Not many people will have heard of Bob Sandow, the man who designed the 18-hole International layout at The Vale Golf & Country Club in the early 1990s. Bob was an RAF pilot who fought in the Battle of Britain then became a professional golfer, playing on the Canadian and US Tours and representing Canada in international competition.
Turning to golf course design, he worked for a spell with Robert Trent Jones then ended up in Iran during the 1970s, when he operated as the Shah’s director of golf. He returned to the UK to design quite a number of courses in Wales and the English Midlands during the 1980s and 1990s before passing away at the age of 89 in 2011.
The International course is long, measuring 7,555 yards from the tips, with even the red tees extending to almost 6,000 yards. Configured as two returning 9-hole loops, the course plays to a par of 74; 38 on the front nine and 34 on the back nine. There’s also a 9-hole track, the Lenches course, which complements the main layout.
Highlight holes include the 179-yard par three 3rd (in the southeast corner of the property); back-to-back par fives at the 8th and 9th (the first of these is rated stroke index 2); the 560-yard 16th (played to a peninsula green); and the 411-yard 18th, which narrows as it doglegs left towards the home green, with water threatening the left side of the putting surface.
There are two courses at The Vale, the 18-hole international, and the shorter 9-hole Lenches course. We played the international on a typical overcast day in England, on arrival you are greeted with the large modern clubhouse sitting at the centre of the facility with great views out to both courses. The condition of the course was relatively average, the fairways were a little bare in places and the rough was hard under foot, but alot of this could be attributed to the hot weather the area has seen over the past month.
The routing of the course is good, with the 1st / 10th tee starting at the clubhouse, the 9th / 18th green sitting alongside them. The track starts off relatively simply with pretty open fairways down holes 1 and 2. Number 3 is a great little par 3 with the backdrop of the large hill covered in forest, and this is a feature that appears throughout the course. Hole 4 to 6 run alongside the forest line with number 5 another good little par 3. Water comes into play a little more on number 7, quickly following onto the severely uphill 8th hole which finishes atop a slope with fantastic views over Worcestershire. The 9th in my opinion was the signature hole, tee-ing off from the top of the hill by the 8th green, over a small ditch which intersects the fairway, then into the heavily guarded green with the clubhouse sitting behind. A good drive and mid-iron on here leaves you a good chance for eagle.
The 10th runs alongside the 1st and the holes following this are relatively straightforward with some tight landing zones off the tee. The par 3's on the back 9 are quite similar in both yardage and design, a good length of the yellows. 15 is a blind tee shot over the hill, down to a submerged green with only a marker to pick out the pin position. From here 16 and 17 are generally flat holes with water coming into play especially around the greens. 18 is a good length par 4, water down the left and bunkers on the right to catch anything off line, a good finishing hole in front of the clubhouse.
If you are in the area, this is good facility to check out, a long course of the yellows (6600 yards) with a wide range of holes, and plenty of water to keep you entertained. We visited in late afternoon, and for a twilight green fee of £15, it really can't be knocked.
Design - 6
Setting - 8
Playability - 8.5
Presentation - 5
Memorability - 7
TOTAL - 34.5 / 50