The Old course at Yeovil Golf Club is certainly different. C.H. Alison originally fashioned nine holes on Babylon Hill and Charles Carter (the club pro) laid out a further nine when new land became available later.
“Now pay attention, this might get complicated” wrote Joe Lee in The Golfers Guide to the West Country: “For if ever a course suffered from a split personality, it is Yeovil. As every football fan will tell you, Yeovil is in Somerset but, tucked up so close is it to the county border that the club’s 18-hole Old course lies entirely on the Dorset side of the River Yeo, while the 9-hole Newton course is all in Somerset. And although the club is affiliated to the Dorset Golf Union, it is only historic, and could equally affiliate to Somerset. Got that?
The Old course is also a Jekyll and Hyde teaser. The par three 2nd soon tests your mettle, playing uphill between the trees to a blind green. That is swiftly followed by one your wouldn’t want to play so early in the round, the 402-yard 3rd which plays a lot longer, and which has a regiment of bunkers across the fairway just short of 300 yards.
If your card isn’t already ruined and your confidence in tatters, the course is pleasantly picturesque for the most part, with the 14th affording fine views over the town.
Then it turns nasty again, with a long 230-yard par three swinging left to right downhill to a two-tier green at 15, followed by a par five at 16 down towards the river and a valley of willow trees, both played into the prevailing south-westerly winds.
But despite its two-faced nature, it is nevertheless a pleasing course, where all standard of golfers feel in with a chance. And isn’t that really what it is all about?”
I was really looking forward to playing the Old course at Yeovil Golf Club after recently establishing that C.H. Alison laid out the club’s original nine-hole course. It never ceases to amaze me that some clubs do not appreciate the worth of their architectural provenance. There is nothing documented, either online or in any of my reference books, to suggest who designed the course.
After contacting the Manager, who kindly scoured the club’s centenary book, it was established that Colt was commissioned, but the project was given to Alison as he was in the area working at Burnham & Berrow.
Alison’s original nine holes are now part of the 18-hole Old course – these are holes 1-3 and 13-18 – and they’re routed up and over ground known as Babylon Hill. The club pro later added nine new holes when additional land was purchased to extend the course.
The club car park was packed last month when we arrived two hours before our tee time after scampering around Sherborne in record-breaking time earlier that morning. We hoped to bring our tee time forward after grabbing a bite of brunch. Unfortunately a big society was booked in. The only opportunity we had for an earlier tee time was to immediately run to the first and tee off ahead of the society.
Hungry, thirsty and flustered, we jumped ahead of the queue and we were off. After a short and gentle par four to start we arrived at the uphill short par three 2nd which looked rather more ominous than the scorecard’s 150 yards might suggest. Benched into the hillside with a false front, bunker right and a scary drop-off to the left of the green… it’s not a hole for the feint-hearted (or hungry) golfer. It’s a great hole and perhaps Yeovil’s best.
The tough par four 3rd continues uphill before the new holes start at the short par four 4th. You then cross over a lane to play seven holes on a separate parcel of land. I enjoyed the boomerang-shaped par five 5th and the two succeeding par fours. In fact, I quite liked the newer holes even though there are no real standouts among them.
The short par three 13th heralds the return of the Alison holes but it’s the stroke index one 14th – following the course of the River Yeo River behind Potter’s Leaze Plantation – that sets the tone for what’s still to come. #14 is a tough uphill blind drive that needs to be accurate in order to avoid a well-struck drive running out into the trees. The thrilling downhill approach is to a greensite that’s protected by a gathering right-hand greenside bunker and a cross-bunker some 40 yards short of the green. It’s a memorable hole in a good way.
The drop-shot long par three 15th is also a good hole, but the dogleg right short par five 16th with a green that terminates at the River Yeo is a shocker. The inviting downhill tee shot is fine, but then you’re left not knowing what to do. There’s a copse of absolutely enormous willows to the left and right of the valley fairway with a through gap of maybe as little as ten yards from 100 yards out to some 25 yards from the green. These vast trees make this 495-yard stroke index 18 par five almost impossible to negotiate. Pinpoint accuracy and a good deal of luck will maybe yield a birdie. The likelihood is that a bogey or worse will be carded. Stroke index 18? Shurely shome mishtake?
#17 is a short (290-yard) uphill par four where the green is perched atop a precipitous bank. The direct route to the green is over this sheer bank, and it’s driveable for big hitters, but the risk of coming up short is blatantly obvious. The actual fairway climbs up to the right, which is the sensible line, but the club also seems intent to spoil this hole. Why plant a random copper beech on the elbow of the dogleg? Who knows?
The par four 18th takes you back (in surprisingly orthodox fashion) to the clubhouse.
I don’t know what to make of Yeovil Old. It has some things I liked and some things I absolutely didn’t like. Yeovil could be an Alison showcase but the club is doing its level best to ruin a quirky classic design.