf Union.
It will therefore come as no surprise that the current Ross-on-Wye golf course has narrow fairways carved through chutes of trees where driving accuracy is far more important than length. Holes run in every conceivable compass direction and it is impossible to tell where you are in this maze-like, mature forest.
“There is immense variety at Ross,” wrote Frank Pennink, “and although it has more short par fours than most courses of its quality, they have exceptional features. The 2nd, 10th, 14th and 17th are really severe two-shotters, Peter Townsend once describing the 10th drive as more suited to a firing range. To make up for four short par fours, there are only three par threes, varying in length from 128, 143 and 212 yards. The 6th and 8th are genuine three-shotters. Altogether this is probably the finest new inland course constructed in these islands since the 1939–45 war and is a must for the connoisseur.”
Quality golf courses in this part of England are few and far between, but make no mistake Ross-on-Wye is special, very special, and it is well worth making the trip to play this unsung gem. Although Ross-on-Wye Golf Club has a Herefordshire postal code, the club is officially affiliated to the Gloucestershire Golf Union and is therefore listed in our Gloucestershire Best In County rankings.
Having played Ross-on-Wye a long time ago I was a bit surprised to see it at the top of the Gloucestershire rankings so I returned in September 2019 to view for myself.
A woodland course with the holes seemingly cut-out of the forest it is in places reminiscent of Woburn albeit on a smaller scale; nice but with a similar claustrophobic feel (ie. no views). There is a similarity to the holes as they are basically all tree lined and small greens are a noticeable feature. Tee shots can be tricky as hitting the narrow fairway is not always as easy as it seems and although there is no fairway bunkering the trees are the hazard and there are plenty of blind tee shots, marker posts and sloping fairways which means if you are slightly astray the bounce sends you veering towards the trees often hidden form view; in places possibly a tad unfair !
Only three par 3's (the pick of which was nr 7) and three par 5's which oddly fall in the space of four holes between holes 5 and 8. This means that the back nine has eight par 4's and this feels a bit imbalanced. Some bland holes and in particular I didn't like the 4th (drive in lap of the gods with the bounce) and the 17th which was a long uphill slog. Some interesting holes though and the side by side elevated tees of holes 8 and 16 were quite a feature and both of these were good looking holes. My favourite hole was nr 11 which is a dog-leg par 4 where avoiding the large tree on the right of the fairway is as important as avoiding going left into the trees (quite a narrow gap).
My conclusion … overall I did enjoy the course and I can see why Ross may be rated nr 1 in Gloucestershire (let's face it there are no stand-out courses in the county), but personally I'm not sure it's any better than several other courses and for me Bristol & Clifton would take the top spot. Also the greens were very very slow when we played (and it was an open comp) and with greens that slow you can't be nr 1 !
I have played this course twice, the first time some years ago, the second time in summer 2017, and to be honest I had forgotten just how good it was. It is a course you have to think your way round. It is as well documented that the course rewards accuracy, hit it straight you will have chances to score, hit it wide... well okay whilst you will probably find your ball, but still good luck getting out of the trees.. you'll need it!
The close tree lined fairways can be intimidating...on the tee of every par four or five the course asks you Clint Eastwood style, 'Do you feel lucky punk, well do you?' Personally I didn't feel lucky enough, so took a three wood every time, and I'm not ashamed to say it either.
Still saying the course 'rewards accuracy' is not in this case a euphemism for 'short course', so that player brave enough and good enough to get their driver out will have a chance to attack the greens.... which brings me on to a whole other topic...
The greens were excellent, they are amongst the best parkland greens I've played.
If you want to play Parkland Golf, you will struggle to find better.
It feel at heart it's a matchplay course, with those risk-reward opportunities, still whatever the format don't turn down a chance to play there.