Situated only seven miles to the east of Yeovil, the small Abbey Town of Sherborne is located in North Dorset, where the golf club was established to the north of this settlement back in 1894. Forty years after its formation, the club decided to expand from a 9-hole track to an 18-hole layout and so James Braid was hired to design the new course.
According to the book James Braid and his Four Hundred Golf Courses by John F. Moreton and Iain Cumming, Braid travelled to Dorset in the autumn of 1935 to design “ten holes south of the lane which splits the course, on agricultural land.” The club’s AGM in February of the following year reported that Braid was returning to inspect the work that his trusted contractor, John Stutt, had carried out, before the formal opening of the new course in July.
It continues: “The new holes only lasted four years before being given up to agriculture for the war years, but after the war all these holes were painstakingly reinstated. And so it remained for the second half of the 20th century, a tight course on a limited acreage. One or two holes could be considered almost dangerous, and the club decided to let the course breathe more easily, purchasing more land on the south side. Thus holes 2 to 5 and 8 to 10 are new or reconstructed, and the old 12th and13th combined.”
Today, the course measures a modest 6,415 yards from the back markers, playing to a par of 72. There are only three par threes on the card: the 188-yard 7th, 192-yard 9th and 162-yard 15th, all of which are terrific holes. The last of these, in particular, is a very memorable short hole, with tees and green positioned on opposite sides of a valley. It’s a forced carry all the way at this do or die hole where anything short will be lost in the thick vegetation.
We played Sherborne recently in the Men's Betterball Open and I was really looking forward to playing a hidden gem that many people had said was a really good course.
Unfortunately when we turned up I saw some astro tee mats down and some scorched tee boxes and wondered what was happening. Before we teed off we were told that the head greenkeeper had accidentally put weed killer down on circa 13 tee boxes and 3 fairways, effectively ruining them.
This was a huge shame as the course is superb and without doubt would have lived up to the hype. There were huge elevation changes and the parts of the course which hadn't been ruined were in good shape, however playing off small astro mats and some burnt fairways did ruin the experience for us.
The club think that it will take about a year for it to recover and I can only imagine that a small club like that are going to find it economically tough.
The first 4 holes provide a pleasant, ambient start. The 5th hole is a tough par 4 which would require a good drive and a relatively long iron into a well protected green. The 7th hole is a long, tough par 3. The 8th is a cracking par 5 which doglegs to the left with the fairway sloping right to left with most of the trouble on the left. It is reachable in two with a very good tee shot cutting off the corner. The 9th is a lovely par 3 from an elevated green to what looks like quite a small green complex. You don't want to tug it left as you would have a difficult lobbed chip to contend with.
The 10th is a tough driving hole with trees on the right hand side providing the danger. The par 5 11th has a tough 2nd shot as you contend with a little batch of imposing trees that feel as though they lie in the middle of the fairway, although in reality they are on the left hand side of it. Out of bounds protects from air-mailing the green. The 12th is an excellent long par 4 from an elevated position where the fairway snakes down to the green. The fairway also slopes from left to right which effectively reduces the landing area to the fairway.
The 13th hole is a difficult par 4 which has a tree lined fairway on both sides going up a fairway which slopes from left to right and goes up quite steeply all the way to the green.
The 14th is a great short par 4 from an hugely elevated tee position onto the fairway giving you a real sense of depth. If you tug it left off the tee you're gone. I used 8 iron, pitching wedge to the green which was sufficient. Huge hitters could potentially reach the green in one.
The 15th was a nice short par 3 over a gully towards a green protected by bunkers short and a steep bank behind. The 16th is a cracking par 4 that you could play in different ways. The most satisfying from a raised tee is to hit over the trees and gully in the out of bounds on the right onto the expansive fairway and give yourself a short iron into the fairway. Going left makes for a harder shot in over tall trees. The par 4 17th goes back up the hill to an elevated tee protected by bunkers with out of bounds right but is not too difficult a hole. The finishing hole is a blind tee shot going up a huge tree-lined hill, which if you get over hump gives you a view of the green and clubhouse.
Sherborne is indeed a hidden gem and it was a great shame that the day we played it followed the mistake with the weedkiller ruining many tee boxes and a few fairways. I would say that whilst definitely playable, it is a tricky course with the trees providing much of the danger.
The Grand Old Duke of York designed the first 5 holes at Sherborne – he marched the golfers down the hill and back again; twice. The club is now concealing this regime with bold mounding either side of the 2nd and 3rd holes which also provides protection from slices. Things get a bit more interesting after that. A narrow 5, a nice 3, another 5 modelled on the banked section of the old Brooklands racetrack, a good 3, a dodgy 4 and a testing 5 bring you back to the clubhouse where Braid’s rollercoaster ride begins. Hang onto your hat down the 12th, gird your loins for the next uphill, forget the next and then the signature hole, a great 3 across a chasm, comes at just the right point in the round. Mind yourself on the next two short 4s which cross each other and a blind drive up the hill brings the nice 18th and the clubhouse into view. Look to your left and another great view, Sherborne’s real strength, looks like Scotland. Course is well maintained and certainly worth the entrance fee.
Sherborne is not a long golf course by today’s standards, in fact it is just how a golf course should be, it is enjoyable to play and it has a wonderful feel good factor, you won’t find any 500 yard par 4s on this course or any 250 yard par 3’s for that matter and neither will find any manmade lakes dyed ultramarine blue. What you will find are undulating fairways that are lined with scotch pines; larch; lime; oak and silver birch, top class greens and great golfing holes that are a delight on the eye while remaining a challenge to your golfing competence. The members are both welcoming and helpful and genuinely affable, if you became a member of Sherborne there would be no shortage of members willing to invite you to join them for a game, it’s just that kind of place.
Sherborne is a par 72 measuring 6415 yards from the men’s tees, although, it wasn’t always that way. In 2002 the course was lengthened from 5500 yards to keep up with the times and modern golf technology in order to make it more challenging. Two new holes were added numbers two and three to the existing layout and in addition to this, a new practice ground and short game area were also introduced. Thomas Hardy once quoted “Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change” I believe Thomas Hardy’s quote as with many of our great golf courses can be said of Sherborne, having said that, Sherborne have blended the old with the new very well, the new holes are still very pleasurable to play and in time you would never know that the course had been altered from the original James Braid design.
Usually at this point I would start to describe which holes are the finest on the course but I am not going to because Thomas Hardy himself couldn’t put into words the beauty of Sherborne golf course, so who am I to describe a place that simply cannot be put into words. The pictures speak for themselves. Take a simple piece of advice, go and play Sherborne, you will not be disappointed, the only disappointment you may feel is when you are driving home wishing you were back playing this truly beautiful golf course.